What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
John Ernst Steinbeck was a beloved American novelist best known for The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which summed up the bitterness of the Great Depression and aroused widespread sympathy for the plight of migratory farmworkers.
Born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California, Steinbeck was the third of four children. His father John Ernst was a County Treasurer and his mother Olive, a former schoolteacher. He graduated from Salinas High School in 1919 and attended classes at Stanford University. Leaving SU in 1925 without a degree, he meandered through life for a number of years, traveling across the US from coast-to-coast holding various jobs as a clerk, farm laborer, ranch hand, factory worker, caretaker, and more. It was during these travels that Steinbeck witnessed and connected deeply with the struggles of workers and their families during the Great Depression.
Cup of Gold, his first novel, was published in 1929. Steinbeck went on to write many of his famous novels in the 1930s, including To a God Unknown, Tortilla Flat, and Of Mice and Men. His 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, about the migration of a family from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California, won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. A prolific writer, Steinbeck would go on to author more than 30 books, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and two collections of short stories. No less than 18 of his books have been adapted for films and plays, including In Dubious Battle, in 2016, starring James Franco, highlighting the relevance of his work today.
Notably, Steinbeck published East of Eden in 1952, considered by many, including Steinbeck, to be his most ambitious novel. Indeed, about East of Eden, Steinbeck stated that the work "has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years." The book was originally dedicated to Steinbeck's then young sons, John and Thom, wherein he described the Salinas Valley for them in robust and rich detail. In Travels With Charley, published in 1960, Steinbeck would echo his formative travels of the late 1920s in this cross-country camper truck adventure he embarked upon with his sweet dog and companion, Charley. (And, of course, the truck was nicknamed "Rocinante," after Don Quixote's "noble steed").
Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, cementing his place as one of the greatest and most influential authors of his generation. He died on December 20, 1968, in New York City. Then 66 years old, he was survived by his third wife of 17 years, Elaine Scott, who herself passed away at the age of 88 in 2003. She is buried near her husband in the Garden of Memories Memorial Park in Salinas, California.