John Steinbeck Biography
John Steinbeck changed the face of literature in the 1930's, opening the world's eyes to suffering and oppression with the introduction of such classics as "Of Mice and Men" and "Grapes of Wrath."
John Ernst Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California to German and Irish parents. His father, John Steinbeck Sr., worked as the County Treasurer in Salinas and his mother, Olive Hamilton-Steinbeck, a former teacher, helped to introduce young John to the art of reading and writing.
During his youth, John attended Salinas High School, graduating in 1919. He worked diligently as a hired hand on nearby ranches and took other manual labor jobs to help support his family during the summer months, descriptions of which he would later recall and describe impressively in his manuscripts.
John was accepted to Stanford University after high school and enrolled with the hope of obtaining an English degree. Working through an independent study program, John's attendance became sporadic as he grew more and more disinterested. He left Stanford in 1925 for New York and his dream of becoming a published author. Over the next two years, John's time in New York would prove unsuccessful. Still not published and mostly unheard of, John returned home to California.
John's first novel, Cup of Gold, a story that romanticized the life and exploits of the famous 17th century Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan, was put into print in 1929. It attracted no attention. The two novels that followed, The Pastures of Heaven-a group of short stories depicting the life of a community of California farmers- and To A God Unknown, were also not well received. To support himself and his passion for writing, John continued to take manual labor jobs by day, so that he could spend his evenings concentrating on his craft. It was here that John would learn to hone his personal observation skills, often transferring what he saw in struggling workers and the human will to survive to his stories.
In 1930, John married his first wife, Carol Henning, and moved to Pacific Grove, California where he gathered much of his information for his upcoming work. Often writing firsthand about the quiet dignity he saw in the poor and the oppressed, John became a master at depicting characters that were trapped in an unfair world.
With the publishing of Tortilla Flat in 1935, John's career finally took notice and heads turned to read the new author's sympathetic tale of Americans of Mexican descent dwelling in nearby Monterey, California. John would win the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal for best novel by a California author that year, and his once unknown words were now respected around the world. John's subsequent novels, including Grapes of Wrath, for which he is most famous for, were all deemed literary successes and he was hailed a master of description by others in the writing community.
During World War II, John acted as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Many of his actual dispatches were later collected and made into the well-known collection, Once There Was A War. Though extremely successful by this point and enamored by the literary world, John remained a private person who went to great lengths to shun publicity of any kind.
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," John had made his mark on the world. A major literary figure since the 1930's, John's career would honor him with numerous awards throughout his lifetime and books such as The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men would become literary masterpieces, still discussed in classrooms and literary gatherings today.
John Steinbeck died on December 20, 1968 in New York City. His third wife, Elaine Scott and one son, Thomas, survive him. His ashes were placed in Salinas, California.