Jeff Birkenstein, Ph.D.

Photo of Jeff Birkenstein

Professor, English

"That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones." - Raymond Carver

Areas of Expertise

  • Short story and short story sequence
  • American literature post-1865
  • Food studies
  • Literature of exile
  • Post-9/11 literature and culture


Ph.D., English, University of Kentucky
M.A. Teaching English as a Second/Other Language, ibid
M.A., English, Cal State Long Beach
B.A., English, U.C.L.A.; A.A., Orange Coast College


Jeff Birkenstein is a professor in, and previously chair (2009-2016) of, the Department of English at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Washington. Dr. Birkenstein is a two-time Fulbright Scholar, having spent his time at Petrozavodsk State University, Russia, in 2013 and, in 2024, at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He was faculty president for the 2015-2016 academic year. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 2003; he has a second MA in TESOL, also from Kentucky. His first MA was from California State University, Long Beach, where he was lucky enough to study under Charles E. May, the influential short story critic. After first attending Orange Coast (Community) College, he graduated from UCLA in 1993 as an English major. His major interests lie in American and world short stories; food; and, cultural criticism, especially post-9/11 narratives.

Jeff Birkenstein strives to break down the walls between the classroom and the world. To this end, he has traveled the world, having visited 46 countries and 49 states (not South Carolina - yet), often for teaching and research or while leading or co-leading student trips, including in Austria, China, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Spain, Taiwan, and Vatican City. He was a Fulbright scholar at Petrozavodsk State University (Russia) in 2013; in 2024, he will again be a Fulbright Scholar, this time at Bar-Ilan University (Israel); a 2019 MLA Humanities Innovation Course Development award winner (with Irina Gendelman, Ph.D.) for his team taught course, "From the Beginning: Indigenous Storytelling of Food and Medicine"; and, an Upton Foundation Fellow, researching food in American history and literature in the Janice Bluestein Longstone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan Libraries in 2014.

His critical work, too, merges literature, the classroom, and the larger world. For example, his horror at watching live on television a plane crash deliberately into New York's World Trade Center led to a conference and then a class (co-taught with anthropologist David Price) and then a book: Reframing 9/11: Film, Pop Culture and the "War on Terror" (Continuum 2010), co-edited with Anna Froula (East Carolina University) and Karen Randall (University of Bedfordshire, UK). Another example: a varied and interested eater for his entire life (including, finally, those scorpions in Beijing), he uses these diverse experiences when teaching a course called "Food & Fiction," which has, in turn, led to more writing, more traveling (especially with Communications professor Irina Gendelman), more team-teaching and, of course, more good eating.


Recent essays

  • “Eating, Reading, and Traveling Locally.” Co-written with Irina Gendelman (Saint Martin’s University). In Teaching Food and Literature. Ed. Jeff Birkenstein. Forthcoming 2024, MLA Press.
  • "Modernism, the Grotesque Body, and Food in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises." In "Significant Food in American Literature. Co-edited with Robert Hauhart (Saint Martin's University). Forthcoming 2024, University of Georgia Press.
  • "Food, Influence, the Short Story, Anton Chekhov, and Raymond Carver." In Connections and Influence in the Russian and American Short Story. Co-edited with Robert Hauhart (Saint Martin's University). Lexington Books, 2021.
  • “Post-Apocalyptic Outlaws: Food and Community in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games”. In Food and Feast in Modern Outlaw Tales. Eds. Alexander L. Kaufman and Penny Vlagopoulos. Routledge, 2019.
  • “Teaching Travel through Wandering and Food.” Co-authored with Irina Gendelman (Saint Martin’s University). In Foodscapes: Food, Space, and Place in a Global Society. Ed. Carlnita P. Greene. Peter Lang Publishing, 2018.
  • “James Joyce, Dubliners, and Exile.” In European Writers in Exile. Eds. Robert C. Hauhart and Jeff Birkenstein. Lexington Books. 2018.
  • “Paris Between the Wars: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Hunger, and Language.” In Critical Insights: American Writers in Exile. Eds. Jeff Birkenstein and Robert Hauhart. Salem Press/EBSCO, 2015.
  • “How Significant Food Can Make a Short Story into a Meal: The Hyphenated Immigrant Experience in Contemporary American Short Fiction."  In Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian, and British Writing (in the series Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature).  Eds. Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergmann.  Routledge, January 2015.
  • “The Ugly American and the Legacy of Exceptionalism in American Politics and Literature.” The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies 12.3-4 (2015): 1-10. Jeff Birkenstein and Robert C. Hauhart.
  • "Divorced from Reality: Time Bandits in Search of Fulfillment," In The Cinema of Terry Gilliam: It's a Mad World. Eds. Jeff Birkenstein, Anna Froula, Karen Randell, Columbia UP, 2013.
  • "The Houses that Alice Munro Built: Community in The Love of a Good Woman." In Critical Insights: Alice Munro. Ed. Charles E. May. Salem Press/EBSCO, 2012.
  • "Teaching Significant Food in Carver's Fiction." In Carver Across the Curriculum. Eds. Katherine Ashley and Paul Grant. Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011.
  • "An Early Broadside: The Far Right Raids Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." In Reframing 9/11: Film, Popular Culture and the "War on Terror." Co-edited with Anna Froula and Karen Randell. Continuum, 2010.