Jeff Birkenstein with Mark Twain in Tumwater WA

Professor, English

Fields: Short story and short story sequence, American literature post-1865, food and culture literature, post-9/11 literature and culture, TESOL/EFL
Ph.D., English, University of Kentucky; M.A. Teaching English as a Second Language, ibid; B.A., English, U.C.L.A.; M.A., English, Cal State Long Beach.

Old Main 347
5000 Abbey Way SE
Lacey, WA 98503


"There is no hiding in my classes. Students are in the middle of it. Students not only read great texts, but they create knowledge. They write and discover new things about themselves, about their topics. There are many reasons to attend a smaller school, and this is chief among them."

Jeff Birkenstein is a professor in, and previously chair of, the Department of English at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Washington. 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 44 countries and 49 states, often for teaching and research or while leading or co-leading student trips, including in Austria, China, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, San Marino, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, and Vatican City. He was a Fulbright scholar at Petrozavodsk State University (Russia) in 2013; 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

  • “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.