John Steinbeck, the renowned 20th century American writer, was born on this day in 1902 in the coastal agricultural city of Salinas, California. He had a long, varied, and controversial career as an American writer, but is best known for his Great Depression era novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Most baby boomers know the film and story line very well. As a cultural historian and geographer, it's odd I never managed to read the book from cover to cover. In high school, Of Mice and Men was required reading, and I found great pleasure in reading Travels With Charley: In Search of America on my own shortly after its publication in 1962.
Steinbeck was among the best of participant-observers of 20th century America in general and the California experience in particular. His work earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. These days, I don't think students - and teachers - of American history and culture give him the credit and attention he deserves. Perhaps I should be satisfied knowing that history is still taught in the public schools, but that's another essay for another day.
If you don't know Steinbeck or want to know more about him and his world start with an electronic visit to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Better yet, plan a visit next time you find yourself in the San Francisco area. From Salinas it's a short drive to Monterey Bay and the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located on a site made famous in Steinbeck's novel, Cannery Row, it's a "must see" exposure to the marine biology the author enjoyed and studied.
|Cannery Row, Monterey, California, 1945|
Steinbeck portrait, Nobel Foundation