Born John Ernst Steinbeck on 27 February 1902, in the Salinas Valley, California. Steinbeck studied writing intermittently at Stanford between 1920 and 1925, but never graduated. He moved to New York and worked as a manual laborer and journalist while writing his first two novels, which were not successful. He married in 1930, and moved back to California with his wife. His father, a government official in Salinas County, gave the couple a house to live in while Steinbeck continued writing.
Steinbeck's first novel, Cup of Gold
, a fictionalized account of pirate Henry Morgan, was a critical and financial failure. He gained success with his third novel, Tortilla Flat
(1935), which received the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal. The novel became a financial and critical success.
Steinbeck’s next works, In Dubious Battle (1936) and Of Mice and Men (1937), were both successful, and his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, was published in 1939. The novel, about the struggles of an Oklahoma family who lose their farm and become fruit pickers in California, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940.
After World War II, Steinbeck’s work became more sentimental with novels like Cannery Row and The Pearl. He also wrote the screenplay for a documentary, The Forgotten Village (1941), and the successful film Viva Zapata (1952), which starred Marlon Brando as Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Steinbeck received an Academy Award nomination for his original screenplay. He became interested in marine biology through one of his closest friends and published a book on the topic in 1941, The Sea of Cortez. His final novel, The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), received mixed reviews from critics but was a commercial success. This was soon followed by his travel memoir Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962) which describes his trek across the U.S. in a camper in 1960 with his poodle Charley.
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962 and the U.S. Medal of Freedom in 1964. He died in New York on 20 December 1968. Steinbeck was inducted into the California Hall of Fame on 5 December 2007.