John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (February 27, 1902 –
December 20, 1968) was an American writer. He is widely known for the Pulitzer
Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952) and the
novella Of Mice and Men (1937). He was an author of twenty-seven books,
including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five collections of short
stories; Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.
John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. was born on February 27,
1902, in Salinas, California. He was of German and Irish descent. Johann Adolf
Großsteinbeck, Steinbeck's paternal grandfather, had shortened the family name
to Steinbeck when he immigrated to the United States. The family farm in
Heiligenhaus, Mettmann, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, is still today named "Großsteinbeck."
His father, John Ernst Steinbeck, served as Monterey
County treasurer. John's mother, Olive Hamilton, a former school teacher,
shared Steinbeck's passion of reading and writing. The Steinbecks were members
of the Episcopal Church. Steinbeck lived in a small rural town that was
essentially a frontier settlement, set amid some of the world's most fertile
land. He spent his summers working on nearby ranches and later with migrant
workers on Spreckels ranch. He became aware of the harsher aspects of migrant
life and the darker side of human nature, which supplied him with material
expressed in such works as Of Mice and Men. He also explored his surroundings,
walking across local forests, fields, and farms.
Many of Steinbeck's works are on required reading
lists in American high schools. In the United Kingdom, Of Mice and Men is one
of the key texts used by the examining body AQA for its English Literature
GCSE. A study by the Centre for the Learning and Teaching of Literature in the
United States found that Of Mice and Men was one of the ten most frequently
read books in public high schools.
At the same time, The Grapes of Wrath has been
banned by school boards: in August 1939, Kern County Board of Supervisors
banned the book from the county's publicly funded schools and libraries. It was
burned in Salinas on two different occasions. In 2003, a school board in
Mississippi banned it on the grounds of profanity. According to the American Library Association
Steinbeck was one of the ten most frequently banned authors from 1990 to 2004,
with Of Mice and Men ranking sixth out of 100 such books in the United States.