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Year
1964
Month Day
September 14

John Steinbeck wins the Medal of Freedom

Writer John Steinbeck was presented the U.S. Medal of Freedom on September 14, 1964. Steinbeck had already received numerous other honors and awards for his writing, including the 1962 Nobel Prize and a 1939 Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath.

Steinbeck, a native Californian, 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.

His first novel, Tortilla Flat, about the comic antics of several rootless drifters who share a house in California, was published in 1935. 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.

After World War II, Steinbeck’s work became more sentimental in such novels as Cannery Row and The Pearl. 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 United States in a camper. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and died in New York in 1968.

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