An accomplished American writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature and the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), John Steinbeck wrote profoundly about the economic problems faced by the rural class during the Great Depression. His deep interest in the subject and authenticity came from his own experiences working as a manual laborer before choosing writing for a career.
John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. born in Salinas, California on February 27, 1902 came from a middle class family of German and Irish descent. He attended Stanford University but left without graduating. He went to New York in 1925 trying to establish himself as a writer. However, he decided on returning to California after the unsuccessful attempt. On and off while writing, Steinbeck worked as a manual laborer to support his expenses. During this time he realized the plight and bitterness of the great depression faced by the migratory working class.
Steinbeck’s initial novels, Cup of Gold (1929), The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933) did not bring him much success. However, Tortilla Flat (1935) gave Steinbeck a first taste of recognition and popularity by winning the California Commonwealth Club’s Gold Medal. The novel, with a hint of humor is a story revolving around a group of Mexican Americans. It was made into a film of the same title in 1942. Tortilla Flat was followed by In Dubious Battle (1936), a story about a strike by agricultural laborers. Next to be published was the Novella, Of Mice and Men (1937) also adapted to film and play versions, the novel bears the story of an intricate relationship between two migrant workers.
In 1930, John Steinbeck published his most critically acclaimed novel, The Grapes of Wrath. A bestseller, the book won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and was released as a film in the same year. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck wrote the story of a tenant farming family dispossessed from Oklahoma and moving to California in hopes of making a living while working as migratory workers. The story is a portrayal of the merciless agricultural economic system.
In 1941, Steinbeck collaborated with freelance marine biologist Edward F. Ricketts to publish Sea of Cortez which contained information gathered during Steinbeck’s trip to the Gulf of California with Ricketts in 1940. During the course of World War II, Steinbeck served as a war correspondent and also wrote about Norway under the Nazi regime in his book, The Moon Is Down (1942). Some of Steinbeck’s post-war works include Cannery Row (1945), The Pearl (1947), and The Wayward Bus (1947).
Although The Grapes of Wrath remains Steinbeck’s most famous novel, some of his other noted efforts include Burning Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), and Travels with Charley (1962). Many of his stories were made into films of which East of Eden (1955), The Pearl (1948) and Red Pony (1949) are well known.
In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded The Noble Prize for his realistic and imaginative writing which carried sympathetic humor and a keen social perception. Two years later he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. John Steinbeck died in New York on December 20, 1968.