Welcome to a new post of the “Get to know the writer” series! These posts present (famous) authors, focusing not as much on their literary careers but more on their personal lives. I think the beauty of books lies not only in the stories contained but also in the stories of their writers and the broader context in which they were written.

The information is structured into 3 main sections:

  • Writer’s life in a nutshell – focus on personal events
  • Literary career – most important works published
  • Did-you-knows – interesting bits and facts

The first writer featured in this series was Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian classic widely known for his exploration of human psychology. Now it’s time for another classic: John Steinbeck.


writers life nutshell readers high tea

Born in Salinas, California in 1902, John Ernst Steinbeck became fond of literature since childhood, sharing his mother’s passion for reading and writing. What’s interesting is that his father had several jobs to earn money, most of them dealing with agriculture – this is how Steinbeck learnt to appreciate the land of Salinas Valley, aspect that highly influenced his writing.

In 1919 Steinbeck entered Stanford University but dropped out without graduating. In 1925 he tried to start a writing career in New York and he failed, returning only after 1 year back home. Quickly after that, he moved to Pacific Grove, to a cottage owned by his father, together with his new wife – Carol. During the Great Depression Steinbeck used to go fishing and grew fresh vegetables in his garden. This area, the heart of California’s sardine industry, inspired 2 of his novels: “Tortilla Flat” and “Cannery Row”.

steinbeck readers high tea
Mural overlooking the National Steinbeck Center depicts John Steinbeck’s association with Portola Sardine Company (KCET.org)

After 12 years of marriage, Steinbeck and Carol got a divorce, and after one year he married Gwyn. Together they had 2 sons – Thomas and John. This second marriage lasted for only 5 years. In 1950 Steinbeck married for the third and last time with Elaine, a stage-manager whom he met at a restaurant in California. They remained together until his death in 1968.


literary career readers high tea

With more than 27 books written during his literary career, many of Steinbeck’s works are considered classics of Western literature. Three of his most known book are the following:

  • East of Eden (1952) is a multi-generation epic, telling the stories of two families; it was considered by Steinbeck his most important creation
  • Of Mice and Men (1937) tells the story of tow ranch workers in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in the U.S.A.
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1939) focuses on a poor family of farmers, and it is also set during the Great Depression. It is frequently read in American literature classes because of its historical context

steinbeck books readers high tea

did you know that readers high tea

… Steinbeck served as a WW2 war correspondent? In 1943 he represented the New York Herald and worked closely with the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of the CIA). Unfortunately, he returned from the war with wounds and psychological trauma.

… Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962? He was awarded the prize “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” In 2012, when the Nobel Prize opened their archives, it was revealed that Steinbeck was a “compromise choice”, as “there aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize” …

… Steinbeck’s best friend, Ed Ricketts, was a marine biologist? They met when Steinbeck was 28 years old and became close friends. Ricketts taught Steinbeck philosophy and biology, and also inspired some of his characters. They also travelled to Mexico to collect marine life, this adventure resulting in the book “Sea of Cortez”.

steinbeck readers high tea google doodle
Google doodle honouring Steinbeck

I hope you enjoyed this quick journey into Steinbeck’s history! Have you read any book by Steinbeck? How did you find them?

‘Till next time, happy reading!


Information sources: Wikipedia.org | IrishAmerica.com | KCET.org | Biography.com | Steinbeck.org

Images: Flickr.com | Goodreads.com | WritingCooperative.com | Cnet.com

3 thoughts on “Get to know the writer: John Steinbeck

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