Steinbeck: A Life in Letters


"Surely his most interesting, plausibly his most memorable, and . . . arguably his best book" —The New York Times Book Review

For John Steinbeck, who hated the telephone, letter-writing was a preparation for work and a natural way for him to communicate his thoughts on people he liked and hated; on marriage, women, and children; on the condition of the world; and on his progress in learning his craft. Opening with letters written during Steinbeck's early years in California, and closing with a 1968 note written ...

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Steinbeck: A Life in Letters

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"Surely his most interesting, plausibly his most memorable, and . . . arguably his best book" —The New York Times Book Review

For John Steinbeck, who hated the telephone, letter-writing was a preparation for work and a natural way for him to communicate his thoughts on people he liked and hated; on marriage, women, and children; on the condition of the world; and on his progress in learning his craft. Opening with letters written during Steinbeck's early years in California, and closing with a 1968 note written in Sag Herbor, New York, Steinbeck: A Life in Letters reveals the inner thoughts and rough character of this American author as nothing else has and as nothing else ever will.

"The reader will discover as much about the making of a writer and the creative process, as he will about Steinbeck. And that's a lot." —Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

"A rewarding book of enduring interest, this becomes a major part of the Steinbeck canon." —The Wall Street Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140042887
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1989
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 162,948
  • Product dimensions: 5.08 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 1.87 (d)

Meet the Author

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).

After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.

Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942). Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright (1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.

The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata! (1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Amnesia Glasscock
      John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (full name); Amnesia Glasscock
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 27, 1902
    2. Place of Birth:
      Salinas, California
    1. Date of Death:
      December 20, 1968
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

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  • Posted December 2, 2008

    more from this reviewer

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    Steinbeck: A Writers Writer

    Steinbeck: A Life in Letters<BR/>John Steinbeck never wrote an autobiography, but his letters probably reveal more about the writer and the man than an autobiography could have hoped to.<BR/>John Steinbeck was everyman, suffered every weakness, stood up to every duty, doubted his own talent, feared the beginning of every new work, and grew with each experience.<BR/>A letter he wrote in February 1936 spells out his feelings of inadequacy at the beginning of a new project. And that form of self-doubt reoccurs throughout the book. But almost in the same breath he admits that he loves the writing once he gets down to work.<BR/>He also had trepidations about dealing with death. In a letter to a friend that had just lost his mother Steinbeck shares a feeling of inadequacy that most of us feel when he says, `there¿s nothing for the outsider to do except stand by and maybe indicate that the person involved is not so alone as the death always makes him think he is.¿<BR/>In an April 29, 1948 letter he says he¿s about to embark on a marathon book about the Salinas Valley, the one he¿s been training for all of his life.<BR/>And it becomes obvious that Steinbeck used a long gestation period to work up to that major project, for it was more than two years later, August 30, 1950, when he again mentions the Salinas Valley story. Apparently though he was still on track and moving toward the beginning of that new work.<BR/>Then in a letter written to Mr. and Mrs. Elia Kazan from Nantucket July 30, 1951 Steinbeck indicates that he is presently six hundred pages into the book, but still has three or four hundred pages to go. And in that letter he announced the title as East of Eden. He also goes on to tell how perfect it is for the book. It comes from the first sixteen verses of the Fourth Chapter of Genesis. The title comes from the sixteenth verse, but he says the whole passage is applicable.<BR/>In a letter April 18, 1952 he mentions Kazan and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Said he read Kazan¿s full statement to the congress and hoped that the communist and second raters don¿t cut him to pieces.<BR/>Then on June 17, 1952 he said Kazan called that morning from Paris and was absolutely crazy about East of Eden and wants to do it. He also said the American communist and the Hollywood left had done their best to destroy him. His conscience was clear though for he had only given the facts to the congress and he could live with that truth. <BR/>In 1955 Elia Kazan produced and directed the film, East of Eden.<BR/>Steinbeck was always generous in sharing, his thoughts and some of the methods he used when writing, with other writers.<BR/>A letter dated December 7, 1956 he said, `¿the more one learns about writing, the more unbelievably difficult it becomes. I wish to God I knew as much about my craft, or what ever it is, as I did when I was 19 years old. But with every new attempt, frightening though it may be, is the wonder and the hope and the delight.¿<BR/>The book is so rich in day to day living that you almost forget that you are in the presence of a man that over his writing career had won a room full of awards along with the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962.<BR/>Tom Barnes author of The Goring Collection.

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