John Steinbeck Biography

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John Ernest Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in his childhood home of the Salinas Valley in California. In this environment, Steinbeck developed an appreciation for the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world. The connection between man and nature and the inevitability of man meeting his determined fate are two common themes in his novels.

As a child, Steinbeck grew up in a supportive middle-class family. Although his mother, once a schoolteacher, would have preferred her son to make his way in a dignified profession, Steinbeck's father gave the writer a small allowance from his own salary so that his son could pursue his writing career.

Steinbeck went to Stanford intermittently for five years without ever earning a degree, and during that time, he worked odd jobs, often involving physical labor. He liked these jobs because it brought him into contact with men of courage, strength, and honesty. He admired them for these qualities and their lack of hypocrisy.

At the age of twenty-seven, Steinbeck published his first novel, Cup of Gold, in 1929. From that point came thirteen novels, two collections of short stories, dramatizations of two of his novels, a play in story form, a documentary, and two volumes of reportage, as well as a journal of travel and scientific research. His novels include: To a God Unknown (1932), Tortilla Flat (1935), In Dubious Battle (1936), The Red Pony (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Of Mice and Men (1940), The Moon Is Down (1942), Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1947), The Pearl (1947), East of Eden (1952), Sweet Thursday (1954), and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961).

The Grapes of Wrath won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940, and Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. After Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, he ceased to write any significant fiction, but he did write journalistic pieces, including America and Americans (1966).

Despite winning the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, critics weren't sure what to make of Steinbeck because his style seemed to change with every novel. Some considered these changes an example of his versatility as a writer, while others viewed it as immaturity and an inability to establish his own style.

"Those who have written about Steinbeck have disagreed far more widely -- and deeply -- than they have about any other important writer of our time. . . . There is at least one notable characteristic of Steinbeck's writing on which otherwise conflicting critics agree: he is a man in whom the faculty of pity is strong and close to the surface. . . . It may turn out . . . that the essence of Steinbeck-man and Steinbeck-writer lies in these two quite uncomplicated truths: he earnestly wishes to make people understand one another and he is able, like Blake, to 'seek love in the pity of others' woe.'"

Steinbeck died at his home in New York City in December of 1968.


Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. New York: Bantam Books, 1974.

"Steinbeck, John." Biographical Dictionary. New York: Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd., 1997.

"Steinbeck, John." Modern American Literature: A Library of Literary Criticism. Vol. 3. ed. Frederick Unger. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons., 1969.

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