John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck PhotoJohn Ernst Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, on February 27, 1902 of German and Irish ancestry. His father, John Steinbeck, Sr., served as the County Treasurer while his mother, Olive (Hamilton) Steinbeck, a former school teacher, fostered Steinbeck's love of reading and the written word. During summers he worked as a hired hand on nearby ranches, nourishing his impression of the California countryside and its people.

After graduating from Salinas High School in 1919, Steinbeck attended Stanford University. Originally an English major, he pursued a program of independent study and his attendance was sporadic. During this time he worked periodically at various jobs and left Stanford permanently in 1925 to pursue his writing career in New York. However, he was unsuccessful in getting any of his writing published and finally returned to California.

His first novel, Cup of Gold was published in 1929, but attracted little attention. His two subsequent novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To a God Unknown, were also poorly received by the literary world.

Steinbeck married his first wife, Carol Henning in 1930. They lived in Pacific Grove where much of the material for Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row was gathered. Tortilla Flat (1935) marked the turning point in Steinbeck's literary career. It received the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal for best novel by a California author. Steinbeck continued writing, relying upon extensive research and his personal observation of the human condition for his stories. His novel Of Mice and Men (1937)was an immediate success which was followed by a theatre play the same year.The Grapes of Wrath (1939) won the Pulitzer Prize.

During World War II, Steinbeck was a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Some of his dispatches were later collected and made into Once There Was a War.

John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "...for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and a keen social perception."

Throughout his life John Steinbeck remained a private person who shunned publicity. He died December 20, 1968, in New York City and is survived by his third wife, Elaine (Scott) Steinbeck and one son. His ashes were placed in the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Salinas.

John Steinbeck receiving Nobel Peace Prize "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. From 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 in defeat, for courage,
compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and
despair, these 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."

- John Steinbeck's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Comprehension questions:

  1. What did Steinbeck do before his first success?
  2. Describe the place where Steinbeck and his first wife lived!
  3. What is his famous novel "Of Mice and Men" about?
  4. How deeply was Steinbeck's first wife involved into the production of "Grapes of Wrath"?
  5. Which American writers won the Nobel Prize for Literature in our century?
  6. What is a writer's calling according to Steinbeck?