East of Eden: Biography: John Steinbeck

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John Steinbeck was born to John Ernst Steinbeck II, a Monterey County official, and teacher Olive Hamilton in the Salinas Valley, California in 1902. Although he began attending Stanford University in Palo Alto in 1919, he left without earning a degree to work as a journalist in New York City. Intent on pursuing a career in writing, Steinbeck returned shortly to California where he supported himself in a series of primarily blue-collar jobs that included laborer, bricklayer, surveyor, caretaker and worker for the Spreckels Sugar Company from which he developed much of his pro-labor philosophy.
During the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker and a serious student of marine biology with his good friend, Marine biologist, Edward F. Ricketts, who influenced Steinbeck in developing his biological view of humankind. During World War II, he worked as a war correspondent for the New York Herald-Tribune.
Steinbeck's first book, Cup of Gold, a historical novel based on the life of pirate Captain Henry Morgan, was published in 1929, followed by The Pastures of Heaven in 1932. Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about the adventures of a group of paisanos in the Salinas Valley who form an Arthurian round-table group, put Steinbeck into the limelight by making him a best-selling author. In 1936, after meeting with union organizers, he published In Dubious Battle, a book about the poor working conditions in a California orchard. Of Men and Mice (1937), became his most well-known work. His articles concerning the emigration of Americans from the Dust Bowl to the "Eden" of California prompted the author's most famous Pulitzer prize-winning work, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which chronicles the Joad family exodus to California.
Steinbeck married his first wife, Carol Henning in 1930 and lived in Pacific Grove, California. He spent much of his time in Monterey with Ricketts at his Cannery Row laboratory, an experience which led to his popular 1945 novel, Cannery Row.
In 1943, Steinbeck married his second wife, Gwyndolyn Conger, with whom he had two children. The year 1948 was a particularly bad one for Steinbeck: his friend Ricketts died and his wife Gwyndolyn left him. However, he found happiness in his 1950 marriage to Elaine Scott, with whom he lived in New York City. Two years later, he published the highly controversial East of Eden, a novel he called "the big one," set in the California Salinas Valley.
He died of a heart attack in New York City in 1968, having been a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.
Distinctly American, Steinbeck remains highly recognized for his journalistically clear writing style, realistic descriptions of nature, especially his native California, powerful symbolism, and for his descriptions of America as Eden. Intensely sympathetic to the difficult lives of those mired in poverty, his fiction poignantly details Depression-era America. Often the object of controversy for his socialist views and the sexual content of his novels, he remains one of the best loved American authors of the twentieth century.

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