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Who is John Steinbeck?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 23, 2024
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John Steinbeck, born John Ernst Steinbeck in February of 1902, was one of the most recognizable and widely read American author of the 20th century. Steinbeck, who died on 20 December 1968, never saw his 70th birthday. Even still, he was an incredibly prolific writer who wrote in a number of different forms. Although he published a number of length novels such as The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, he is also credited with developing the play-novella form. Play-novellas are short novels that are meant to translate easily from the page to the theater.

During his career, Steinbeck won two incredibly prestigious literary awards. The Grapes of Wrath, which was published in 1939, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In 1962, Steinbeck was honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature for the body of work that he had produced. His novels were so beloved that many of them were adapted for Hollywood screenplays. The Pearl, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and The Grapes of Wrath all went on to become Hollywood films. In fact, Steinbeck did some writing specifically for Hollywood. In 1944, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story for Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.

Steinbeck has been honored as a great empathizer with the common man, especially the migrant worker. The Grapes of Wrath, for example, is a book set during the Great Depression. It follows the journey of the Joad family, sharecroppers who are forced to leave their land once it becomes barren due to dust storms. In this novel, John Steinbeck displays many transgressions that the working class experienced during the Great Depression.

In his play-novella Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck tenderly portrays two traveling ranch workers who are trying to save enough money so that they can buy their own farm. In this book, Steinbeck empathizes both with the workingman and the plight of the mentally ill. Of Mice and Men, one of the most famous novels penned by John Steinbeck, has been made into a movie three times.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America, another famous book by John Steinbeck, is one of his only nonfiction publications. The book chronicles the author’s trip around the United States in his camper truck, accompanied by his devoted poodle Charlie. Travels with Charlie portrays a through, if sometimes melancholy, portrait of the United States in the early 1960s.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By Feryll — On Feb 16, 2015

I found my mother's old copy of Of Mice and Men when I was looking through the bookshelves at our house one weekend. I was a young boy at the time, and way too young to be reading this book, I think. The subject matter was a little more advanced than I was ready for. Of course, the fact that I was too young for the book didn't stop me from reading the entire thing. In fact, this was probably what motivated me to read the entire book that weekend.

The book was like the proverbial train wreck and I couldn't look away even though I was a bit horrified. For weeks after reading the book, I had nightmares about dead mice in my pockets and live mice running all over me. I had forgotten it was written by John Steinbeck. Thank you Mr. Steinbeck.

By Animandel — On Feb 15, 2015

I read The Grapes of Wrath when I was in high school. The book was assigned by a teacher in one of my classes. I can't remember which year I was in school at the time. At that time, most of us bought the summary notes rather than actually reading the assigned books. And sometimes I didn't even do that much. At that age, I thought it was unfair that we had to read novels in addition to doing all of the other class work, so I protested silently by not reading the assigned books.

However, I was glad I chose to read Grapes of Wrath. For some reason I connected with the plight of the characters in the book. When I would read the book I felt like I was the one in the middle of The Dust Bowl eating the dust and slowing cooking beneath the rays of the burning sun. This is the only John Steinbeck book I have read, but if his others are anywhere near as good as this one then I am missing out on some great reads.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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