Overview

"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 ...
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Steinbeck: A Life in Letters

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Overview

"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: 9781440673870
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/1/1989
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 667,423
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

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.







Biography

John Ernst Steinbeck, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, was born in Salinas, California February 27, 1902. His father, John Steinbeck, served as Monterey County Treasurer for many years. His mother, Olive Hamilton, was a former schoolteacher who developed in him a love of literature. Young Steinbeck came to know the Salinas Valley well, working as a hired hand on nearby ranches in Monterey County. In 1919, he graduated from Salinas High School as president of his class and entered Stanford University majoring in English. Stanford did not claim his undivided attention. During this time he attended only sporadically while working at a variety jobs including on with the Big Sur highway project, and one at Spreckels Sugar Company near Salinas.

Steinbeck left Stanford permanently in 1925 to pursue a career in writing in New York City. He was unsuccessful and returned, disappointed, to California the following year. Though his first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929, it attracted little literary attention. Two subsequent novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To A God Unknown, met the same fate.

After moving to the Monterey Peninsula in 1930, Steinbeck and his new wife, Carol Henning, made their home in Pacific Grove. Here, not far from famed Cannery Row, heart of the California sardine industry, Steinbeck found material he would later use for two more works, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row.

With Tortilla Flat (1935), Steinbeck's career took a decidedly positive turn, receiving the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal. He felt encouraged to continue writing, relying on extensive research and personal observation of the human drama for his stories. In 1937, Of Mice and Men was published. Two years later, the novel was produced on Broadway and made into a movie. In 1940, Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Grapes of Wrath, bringing to public attention the plight of dispossessed farmers.

After Steinbeck and Henning divorced in 1942, he married Gwyndolyn Conger. The couple moved to New York City and had two sons, Thomas and two years later, John. During the war years, Steinbeck served as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Some of his dispatches reappeared in Once There Was A War. In 1945, Steinbeck published Cannery Row and continued to write prolifically, producing plays, short stories and film scripts. In 1950, he married Elaine Anderson Scott and they remained together until his death.

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "...for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and keen social perception.." In his acceptance speech, Steinbeck summarized what he sought to achieve through his works:

"...Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species...Further more, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity of greatness of heart and spirit—gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature..."

Steinbeck remained a private person, shunning publicity and moving frequently in his search for privacy. He died on December 20, 1968 in New York City, where he and his family made a home. But his final resting place was the valley he had written about with such passion. At his request, his ashes were interred in the Garden of Memories cemetery in Salinas. He is survived by his son, Thomas.

Author biography courtesy of the National Steinbeck Center.

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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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