Alumnus Daniel Pearce '18 Named a 2020-2021 Steinbeck Fellow

BY Audrey Deng, May 13, 2020

Recent alumnus Daniel Pearce ’18 was recently named a 2020-2021 Steinbeck Fellow by San José State University.

Pearce currently teaches at UC Santa Cruz and is at work on a novel about academic fraud and police misconduct. In a comment to the university, Pearce said, “Before coming to Columbia, I had worked as an investigator of police misconduct in New York as part of the city's civilian-oversight agency. The job involved interviewing police officers, going on ride-alongs, canvassing for witnesses, reviewing surveillance footage, etc. In other words, I had a kind of secondhand version of the access that police have to city life, and this access struck me at the time as primarily invasive.”

The thread about academic fraud, however, arrived during Pearce’s time at Columbia. Pearce received an email from a New York Times reporter asking him for comment on academic fraud; the reporter had sent the email mistakenly.

“It turned out that the reporter had had the wrong email, but I followed the story closely, more closely because of my odd connection to it—in fact, it obsessed me. I've always been drawn to stories (both fiction and non) of impostors and frauds and hucksters, although as I was first developing the premise for this book, I hadn't seen the academy as uniquely susceptible to such figures—peer review should guard against them, after all. And yet, the closer I looked, the more I appreciated the hostile circumstances faced by aspiring academics, particularly those in the humanities and social sciences: the erosion of tenure, the increasing reliance upon poorly paid adjuncts, the shriveling job market as universities invest in (and students flock to) STEM fields. These factors have created, and continue to create, a profound pressure on doctoral students to distinguish themselves early, to produce eye-popping studies, and this was the seedbed from which my own fictional conman grew: a young sociologist trying to create sensational work about the NYPD.”

In addition to teaching at UC Santa Cruz, he has taught at Columbia University, the University of San Francisco, and San Quentin State Prison. Pearce’s USF profile states that his research interests include the prison university and intersections of human rights and rhetoric. Pearce is also a drummer and plays in several groups in the Bay Area.

According to the SJSU’s website, the Steinbeck Fellows Program offers writers of any age and background a $15,000 fellowship to finish a significant writing project. Named in honor of author John Steinbeck, the program is guided by his lifetime of work in literature, the media, and environmental activism. Fellows are afforded office space and, when needed, housing assistance through the Center for Steinbeck Studies and the Department of English and Comparative Literature.

“At this point, I've already finished a draft of the novel described above, and as I get it into better shape I'll be trying to come up with the next thing—a major goal for my time as a fellow is to get a better sense of what that next thing is,” Pearce said.

Pearce is one of six others awarded the fellowship this year. Past recipients include writers R.O. Kwon and Vanessa Hua.