John Steinbeck’s first successful novel, Tortilla Flat, is published on this day.
Steinbeck, a native Californian, had studied writing intermittently at Stanford between 1920 and 1925, but never graduated. He moved to New York and worked as a manual laborer and journalist while writing his first two novels, which were not successful. He married in 1930 and moved back to California with his wife. His father, a government official in Salinas County, gave the couple a house to live in while Steinbeck continued writing.
Tortilla Flat describes the antics of several drifters who share a house in California. The novel’s endearing comic tone captured the public’s imagination, and the novel became a financial success.
Steinbeck’s next works, In Dubious Battle and Of Mice and Men, were both successful, and in 1938 his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath was published. The novel, about the struggles of an Oklahoma family who lose their farm and become fruit pickers in California, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Steinbeck’s work after World War II, including Cannery Row and The Pearl, became more sentimental. He also wrote several successful films, including Forgotten Village (1941) and Viva Zapata! (1952). He became interested in marine biology and published a nonfiction book, The Sea of Cortez, in 1941. His travel memoir, Travels with Charlie, describes his trek across the U.S. in a camper. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and died in New York in 1968.