HARVEST
Stories of Steinbeck Country
By Roger Powers

The End of the Beginning

 

The first draft he threw away. "Too vindictive," he told his publisher. Then came six months in Los Gatos, a small town in the hills west of San Jose. The result changed the world - and the life of John Steinbeck who was never able to "go home" again.

The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize; and President Franklin Roosevelt asked his wife Eleanor to go out west and see if the migrant workers' plight was as bad as Steinbeck had described. She returned to report that it was worse!


Although the main locale for Steinbeck's novel was California's giant San Joaquin Valley, folks in the slender Salinas Valley to the west were angry. Many identified with characters, themes and scenarios in The Grapes of Wrath. They thought their former neighbor was writing about them.

John Steinbeck had been born and raised on Central Avenue in Salinas. His Masonic Lodge father had been the country treasurer. Society matrons had welcomed and respected his strong willed mother from the Hamilton farm in the southern Salinas Valley near King City.

This 100 mile long valley with mild climate and abundant water was becoming known as "The Salad Bowl of the World." The dust bowl, depression starved, immigrant Oakies, Arkies and West Texans felt demeaned by what they read in Steinbeck's "infamous" book. Land owners and local businessmen, many descended from gold rush era immigrants and earlier, felt villainized.

Book burnings were held on the steps of the local library; and the sheriff told John Steinbeck that he'd better leave the area or he might get shot. It was the end of the beginning for this man whom many now consider the greatest writer of the 20th century.

The long journey from fame to respect saw Oakies and growers replaced by literary critics who didn't like John Steinbeck either. Indeed, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, critics complained that it was too bad the award had not been given to someone who actually deserved it. Time Magazine panned his every word.

Still, book sales continued to increase! And this escalation has continued - world wide - decade after decade. Interest in the stories and ideas of John Steinbeck continues to grow. His books have been translated into over 50 languages.

And people come from around the world to see the places John Steinbeck wrote about. Of course, not all of his books are centered on this area. And then, again, in a very interesting way - they all are! Steinbeck saw a oneness in all creation.

Steinbeck saw his home as "The Valley of the World." He wrote about it. From the southern wilds of the Los Padres Forest, to the majestic cascading coast of the Big Sur. From the fields of King City, Soledad and Salinas to the shores of Monterey Bay.

Although Steinbeck is revered for his vivid descriptions of nature; his focus was on people and ideas and the common link between everyone and everything. His stories are filled with universal ideas. The Valley of the World was his microcosm of creation. They call it "Steinbeck Country" now. These are some of its stories.

© Copyright 1999 Roger Powers. All Rights Reserved.

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