John Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas California, shortly after the end of the Civil War. His mother was a schoolteacher in the public school system in Salinas. Steinbeck grew up in the fertile California where he found the materials for most of his novels, and short stories. Steinbeck demonstrated a great imagination, which was kindled by writing at a very early age partly due to his mother, the schoolteacher, whom read to him at a very early at the many great works of literature.
During his teen years, Steinbeck played various sports in high school, worked numerous part time, dead end jobs, and wondered around the fertile valley. The lessons, and observations he made while wandering provided much of the material for his later works. Steinbeck entered Stanford University in 1920, and even though he attended the school until 1925, he never graduated. Lacking the desire to acquire a formal degree from the Stanford University, Steinbeck wandered to New York to pursue a writing career. While working on his writing, and while receiving an endless supply of rejection slips, Steinbeck worked odd jobs. The New York American newspaper was where Steinbeck held a job, writing various articles, for some time before the newspaper went bankrupt. The failure of the newspaper and endless supply of rejection letter forced Steinbeck to return to California, broken but still hopeful.
Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929, two months before the horrific stock market crash, causing the novel to nearly unnoticed with barely fifteen hundred copies selling. 1930 was a very important year for Steinbeck in two areas. First he married Carol Henning and the newlyweds settled in Pacific Grove, which he often wrote of. There, Steinbeck met Ed Ricketts whose friendship strongly influenced Steinbeck’s works.
During the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties Steinbeck knew many people who were considered to be the cross section of society, and shared many of the problems of the times with them. His father like many men, helped is family through the depression with a small house and twenty-five dollars a week. Throughout the depression era Steinbeck wrote of people struggling to make ends meet around the California, Mexico region. One of Steinbeck works, Tortilla Flat, marked a turning point in Steinbeck’s literary career. The collection of stories brought Steinbeck the California Commonwealth Club’s Gold Medal for best novel by a California author. Steinbeck continued to writing, relying upon extensive research and his personal observation of the human condition for his stories.
The Grapes of Wrath was a major publishing event of 1939. It was estimated that over half a million copies of the original printing were sold in addition to several American editions; there have been numerous foreign editions and translations. The novel was later made into an important social protest film. The Grapes of Wrath brought about many awards for Steinbeck including the Pulitzer Prize and American Booksellers Award.
The end of the depression was met with World War in which Steinbeck worked as a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Some of Steinbeck’s dispatches were later collected and made into Once There was a War. After the war Steinbeck focused only on novels, travels, film scripts, and editorials. John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 “…for his realistic as well as imaginative writing, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” John Steinbeck’s enlightening acceptance speech is as follows:
“Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. Form the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species…the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit – for gallantry id defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair there are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature”
Throughout his life John Steinbeck remained a private person who shunned publicity. He dies December 20, 1968, in New York City and is survived by his third wife, Elaine Steinbeck and one son, Thomas. John Steinbeck’s ashes were placed in the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Salinas.