On this day, John Steinbeck’s nonfiction book The Sea of Cortez is published. The book reflects Steinbeck’s serious study of marine biology. He also uses his knowledge of the sea and its creatures in creating Doc, the marine biologist character in Cannery Row (1945).
Steinbeck was born and raised in California’s Salinas Valley, where his father was a county official and his mother a former schoolteacher. Steinbeck was a good student and president of his senior class in high school. He attended Stanford intermittently between 1920 and 1925, then moved to New York City, where he worked as a manual laborer and a journalist while writing stories and novels. His first two novels were not successful.
He married Carol Henning (whom he later divorced) and moved to Pacific Grove in 1930, where his father gave him a house and a small income while he continued to write. His third novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), was a critical and financial success, as were subsequent novels In Dubious Battle (1935) and Of Mice and Men (1937), both of which offered social commentaries on injustices of various types. His 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
His work after World War II, including Cannery Row and The Pearl, continued to offer social criticism but became more sentimental. Steinbeck tried his hand at movie scripts in the 1940s, writing successful films like Forgotten Village (1941) and Viva Zapata (1952). His book Travels with Charlie (1962) describes his travels across the United States in a camper truck with his poodle, Charlie, and his encounters with a fragmented America. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and died in New York in 1968.