Inspiration isn’t only found in sweeping landscapes, valiant deeds, or grand speeches. Sometimes, it awaits discovery in a cherished childhood memory.
With twenty-seven books to his credit, John Steinbeck drew deeply from the well of memory to create works such as The Red Pony, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, and To a God Unknown. It was his memories of witnessing the plight of migrant farm workers that inspired his best-known books.
Three of his four “California novels,” each dealing with the difficulties faced by migrant agricultural workers, brought fame, awards, and, in the case of The Grapes of Wrath, hostility. The best-selling book of 1939, The Grapes of Wrath went on to earn the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Steinbeck’s sympathetic prose and staunch support of migrant workers turned many against him; the controversy spawned by the backlash caused the book to be banned in some schools and libraries until 1941.
John Steinbeck continued to write during World War II, working as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. After the war, he returned to writing for himself, crafting novels and screenplays based upon his observations and memories of local happenings. His self-described “big work,” East of Eden, was based in part upon his own family history.
In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson. John Steinbeck has been quoted extensively, including the unabashed exclamation, “I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.” While these words are powerful, it is a quieter, more gently composed quote that captures his gift for making magic from memories.
“Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”