The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Did You Know...? (John Steinbeck Edition)

Former National Council on the Arts members John Steinbeck and Ralph Ellison. Photo by R. Philip Hanes, Jr.

Wednesday, February 27, would have marked John Steinbeck's 111st birthday. To celebrate the Big Read author, we pulled together a few fun facts about the American icon.

Did you know...? When it was first published, The Grapes of Wrath was banned by certain libraries. The suggestion that capitalism could result in poverty and forced migration was considered sympathetic to communism.

Did you know...? For a time, Steinbeck and his first wife, Carol Henning, kept two mallard ducks in the fishpond of their California home. Unfortunately, the ducks, named Aqua and Vita, were later sold so the couple could afford writing paper for Steinbeck’s manuscript, To a God Unknown. 

Did you know...? Steinbeck served on the National Council on the Arts, the NEA’s advisory body, from 1966 to 1968. During his tenure, he served with other NCA luminaries such as Ralph Ellison, Leonard Bernstein, Gregory Peck, and Harper Lee.

Did you know...? Steinbeck shied away from the public eye, and largely avoided interviews, awards ceremonies, lectures, and publicity events. “The fact that I have housemaid’s knees or fear yellow gloves has little to do with the books I write,” he once said. One notable exception was his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, delivered on December 10, 1962. Here’s the speech in full:

Did you know...? Steinbeck hand-wrote all his manuscripts---in pencil---on lined yellow paper. The pages were then typed out by staff at Viking Press, his publisher.

Did you know...? Film adaptations of Steinbeck’s works have resulted in nearly 30 Academy Award nominations and four Oscar wins. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) earned John Ford an Oscar for best director and Jane Darwell an award for best supporting actress; Viva, Zapata! garnered an Oscar for Anthony Quinn as best supporting actor; and Jo Van Fleet won best supporting actress for her role in East of Eden (1955).


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