John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr, 1902 - 1968

portrait of John Steinbeck
Photo by Philippe Halsman, ca. 1955
John Steinbeck signature

Born: 27 February 1902, Salinas, California
Died: 20 February 1968, New York City

Steinbeck's grandfather, Johann Groβsteinbeck, had shortened the family name at immigration and gave the English version of his name to Steinbeck's father who was treasurer of Monterey County when the future writer was born. His mother was a former schoolteacher with a passion for reading and writing. He attended the local public school, graduating from Salinas High School in 1919. During summers he had worked on nearby ranches, side-by-side with migrants, and had explored the forests, fields, and farms of the area extensively. He enrolled at Stanford University, attending intermittently until 1925 without finishing a degree. He moved to New York City and worked odd jobs while trying to get his work published, returning to California in 1928. Through the Depression he lived in a cottage his father owned at Pacific Grove, his father also loaned him substantial sums to live on while writing. Through the '30s and '40s he spent a lot of time collecting biological specimens with Ed Ricketts. Ricketts was the model for "Doc" in Cannery Row and appeared in at least four of Steinbeck's other books. Steinbeck's first success came with Tortilla Flat (1935), he then used his own experience as background for Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), all three titles were made into motion pictures. Grapes would earn him the Pulitzer in 1940 but was banned in his home county because of it's honest depiction of the lot of migrant workers. During WW II he worked as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and worked with the Office of Strategic Services. He covered the war up close, suffering a number of shrapnel wounds. He wrote for Hollywood, notably the script for Viva Zapata! and was the on-screen narrator for a film featuring short stories by O. Henry. He considered East of Eden (1952) to be his best work, and feeling his mortality he toured the country in a custom-built pickup/camper rig (rare at the time) with his blue poodle Charley, which became Travels with Charley: In Search of America. He won the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. A life-long smoker, he died of congestive heart failure.

Biography from Wikipedia and the California Association of Teachers of English

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