Born 27 February 1902 in Salinas, California, John was the son of John Ernst Steinbeck, Sr., and Olive Hamilton. Of German, Irish and English descent, John’s paternal grandfather, Johann Adolf Großsteinbeck, shortened his surname to Steinbeck when he emigrated to America. John’s father was a county treasurer, while his mother was a school teacher. They lived in a small rural town and Steinbeck spent his summers working on nearby ranches and sugar beet farms. The beet farms are where John became aware of the harsh aspects of migrant life. The family attended an Episcopal Church though John would later become an agnostic.
His first novel, Cup of Gold was published in 1929, but attracted little attention. His two subsequent novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To a God Unknown, were also poorly received by the literary world.
Steinbeck married his first wife, Carol Henning in 1930. They lived in Pacific Grove where much of the material for Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row was gathered. Tortilla Flat (1935) marked the turning point in Steinbeck's literary career. It received the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal for best novel by a California author. Steinbeck continued writing, relying upon extensive research and his personal observation of the human condition for his stories.
Some of Stienbeck’s more notable writings were The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden. In 1940, he received the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath. In 1962, John one the Nobel Prize for his “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” The decision was heavily criticized as one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes. Steinbeck himself, when asked if he deserved the award, replied, “Frankly, no.”
A few years later, Steinbeck wrote Lyndon Johnson a typed letter. Curiously, like the Vietnam War ... it wasn't a perfect draft. And the author sent it to the president in all caps, riddled with mark-up that's eerily similar to U.S. military redaction.
In the letter, Steinbeck talks about his son in uniform, and touches on the finicky nature of people sent to war ... reminding the president that's it's always been a personal choice. Eventually, he ends the letter on the note of Vietnam. But in the context of the piece ... one can't really tell if it's a back-handed compliment. Steinbeck told Johnson:
"I assure you that only mediocrity escapes criticism."
End of Life
Perhaps this sheds some light on his personality. Perhaps not. But throughout his life, John Steinbeck remained a private person who shunned publicity. John, a lifelong smoker, died 20 December 1968, at the age of 66, from heart disease and congestive heart failure. Per his wishes, his body was cremated and interred at the family plot along with his parents and maternal grandparents. Prior to his death, Steinbeck wrote to his doctor that he felt deeply “in his flesh” that he would not survive his physical death, and that the biological end of his life was the final end to it.
- United States Census, 1920," index and images, FamilySearch: accessed 06 May 2014, Olive Steinbeck in household of John E Steinbeck, Salinas, Monterey, California, United States; citing sheet 1B, family 14, NARA microfilm publication T625, FHL microfilm 1820122.
- Critical Companion to John Steinbeck: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work Jeffrey D. Schultz, Luchen Li.Infobase Publishing, 2005.
- National Archives. Collection LBJ-WHCF. Identifier: 6207609
- Ogle, B. (2014, September 22). "Vietnam." John Steinbeck. WikiTree. Web.
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On 6 May 2014 at 23:31 GMT Maggie N. wrote:
John Ernst is 17 degrees from Kevin Bacon, 31 degrees from Ole Evinrude, 19 degrees from Abby Glann, 23 degrees from Charles Schulz and 22 degrees from Queen Elizabeth II Windsor on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.