By: Alex Supko
Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck!
John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. was a Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, best known for the literary classics The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden. Born in Salinas, California, on February 27th, 1902, he lived to 66, passing away on December 20th, 1968 in New York City.
Steinbeck’s work spans decades, starting with Cup of Gold published in 1929, spanning 27 books. His last novel was The Winter of Our Discontent, published in 1961. His writing career spans many big events in American history, including the Great Depression, World War II, and near the end of his life, the Vietnam War. On top of writing novels, he is considered to have a major, lasting impact on American letter writing through his reports during WWII. For a great biography on Steinbeck, see The National Steinbeck Center’s website.
Two of his major literary successes, which are still taught in schools across the US, are Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Of Mice and Men is a novella about a pair of migrant workers, George and Lennie, in California. The Grapes of Wrath is a novel exploring the Joad family migrating from their home in Oklahoma to California, forced out by the economic and environmental hardship of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. While considered literary classics, the books have been historically challenged, banned, and in some cases burned. According to ALA’s frequently challenged books list, the most recent reported challenge to Steinbeck’s works was in 2007, when Of Mice and Men was both challenged in Newton, Indiana for “profanity and the portrayal of Jesus Christ” and in Olathe, Kansas for being a “‘worthless, profanity-riddled book’ which is ‘derogatory towards African Americans, women, and the developmentally disabled.’” His books continue to this day to be on the list of most challenged books.
Alex Supko is a librarian for Baltimore County Public Library in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also a member of Maryland Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Panel. He believes passionately that everyone deserves open access to the internet, and that your personal privacy is important.