Born February 27, 1902, to a County Treasurer and a schoolteacher, John Steinbeck was raised in the small town of Salinas, California. With no more than a population of 2500, this rural farming community influenced and formed many of John Steinbeck’s stories. Being the third of four children and the only boy, John Steinbeck discovered writing and even though he was very shy nature, he sent in numerous articles to various publishings.
Olive Hamilton Steinbeck, John Steinbeck’s mother, was an Irish immigrant. As described in a small portion of John Steinbeck’s book, East of Eden, his mother left her parents at fifteen to become a schoolteacher. Unlike his mother, John Steinbeck Senor was considered very stern and “a man intensely disappointed in himself” (Reef 12). His father was a government official in Salinas County. The reason his father was disappointed with himself was partly due because he had chosen a safe practical course of life. He would later support and admire his son for “laying down his line and following it undeflected to the end.” (Reef 12).
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John Steinbeck first began his academic career at West End School, the local public school, where he earned good grades. He then moved on to the small town’s high school where he excelled in writing but began to become shy, socially secluding himself. John Steinbeck’s ninth-grade English teacher, Miss Cupp was the one he credited, with inspiring him to become a writer. She said, “like Malory and Stevenson, he could create magic words” (Reef 19). John Steinbeck entered Stanford University in the fall of 1919.
Unlike the other freshmen attending their first year of college, John Steinbeck was there to learn not for a degree. He decided to study topics that interested him, taking classes that would aid his writing career. He took everything from literature, classical Greek and history, to human anatomy. When he did not like a professor or their assignments he either dropped the class or simply did not do them. In 1925 John Steinbeck graduated from Stanford University, but without a degree.
On November 5, 1925, John Steinbeck moved to New York and worked as both a manual labourer (working on the construction of Madison Square Garden) and journalist while writing his first two novels, which were not successful (Reef 25). In 1930, John Steinbeck moved back to California and began work in a state fish hatchery until he was able to borrow enough money to “live on” while he finished his book. It is at this time that he met his future wife Carol Henning and was engaged to be married to her on January 14, 1929.
In 1940 John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for the grapes of wrath. Shortly after a movie was made about this award-winning book The Grapes Of Wrath. In 1962 John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature. On September 14, 1964 John Steinbeck again received another award, The Medal Of Freedom, which was presented to him by President Lyndon Johnson.
Over the years John and Carol (his wife) had begun to grow apart. They finally separated in early April of 1941 and were divorced by late March of 1943. John Steinbeck quickly married again, this time to Gwyn Conger who was an actor/dancer. On August 1, 1944 John and Gwyn Steinbeck gave birth to a little boy named Thom, stating that he was “a baby-shaped baby”<3e>.
Again in early June of 1946 John and Gwyn Steinbeck had another little boy named John. This was to be their last child together because them too had begun to grow apart and on May 7, 1948, they were divorced. Working on the set of Viva Zapata John Steinbeck met and fell in love with the stage manager, Elaine Scott. John and Elaine Steinbeck were married on December 20, 1950 and shortly after moved to New York. This marriage not only proved to be the last, but also the most fulfilling one as well.
John Steinbeck died at the age of sixty-six on December 20, 1968 at 5:30 in the afternoon. Even though he had requested a quick funereal with no long speeches or flowers (, which was over in twenty minutes) he and his works have never been forgotten. John Steinbeck had succeeded in becoming an author of classic fiction that was not only entertaining but examined pieces of life in a deeper context (Lisca 87).
1) Bloom, Harold, ed. John Steinbeck. New York: Chelsea House
2) Lisca, Peter. John Steinbeck Nature and Myth. New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 1978.
3) Reef, Catherine. John Steinbeck. New York: Clarion Books.
4) Swisher, Clarice, ed. Readings on John Steinbeck. San Diego:
Ca. Greenhaven Press. 1996.
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