John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American author. Listen to a Steinbeck audiobook for free: https://www.amazon.com/gp/search?ie=UTF8&tag=tra0c7-20&linkCode=ur2&linkId=72cf442f293aa9c43f5d1803934cd95a&camp=1789&creative=9325&index=books&keywords=john%20steinbeck%20audiobook
He won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” He has been called “a giant of American letters.”
During his writing career, he authored 33 books, with one book coauthored alongside Edward Ricketts, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and two collections of short stories. He is widely known for the comic novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), the multi-generation epic East of Eden (1952), and the novellas The Red Pony (1933) and Of Mice and Men (1937). The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is considered Steinbeck’s masterpiece and part of the American literary canon. In the first 75 years after it was published, it sold 14 million copies.
Most of Steinbeck’s work is set in central California, particularly in the Salinas Valley and the California Coast Ranges region. His works frequently explored the themes of fate and injustice, especially as applied to downtrodden or everyman protagonists.
Steinbeck’s contacts with leftist authors, journalists, and labor union figures may have influenced his writing. He joined the League of American Writers, a Communist organization, in 1935. Steinbeck was mentored by radical writers Lincoln Steffens and his wife Ella Winter. Through Francis Whitaker, a member of the Communist Party USA’s John Reed Club for writers, Steinbeck met with strike organizers from the Cannery and Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union. In 1939, he signed a letter with some other writers in support of the Soviet invasion of Finland and the Soviet-established puppet government.
Documents released by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2012 indicate that Steinbeck offered his services to the Agency in 1952, while planning a European tour, and the Director of Central Intelligence, Walter Bedell Smith, was eager to take him up on the offer. What work, if any, Steinbeck may have performed for the CIA during the Cold War is unknown.
Steinbeck was a close associate of playwright Arthur Miller. In June 1957, Steinbeck took a personal and professional risk by supporting him when Miller refused to name names in the House Un-American Activities Committee trials. Steinbeck called the period one of the “strangest and most frightening times a government and people have ever faced.”
In 1963, Steinbeck visited the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic at the behest of John Kennedy. During his visit he sat for a rare portrait by painter Martiros Saryan and visited Geghard Monastery. Footage of this visit filmed by Rafael Aramyan was sold in 2013 by his granddaughter.
In 1967, when he was sent to Vietnam to report on the war, his sympathetic portrayal of the United States Army led the New York Post to denounce him for betraying his liberal past. Steinbeck’s biographer, Jay Parini, says Steinbeck’s friendship with President Lyndon B. Johnson influenced his views on Vietnam. Steinbeck may also have been concerned about the safety of his son serving in Vietnam.
John Steinbeck died in New York City on December 20, 1968, during the 1968 flu pandemic of heart disease and congestive heart failure. He was 66, and had been a lifelong smoker. An autopsy showed nearly complete occlusion of the main coronary arteries.
In accordance with his wishes, his body was cremated, and interred on March 4, 1969 at the Hamilton family gravesite in Salinas, with those of his parents and maternal grandparents. His third wife, Elaine, was buried in the plot in 2004. He had written to his doctor that he felt deeply “in his flesh” that he would not survive his physical death, and that the biological end of his life was the final end to it.
The day after Steinbeck’s death in New York City, reviewer Charles Poore wrote in The New York Times: “John Steinbeck’s first great book was his last great book. But Good Lord, what a book that was and is: The Grapes of Wrath.” Poore noted a “preachiness” in Steinbeck’s work, “as if half his literary inheritance came from the best of Mark Twain—and the other half from the worst of Cotton Mather.” But he asserted that “Steinbeck didn’t need the Nobel Prize—the Nobel judges needed him.”