John Steinbeck, the great but often maligned American writer, wrote more about people than stories or ideas. His stories live with his great empathy for the average man, reflecting his great admiration for working class people. He dedicated his life to discovering and documenting these people in his stories; stories which later brought him great acclaim.
But he was attacked for his views on poverty. He was famously criticised for restoring dignity and sympathy to the working class of America with the Grapes of Wrath.
Those criticisms defined his anxieties as a writer, leaving deep scars on his psyche that he battled to push away. His stances pushed him into exiles away from the cosmopolitan lifestyles of his peer’s literary circles that exalted his contemporaries. But it is ultimately in his writings we find one a great artist; an honest man who came to define the American Identity.
Over time, he won the hearts of the multitudes of readers. And his critics were silenced by the time his sweeping voice completed the East of Eden. The Nobel committee awarded him “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.”
My journey with Steinbeck began as a young boy reading The Pearl as a school set-piece. It was the book that was my Eureka moment as a writer; the book that made me realise that I wanted to write. Every writer has that moment when they read a book and say to themselves, “I can do better than that!”
As I turned The Pearl’s last page, in the silence that followed, I whispered, “Now I must write.”
What makes John Steinbeck a literary genius? Is it in The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, or Of Mice and Men? Or is it in all things John Steinbeck, a man I wish I had known?
A man, I imagine, who would have the best answers for a young writer in these strange and dark times.