John Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California. His father worked for the county government and his mother was a school teacher. He also had three sisters living with him.
In 1919, John enrolled at Stanford University and studied several subjects before dropping out in 1925 to move to New York City without a degree. There, he worked a myriad of jobs, including one as a construction worker, while writing on the side. He presented his work to the many publishers in New York, but all of them turned him down.
Dismayed from his failure to find a publisher, John moved back to California to continue writing. His first novel was entitled "Cup of Gold" and he managed to find a publisher for it in 1929. The book was not a commercial success, but he was determined to continue writing.
In 1930, he married a woman named Carol Henning, whom he later divorced in 1942. His parents were elderly and he cared for them while he continued writing and scraping together enough money to get by. His mother died in 1934, followed by his father in 1935.
By this time, he had published several other books that had gained little attention. In 1935, things changed for the better when he published a book entitled "Tortilla Flat", which was about the adventures of a young men during the Great Depression. The book managed to win the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal for literary achievement as well.
In 1937, John went to the Soviet Union with his wife Carol. She was a radical Marxist and dragged him to political meetings in San Francisco to meet with other Marxists. Steinbeck himself was reluctant to accept communism and did not fully support the concept.
That year he also wrote one of his most famous novels, "Of Mice and Men". The story centered around a pair of men, one of whom was mentally retarded, who traveled the US looking for work during the Depression. The pair of men show ambition to start a farm of their own, but their progress is hampered by social and economic problems.
In 1939, he published his most famous novel, "The Grapes of Wrath". The book follows a family of migrant workers, the Joads, as they pack up everything they own and search for work in order to survive during the Depression. In their journeys, they observe a lot of suffering and endure much of their own suffering until they finally find their worker's paradise. The novel won the Pulitzer prize in 1940 and was also made into a famous film that year, starring Henry Fonda.
In 1940, Steinbeck joined his friend Ed Ricketts on a voyage to the Gulf of California. They conducted a marine biology expedition there and collected a large variety of specimens to study and document. His adventures were published in 1941 as "Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research".
In 1941, he separated from Carol and left for New York with a woman named Gwyndolyn Conger. In 1943, the two were married and had two sons. They later divorced in 1948, citing irreconcilable differences. In 1950, he made his final marriage to a woman named Elaine Anderson Scott, who stayed with him until his death.
In 1944, Steinbeck wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's film "Lifeboat". In 1945, he wrote another screenplay for the film "A Medal For Benny".
In 1947, Steinbeck published a book called "The Pearl". The book was about a destitute Mexican boy who finds a massive pearl. After finding it, he hopes that the pearl will bring his family money and success, but in the end it only brings corruption and misery.
In 1952, he published what he considered to be his greatest work, a book entitled "East of Eden". The book followed two families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks. The book was a commercial and critical success and spawned a film in 1955 starring James Dean. It has many parallels to the Christian Bible, particularly the stories of the Garden of Eden and Cain and Abel.
In 1952 he also wrote a screenplay for the film "Viva Zapata!". The film focused on the Mexican revolution led by Emiliano Zapata, who was played by Marlon Brando. The movie was a great success and brought attention to the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century.
In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in recognition of his literary career. In 1964, President Johnson awarded him the United States Medal of Freedom. On December 20, 1968, John Steinbeck died in his home of natural causes.