National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California


The National Steinbeck Center has some John Steinbeck memorabilia and multi-media somewhat-interactive displays. The number of different videos and audiotape goins simultaneously make for overlapping sound. To listen to Steinbeck’s resonant Nobel Prize acceptance speech on the perfectiability of man, I sat down on the floor practically behind a wall (of the gazebo in Sag Harbor in which he found all inspiration to write gone).

The exhibits begin with East of Eden and end with Travels with Charly, though earlier work is featured in between. I thought that I had read most of what Steinbeck wrote before I was born, but I didn’t even know there was a book of WWII reportage, Once There Was a War, that includes the landing at Salerno.

I can say that I turned the crank of a model-T. Not that it started the engine, or that I understood why it was in the East of Eden room, but, hey! I turned it.

It seems Steinbeck wrote in pencil (legibly) on yellow legal-size pads. There is a book titled Steinbeck’s Typewriter that has a picture of a typewriter that is at San José State, but if he typed, it was to copy pencil drafts. Or to answer correspondence?

I wonder how much The Moon Is Down influenced the Nobel judges. If the award had come during the 40s, it probably would have been met with less contempt than it was in the early 60s. It might have dried him more completely sooner.

Anthony Burgess wrote that Steinbeck was a worthy but not an important writer. Steinbeck was an important writer in the New Deal era, though Burgess means important as a writer to the arts of writing. The chords Steinbeck struck must continue, since all his books of fiction seem to be in print.

Steinbeck wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson and was an appreciated supporter of LBJ’s war (in which both of his sons fought). A liberal humanist (I saw part of “The Forgotten Village”), I won’t hold him responsible for Spencer Tracy’s hammy trickster-drunk in Tortilla Flat” (also on display with the less condescebding performance of John Garfield).

The Nobel speech connects to Faulkner, someone less likely to be compared to Steinbeck than Hemingway. (Steinbeck scoffed at the dialogue of The Sun Also Rises, but realized Hemingway’s prose mattered in ways his writing didn’t.)

Steinbeck birthplace.jpg

We had lunch  at the large Victorian house a few blocks away (at 124 Central Avenue) in which Steinbeck  was born in 1902 and in which he  lived in until he left to start Stanford in 1917. It is now a restaurant maintained by a local nonprofit guild, with  some memorabilia on display with photos, and a gift shop called Best Cellar on the side at ground level.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

The Steinbeck Festival in Salinas is this week, and for my blog it’s now back to Kobayashi films. I’ve posted on the best movies based on Steinbeck fiction and two of his best known and most California Central Valley fictions, The Red Pony (within The Long Valley) and Of Mice and Men. I think the best introduction to his work is The Portable Steinbeck.




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