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The Author

John-Steinbeck Born in 1902 to a modest family and raised in Salinas, California, John Steinbeck was a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, war correspondent, and journalist who was known for his powerful writing about social and economic issues.

Deciding early on to become a writer, Steinbeck wrote for his local high school paper and often locked himself away in his bedroom to write poems and stories late into the night. Hoping to sharpen his writing skills, he enrolled at Stanford in 1919, and soaked up everything he could from creative writing and world history courses. After dropping out of college and before achieving success as a writer, Steinbeck found work as a manual laborer—his experiences lending authenticity to his depictions of the lives of the workers in his stories.

“Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.” ” –from Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize speech

During the late 30s, he wrote three books about labor issues in California—including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. He was a patriot, as were many Americans after Pearl Harbor, as the U.S. entered World War II. During the war, he devoted himself to writing propaganda for the war effort and was hired by the New York Herald Tribune to report on the war in Europe. After the war, Steinbeck suffered the tragic death of close friend Ed Ricketts in 1948, which combined with his divorce from his second wife that same year, sent him into a long depression.

Early in 1951, John Steinbeck began again to compose the novel he had planned for years. He intended East of Eden to be the “big work” of his career. In this epic novel of intertwined stories, he captured his own history as well as the history of the Salinas Valley. Beloved actor James Dean made his acting debut in the Elia Kazan directed film based on the book. Steinbeck traveled throughout much of the rest of the decade and supported himself writing journalism about his travels.

Upon his return to America in late 1959, Steinbeck was distressed by what he felt were America’s moral lapses. Out of that distress, he wrote a novel about a man’s own moral quandary, The Winter of Our Discontent. Publication of that novel earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he was awarded for his body of work in 1962. His is “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and social perception,” said Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Anders Osterling in his presentation speech. In 1964, Steinbeck was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

John Steinbeck was, throughout his career, curious and engaged, a writer to the end. Throughout the mid-1960s, Steinbeck’s health continued to decline and he eventually passed away at his home in December 1968.

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