John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
Born in Salinas, California, owing to a variety of jobs done in his youth he had a deep knowledge of the world of work and of the workers' problems and conditions. The Great Depression was a tragedy particularly for farmers, who abandoned their homed and went to California in search of work. Steinbeck describes their exodus, their sufferings and hopes, their epic journey, seen with sympathy and intelligent comprehension.
Steinbeck spent most of his life in California. The Salinas Valley was a prosperous area with intensive small farming. Steinbeck frequently worked on the land farms to earn extra money during his school vacations, and gained a deep knowledge of the lives of the men and women of the district. He began writing while he was still at High School. He enrolled at Stanford University and followed the courses intermittently, but he never bothered to take his degree. Meanwhile he also did a wide variety of jobs, and kept on writing on stories and newspaper articles, without much success.
As a result of all this varied experience , he knew a lot about th world of work, especially the farmers and itinerant laborers who later appeared in his novels. He saw how the men with capital were buying up the small farms and combining them into large estates, farmed by machinery, which only employed a few men but guaranteed a good return on investment.
In 1929 the Wall Street crash and the slump that followed made it hard for small farmers to pay back bank loans, and the banks foreclosed on their homes and livelihoods, and Steinbeck moved steadily towards left-wing radicalism as a result.
The publication of Tortilla Flat (1935) made his name as a writer of great originality with a sympathetic interest in the lives of the poor and social outcasts. In 1937 he published Of Mice and Men, followed in 1939 by The grapes of Wrath, generally considered his most important novel. During the World War II, Steinbeck worked for the United States Government as a propaganda writer, and also as a war correspondent. In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception". He died in 1968.