1. The actual family name of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author (1902-1968) was “Grossteinbeck,” which his paternal grandfather shortened to “Steinbeck” when he first came to the United States from Germany.
2. According to his biographer Jay Parini, the Steinbeck family home in Salinas, CA was a large Victorian house with maids and servants. Yet, he always identified with social causes and hardships experienced by the working class and migrant workers. These are the most common themes in his novels, including The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row.
3. Illness and accidents plagued Steinbeck from an early age. He suffered from pleural pneumonia, kidney infection, detached retina, shattered knee cup, stroke, and back injury.
4. Before becoming an established writer, Steinbeck held a number of jobs, both in his native California and in New York, where he moved in the mid-1920s. He worked as a farmhand, painter’s apprentice, and construction worker.
5. Steinbeck’s first novels went unnoticed. It was his fourth work, Tortilla Flat (1935) that propelled him into the public’s eye.
7. Seventeen of his works were made into Hollywood movies. Steinbeck also tried screenwriting. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 movie, Lifeboat.
8. In 1947, Steinbeck traveled to the Soviet Union, the first of several trips he made to that country. Not surprisingly, the US government suspected him of being a communist and he became a target of an FBI investigation. Those trips inspired A Russian Journal, where he wrote about his experiences in the Soviet Union. The photos for the book were taken by his traveling companion, the famous photographer Robert Capa.
9. Steinbeck owned several dogs throughout his life. One of them, a poodle, was featured in Steinbeck’s 1962 travelogue, Travels with Charley.
10. Steinbeck died of heart disease on December 20, 1968, in his apartment overlooking East 72nd Street in New York.