illustrated portrait of American author John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

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What was Steinbeck's connection to California, and how did it influence his writing?

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As a California native, John Steinbeck chose to set most of his books in his home state. He was born in the Central Coast town of Salinas and spent most of his childhood there. He attended college at Stanford in Palo Alto, California where he studied Engish literature.

The Salinas Valley and surrounding area were, and still are, an area of rich ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. There has long been a large transitory community in the region from which Steinbeck drew a lot of his inspiration. Being familiar with this unique area, Steinbeck incorporated much of it into his works. This has given his novels a significant sense of place.

Although Steinbeck spent several years in New York after college, he soon returned to California where he remained for most of his life. He spent some time in Tahoe and then moved with his wife to Pacific Grove, near Monterey.

One of his earliest works, Pastures of Heaven, is a series of interconnected stories set in the Corral de Tierra, a valley in Monterey County that Steinbeck was very familiar with. This was his first major work set in California.

His time in Monterey during the Great Depression inspired the setting for his 1945 novel Cannery Row. While he lived there, Steinbeck developed a close friendship with Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist, who became the inspiration for the character of Doc.

Other well-known Steinbeck works set in the Central Coast area of California include Tortilla Flat, The Red Pony, To a God Unknown, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and In Dubious Battle, among several others.

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