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STEINBECK, John Ernst (1902-68)

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STEINBECK, John Ernst (1902-68), American writer and Nobel laureate, who described in his work the unremitting struggle of people who depend on the soil for their livelihood. Steinbeck was born on Feb. 27, 1902, in Salinas, Calif., sun of a Swiss immigrant, and educated at Stanford University. As a youth, he worked as a ranch hand and fruit picker. His Cup of Gold (1929) romanticizes the life and exploits of the famous 17th-century Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan. In The Pastures of Heaven (1932), a group of short stories depicting a community of southern California farmers, Steinbeck first dealt with the hardworking people and social themes associated with most of his works. Among his other early books are To a God Unknown (1933), the story of a farmer whose belief in a pagan fertility cult impels him, during a severe drought, to sacrifice his own life; Tortilla Flat (1935), a sympathetic portrayal of Americans of Mexican descent dwelling near Monterey, Calif.; In Dubious Battle (1936), a novel concerned with a strike of migratory fruit pickers; and Of Mice and Men (1937), a tragic story of two itinerant farm laborers yearning for a small farm of their own. Steinbeck's most widely known work is The Grapes of Wrath (1939; Pulitzer Prize, 1940), the stark account of a family from the impoverished Oklahoma Dust Bowl migrating to California during the economic depression of the 1930s. The controversial novel, received not only as realistic fiction but as a moving document of social protest, is an American classic. Other works include The Moon Is Down (1942), Cannery Row(1944), The Wayward Bus (1947), East of Eden (1952), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), and America and Americans (1968). In 1962 he wrote the popular Travels with Charley, an autobiographical account of a trip across the U.S. accompanied by a pet poodle. Steinbeck was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in literature. He died on Dec. 20, 1968, in New York City. His modernization of the Arthurian legends, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, was published posthumously in 1976. A major literary figure since the 1930s, Steinbeck took as his central theme the quiet dignity he saw in the poor and the oppressed. Although his characters are often trapped in an unfair world, they remain sympathetic and heroic, if defeated, human beings.

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