Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
BACKGROUND INFORMATIONS - BIOGRAPHY
Born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California, John Ernest Steinbeck was the third of four children. Though poor, Steinbeck had a normal childhood and attended public school, graduating from Salinas High School in 1919. As a student, he had an inclination towards reading and writing, which was encouraged by his mother, a schoolteacher herself. He was a frequent contributor to the school magazine.
Steinbeck studied at Stanford University from 1920 to1925. Although he intended to become a marine biologist, he never completed a degree. The courses that attracted his attention most were zoology, English, and classical literature. While at Stanford, he wrote frequently and was often published in the college newspaper. After leaving the University, he worked at a variety of jobs. He went to New York, determined to become a writer. Between 1925 and 1927, he attempted to earn a living as a reporter and a free-lance writer, but was unsuccessful. Disappointed, he left New York and returned to the West Coast, where he met his first wife, Carol.
Steinbeck's first novel, Cup of Gold (1929), is based on the life of Sir Henry Morgan, a famous English pirate of the sixteen hundreds. His next work, The Pastures of Heaven (1932), is a collection of stories about the people on a farm community near Salinas. In this work, Steinbeck focuses on the struggle between human beings and nature. These first two books received scant attention. Finally in 1933, Steinbeck achieved success with his short story “The Red Pony.”
Steinbeck’s next novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), dealt with the migrant workers and poor farmers. In Dubious Battle (1936) realistically portrays the labor strife in California during the nineteen thirties. This novel also sets forth Steinbeck's concept of "group humanity" through the character of Doc Burton. This concern reappears in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and The Sea of Cortez (1941). Of Mice and Men (1937) became a best seller and was adapted for the stage and a movie.
In 1940 Steinbeck went on an expedition to the Gulf of California (also called The Sea of Cortez) with his friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist. Steinbeck shared with him a deep interest in biology. The result of this trip was a joint publication, The Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. The book is in two parts. The first part narrates the voyage and records various conversations and speculations, and the second part describes the marine organisms collected by the men.
Other works include Cannery Row (1944), The Wayward Bus (1947), The Pearl (1947), Burning Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), Sweet Thursday (1954), and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961). East of Eden is Steinbeck's longest and most ambitious work. It follows three generations of a Californian family from 1860 to the First World War. The title refers to the family strife, which parallels the conflict between the Biblical figures of Cain and Abel.
Steinbeck received the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He died on December 20, 1968, and is buried in Salinas, California, the place of his birth and setting for many of his novels.