Though his hometown of salinas, california, once rejected john steinbeck, it recently opened the national steinbeck center, financed mostly by the produce industry that had labeled him a left-wing troublemaker.
``The only good writer is a dead writer."
So wrote John Steinbeck in his 1961 book Travels With Charley. It's not one of the author's more memorable lines, but it's worth remembering. Thirty years after his death, the residents of Salinas, California, have finally claimed the prolific and controversial writer as their favorite son and have created a $10 million brick-and-glass shrine in his honor.
The National Steinbeck Center opened on June 27, 1998, and was financed mostly by the produce industry that once rejected him as a left-wing troublemaker. I believe Steinbeck would have enjoyed that bit of irony. Apparently, all is now forgiven--especially since Steinbeck's status as favorite son will bring tourist dollars into the area that he once called home.
While the author was still alive, he noted, "An outraged home-town citizenry wanted Sinclair 'Red' Lewis back for tarring and feathering after he wrote Main Street. And today , Sauk Center celebrates itself for having produced him."
Similarly, Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath was banned from the Salinas library; copies were burned on the very street where the 37,000-square- foot center now stands. Soon after it was published, local growers accused Steinbeck of misrepresenting their attitudes toward the migrants, and Oklahomans claimed he had exaggerated the effects of the Dust Bowl. In some quarters, the book's profanity and "obscene" ending created a scandal. One critic from the Los Angeles Examiner said the novel was "amorphous in construction, loose in style and nauseating in matter."
Growing up in New York as I did and living there at the time when Steinbeck called Long Island home, I wasn't aware of the California controversy. I just knew I liked Steinbeck's books. Many critics did too: He won the Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath in 1940. Most of my peers had read this classic book and watched the award-winning motion picture. We were moved by it. Tom Joad became the quintessential Common Man. At the end of the book, when the family is torn apart and Tom has to leave, his mother wants to know what will happen to him. Tom responds, "I'll be ever'where--wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there."
I think Steinbeck the person wanted to be everywhere, too. He wanted to experience everything and then write about it. He was the versatile author of over thirty full-length books and short story collections, as well as plays, filmscripts, numerous articles, and volumes of letters. He received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962. In my view, he is one of the top ten American novelists, not just because he was a great storyteller but because he dealt with important concepts and universal themes.
Fascinating personal story
John Ernst Steinbeck was born in Salinas on February 27, 1902. His father was the Monterey County treasurer, and his mother was a former schoolteacher. From all accounts, John and his three sisters had good times growing up in the Victorian house on Central Avenue.( Today the home is owned by the Valley Guild, a charitable, nonprofit organization, which operates it as a luncheon restaurant.)
When he was 9 years old, Steinbeck fell in love with Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur. This is the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. The book undoubtedly provided the catalyst for many of Steinbeck's childhood fantasies. Later, his favorite books were said to be Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary.
At the new center in Salinas, I was able to step into a re-creation of Steinbeck's attic bedroom. I looked at vintage photographs and listened to oral interviews with family and friends, …