Sunday, April 27, 2014

John Steinbeck Biography

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

v     One of America’s most famous writers, he wrote 16 novels along with many short stories and non-fiction works.

v     He’s also one of America’s most controversial authors. While many of his stories are required school reading, he’s also one of America’s ten most banned authors, with Of Mice and Men being the 6th most banned book in American Schools from 1990-2004.

v     His first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929. It was about the sacking of Panama in the 17th century.

v     His first critical success was Tortilla Flat (1935), about a group of young, homeless men living in California, working and sometimes stealing, based partly on the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It was made into a film in 1942.

v     He won the Pulitzer Prize  and the National Book Award for his novel Grapes of Wrath, in 1939.

v     In 1942 Steinbeck wrote The Moon is Down, about a small village in Norway occupied by the Nazis. He was later given the Haakon VII Cross of Freedom for it.

v     Other famous novels include East of Eden, The Red Pony, The Pearl, and Of Mice And Men, all of which were made into films. Of Mice And Men has been made into a very popular play as well.

v     He wrote his last novel, The Winter of our Discontent, in 1961. It’s about moral decline in America. J

v     In 1962, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. Many critics complained about it, and Steinbeck himself said he didn’t deserve it. Critics considered him too preachy.

v     In 1964, Steinbeck was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

v     The Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA, is the only museum in the US dedicated to one author.

Personal Life:

John was the son of German immigrants who came to live in Salinas, California. His parents were well educated, and middle class. At a young age, John began working on farms, where he met migrant workers. He studied English literature at Stanford University, then struggled with many different jobs while trying to get his stories published.

During the Great Depression he and his first wife, Carol Henning, were lucky enough to stay in a cottage in Monterey, owned by John’s parents, who also sent him money so he could write full-time. Their meals came mostly from fishing. His parents’ help paid off. John worked hard, writing several “dust bowl” novels about poor migrant workers that made him famous, although it made enemies where he lived. John wrote about the Grapes of Wrath:

The vilification of me out here from the large landowners and bankers is pretty bad. The latest is a rumor started by them that the Okies hate me and have threatened to kill me for lying about them. I’m frightened at the rolling might of this damned thing. It is completely out of hand; I mean a kind of hysteria about the book is growing that is not healthy.”

In 1940, John went on a voyage, collecting marine specimens with biologist and friend Ed Ricketts. In 1941 he and Carol divorced, and in 1942 he married Gwen Conger.

During WW II, John served as a newspaper correspondent for The New York Herald Tribune. He joined a group of commandos on operations in the Mediterranean Sea, and even helped capture Nazi soldiers. Wounded in combat, he survived and returned home around 1944.

In 1947 Steinbeck traveled to Russia with photographer Robert Capa. They visited Moscow, Kiev, and Stalingrad, and Steinbeck then wrote A Russian Journal. He was called back to the US in 1948 when Ed Ricketts died in a car crash––upon arrival his wife Gwyn called for a divorce. These events caused a year of depression, after which John met and married his third and final wife, Elaine Scott.

This is the camper/truck that Steinbeck drove across America

In 1960 Steinbeck took a road trip across the US with his dog, in a small camper/truck. While traveling he wrote about the experience in Travels with Charley. John Steinbeck died in 1968, 66 years old, from heart failure, having been a life-long smoker.

In 1967, the year before he died, Steinbeck traveled to Vietnam, reporting for Newsday Magazine. He supported the war, and visited his sons in combat, even manning a machine gun post.