Martha Heasley Cox

Martha Heasley Cox accepts congratulations
Professor Emerita Martha Heasley Cox accepts congratulations from President Robert Caret  and Dean Carmen Sigler on receiving San José State University’s Tower Award in 2000.

Martha Heasley Cox (1919-2015) received her baccalaureate in English from Lyon College (then known as Arkansas College) in Batesville, Arkansas. Afterwards, she taught at secondary schools in Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as at Arkansas Polytechnic University. 

After pursuing graduate study at the University of Wisconsin, she received her Masters in English from the University of Arkansas in 1943.  She went on to further graduate work at the University of Texas and in 1955 received her Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas.  In that same year she joined the faculty of San Jose State University and taught American literature, English composition, drama, and film studies until her retirement in 1989.

Professor Cox with Gail and Thomas Steinbeck
Professor Cox (right) with Gail and Thom Steinbeck at the Tower Award Ceremony

She was a scholar of twentieth-century American literature whose publications include articles published in professional periodicals and encyclopedias as well as several books, including the Maxwell Anderson Bibliography (University of Virginia Press, 1958) and Nelson Algren (with Wayne Chatterton, Twayne, 1976). Her textbooks on both literature and composition include fourteen editions of A Reading Approach to College Writing, a pioneering volume in its field. 


In 1971 Dr. Cox became the founder and first Director of the Steinbeck Research Center at San Jose State University, serving as director until 1982.  The Center was renamed the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies in her honor in 1997. 

Center 1 Center 2 Center 3
Interior views of the Center for Steinbeck Studies in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Library at San José State University.

A frequent consultant, chairman, and panel member at national and international professional meetings, Dr. Cox has served on the Board of Directors of the International Visual Literacy Conference, the National Steinbeck Center, the Cannery Row History Center, and on the Executive Committees of the National Conference on Visual Literacy and College Composition and Communication. She was a delegate to the First International Conference on John Steinbeck held in Fukuoka, Japan, and is currently a Book Juror for the California Book Awards.

Doctor Cox with Joyce Carol and Paul Douglass
Dr. Cox with Cox Lecturer Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Douglass.

Dr. Cox was the founder of the Martha Heasley Cox Lecture series at SJSU, which has brought many distinguished speakers  to campus, including:

Wallace Stegner Arthur Miller Toni Morrison Peter Matthiessen Michael Ondaatje
William Kennedy George Plimpton Paul Theroux Joyce Carol Oates Salman Rushdie
Maxine Hong Kingston J. M. Coetzee Norman Mailer John Barth


Dr.Cox receiving an award
Dr. Cox receives the Distinguished Alumna award of Lyon College in 1977

Dr. Cox was also the founder of the Steinbeck Fellows Program, which brings talented writers to SJSU for a year, offering a $10,000 stipend.

In 2000 she was given the Tower Award, SJSU's most prestigious honor, awarded to one recipient each year.

Publications by Dr. Cox include:

Nelson Algren (with Wayne Chatterton). Boston: Twayne, 1976.
A New Reading Approach to College Writing. New York: Chandler, 1974.
Aids for Teaching A New Reading Approach to College Writing. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Classic Short American Novels. San Francisco: Chandler, 1969
Teacher's Manual for Image and Value: An Invitation to Literature. New York: Harcourt, 1967.
Student Guide to Image and Value: An Invitation to Literature. New York: Harcourt, 1966.
Image and Value: An Invitation to Literature. New York: Harcourt, 1966.
Better Writing with Student Papers for Analysis. San Francisco: Chandler, 1964.