S is for Steinbeck


John Ernst Steinbeck Jnr was born in 1902 in rural California and spent his childhood summers working with migrant workers on ranches, which later supplied him with the material for his novels.

At the age of 23, after leaving University with no degree, he travelled to New York where he took odd jobs while trying to write. But returned home after being unable to find someone to publish his work.

His parents gave him free lodging and loans so that he could continue to write but it wasn’t until his first commercially successful novel (Tortilla Flats in 1935) that he was able to build his own home.

Subsequent successes, Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath (which has now sold over 15 million copies) and East of Eden guaranteed his place amongst the American literary greats and his work is now a constant feature on school curriculums across the globe.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received in 1962 described his work as “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.”

He died of heart failure in New York at the age of 66.

My favourite Steinbeck quotes:

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

“If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.”

“Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise I say ignore the bastard.”

“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

“You see this book is finished and it is a bad book and I must get rid of it. It can’t be printed. It is bad because it isn’t honest. Oh! The incidents all happened but — I’m not telling as much of the truth about them as I know. I’ve written three books now that were dishonest because they were less than the best that I could do. One you never saw because I burned it the day I finished it.”

Steinbecks Nobel Prize Acceptance speech:

I don’t know about you, but the thought of burning a whole novel ive written, just because I wasn’t happy with it, makes me feel almost faint! Lol. But it got me thinking just how many great writers over the years (pre computers) would have just thrown their work in the bin! 😦 Ive kept absolutely everything ive written since I took up writing (but I did burn some journals a few years ago because they were full of unhappy times). Have you kept everything or are you happy to throw it away?