Best American writers of the 20th century
His first critical and commercial success came in 1935 with the publication of Tortilla Flat, a comedic adventure story about a motley crew of countrymen set in Monterey, California after WWI. Steinbeck went on to write a series of novels set in Californias Dust Bowl, including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. A portrait of the Great Depression and migrant agricultural workers, The Grapes of Wrath resonated with the American working class and sold over 400, 000 copies in its first year. It won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1939. East of Eden came over 10 years later, and while it didnt win any awards, Steinbeck is said to have called it his lifes magnum opus.
Many of Steinbeck's books went on to become major Hollywood films starring the likes of Dick Tracy (Tortilla Flat) and Henry Fonda (The Grapes of Wrath). Steinbeck even received an Academy Award nomination for Best Story in 1944 for Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat.
In 1962 Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He would publish one more book, America and Americans, before his death in 1968. He left a great impression on 20th century literature by providing an important portrayal of one of America's most significant eras. Explore our selection of books by and about John Steinbeck, and read our interview with Steinbeck biographer and expert, Dr. Susan Shillinglaw.
Q & A with Dr. Susan Shillinglaw of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California
Which of Steinbeck's books are most relevant today, and why?
SS: That's a tough question, since one could make the argument that nearly every book he wrote is relevant: The Grapes of Wrath and homelessness; Cannery Row and holistic ecology; The Winter of Our Discontent and analysis of the post-modern temperament; America and Americans and race, ethnicity, morality, greed, the environment. To be relevant in fiction or nonfiction is, after all, to cause people to see the world from fresh perspectives, to reconsider positions. One aim of Steinbeck's writing was to have people participate in his prose - it was a word he used a lot; he wished to engage readers in all levels of his work. Both ideas were grounded in science, marine biology to be specific, and both were notions that he and his closest friend in the 1930s, Ed Ricketts, discussed concerning ecological issues.