While considered a literary giant, there are a few interesting facts about John Steinbeck that you, his fans, and the general public aren’t aware of.
Born on 27 February 1902, the legendary American author brought us classics like Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden. He boasts a background as colorful as his characters and novels.
His works, short essays, and longer novels revealed his deep understanding of the social landscape of migrant workers and his compassion for them.
From his humble beginnings in a middle-lower class family in California to his world travels as a war correspondent, Steinbeck drew inspiration from his unique experiences. He also used his writing to shed light on the struggles of ordinary people.
You may be a die-hard Steinbeck fan or just someone who appreciates excellent literature from this North American giant. Either way, we’ve got some interesting facts about John Steinbeck that’ll surprise you.
Interesting Facts About John Steinbeck
Let’s embark on the adventure of a lifetime and uncover some interesting facts about John Steinbeck.
1. Steinbeck Wasn’t a Fan of Schooling and Was a College Dropout
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It might surprise you that Steinbeck wasn’t a fan of formal education. And you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking someone as talented and well-informed as he was college educated.
As it turns out, he dropped out of Stanford University in 1925 after just five to six years of sporadic attendance.
Steinbeck was more interested in exploring the world around him than sitting in a classroom that expected him to conform to preconceived ideas. As a result, the writer would often skip class to go on adventures with his friends.
This love of adventure would serve him well later in life, as he drew inspiration from his travels and experiences for many of his novels.
2. He Worked on a Ranch
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Speaking of Steinbeck’s sporadic college attendance, it was during his college breaks that he worked on ranches and farms. Some of these were ranches owned by Spreckels Sugar, which operates a Brawley, California-based sugar beet refinery.
His experiences on these ranches gave him the much-needed insight and empathy to write so clearly on the experiences of and issues faced by migrant farm workers.
Plus, John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden, is said to be inspired by his time in Salinas Valley.
3. John Steinbeck Was a War Correspondent During World War II
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The illustrious author worked as a New York Herald Tribune war correspondent. Hired in June 1943, John Steinbeck was employed to report on World War II for a few months. However, unlike what you’d typically expect from a war correspondent, John did not write about the battles fought and the logistics thereof.
Instead, the writer focused his pieces on the humanity of the soldiers. These accounts included the fears and concerns held by the soldiers who spoke with him. One even feared his wife would leave him because of his injured hand.
4. His Most Famous Novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Was Banned at First
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Published in 1939, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was banned by several states due to its themes and allegedly foul language. However, it turns out that various groups (such as the Associated Farmers) didn’t approve of its message.
It is believed they thought Steinbeck was too sympathetic to the cause of migrant sharecroppers.
5. Steinbeck Was Friends with Marine Biologist, Ed Ricketts
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In addition to having a colorful background, John Steinbeck also had exciting friends. Take marine biologist Ed Ricketts, for example.
The writer considered Ed Ricketts a friend and mentor, with the marine biologist influencing his outlook and characters.
The two met at a friend’s cottage in 1930. So impactful was their friendship that the two explored the Gulf of California in 1940 and co-authored the novel Sea of Cortez. The book details their six-week exploration and discovery of new marine species.
6. He Was Married Three Times
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They say third time’s the charm, which may have been the case with the prolific writer. His first marriage was to Carol Henning and lasted twelve years (1930–1942).
Then a year later, he married Gwyndolyn Conger, with whom he had two sons. Thomas was born in 1944, and John was born two years later, in 1946. The couple was together for five years.
Lastly, John married Elaine Anderson Scott, whom he was married to from 1950 until he passed away.
7. John Steinbeck Liked Dogs
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Being the curious, hands-on person he was, Steinbeck loved traveling and seeing the world. And he often brought a companion with him—his dog, Charley.
His poodle, Charley, would frequently accompany John Steinbeck on his road trips, with the writer eventually penning a book titled, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
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8. The Famed Author Loved Other Artists’ Work and Named a Novel After One of Them… Sort Of
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In addition to loving dogs, Steinbeck appreciated the work of other artists.
In fact, the writer was particularly fond of Woody Guthrie, a folk musician. He also enjoyed and drew inspiration from author Julia Ward Howe’s Civil War anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The title of his novel, Grapes of Wrath, comes from the line, “Trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”
9. Steinbeck’s House is a National Historic Landmark
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John Steinbeck’s childhood home has been given the prestigious honor of a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1897, his house is a museum dedicated to preserving his legacy and work.
Suppose you happen to be in Salinas, California. You can tour the house and learn about Steinbeck’s early years, his writing process, and the indelible mark he left on American literature.
10. He Was Friends With President Lyndon B. Johnson
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The great American author was also a friend of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States.
In fact, the two were such great friends that they frequently corresponded with one another during the President’s time in office. Steinbeck even wrote a letter to LBJ, as the President was fondly known, to encourage him amidst criticism regarding his role in the Vietnam conflict.
Most notably, in 1964, the President awarded John Steinbeck the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award.
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11. Steinbeck Was an Avid Letter Writer
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It is no surprise that a writer would love penning letters, and John Steinbeck was no exception.
The writer corresponded with many of his friends and colleagues throughout his life. Some of his most famous letters are collected in the book Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, which offers a fascinating, rare glimpse into his personal and professional life.
12. His Writing Process Involved the Use of Sharp Pencils and Yellow Legal Pads
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If you thought Steinbeck mainly used a typewriter to write all those letters, you would be incorrect.
As it turns out, John was particularly fond of writing in his own way. Like most writers, he had his own meticulous writing process. This typically involved writing his first drafts with perfectly sharpened Blackwing pencils on yellow legal pads.
It is said that once he filled out a page, he would neatly file them away and grab the next one. This fastidious attention to detail and his commitment to his craft are evident in his work, which is characterized by its rich language and vivid imagery.
13. John Steinbeck’s Dog Ate Half of His Manuscript of Of Mice and Men
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You’d think man’s best friend would have your back when it came to your life’s work, but sadly that was not the case for Steinbeck.
Despite Steinbeck’s love for dogs, it appears they did not at least love him back enough not to eat his manuscript. But it would be too easy to blame this on all dogs. It was Toby, Steinbeck’s Irish Setter, who saw the manuscript of Of Mice and Men and thought it would make a delicious meal.
Thankfully, the writer had a sense of humor and said that “The poor fellow may have been acting critically,” suggesting that the pupper may have eaten half of the manuscript due to its criticism thereof.
14. His Works Have Been Adapted into Film and Theater
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Many of Steinbeck’s novels and short stories, such as The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden, have been adapted into films and plays.
Of Mice and Men was adapted into a Hollywood film in 1939. And in 1945, John Steinbeck received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Writing for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film, Lifeboat.
These adaptations have introduced his work to new audiences and helped cement his place in the canon of American literature.
15. John Steinbeck Was Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962
In 1962, six years before his death, John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, joining the ranks of other literary giants like Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
The award recognized his contributions to American literature, particularly his portrayal of the struggles of ordinary people during difficult times.
16. Steinbeck Was Interested in Philosophy and Religion
As can be seen in his writing, John Steinbeck appeared to be interested in philosophy and religion, which were prominent themes in his work.
In East of Eden, Steinbeck retells the Biblical story of Cain and Abel and explores themes symbolic of the human experience. These are the themes of good and evil, free will, and the human capacity for redemption. All religions and psychology attempt to answer these questions in one way or the other.
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