Travels With Steinbeck

More Trivia from the Steinbeck Center

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

First a note about my intentions. Follow in John Steinbeck’s tracks—stand where he stood, imagine what he saw, and determine “what Americans are like today.” That is my goal. It is not my intention to in any way diminish what he accomplished. I don’t presume to set myself beside Steinbeck, or pretend to offer a critical analysis of his writing. This is a pilgrimage fueled by admiration, firm but not fanatical. My plan is to follow Steinbeck’s roadmap, and, if fortunate, offer a fresh perspective on America. Henry Miller wrote, “Our destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”

As I mentioned in my last post after venting (thank you very much for that), Herb Behrens at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California is a very well-informed Steinbeck aficionado.

Here are some more interesting facts from Herb:

America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction is a good source of all of Steinbeck’s writing about issues that were close to his heart such as the plight of migrant workers as depicted in an article entitled “The Harvest Gypsies.”

Every summer in Salinas there is a Steinbeck festival in late July or early August.  In 2010, the theme will be all of Steinbeck’s journeys including, of course, his journey around America in 1960.

Writing two or three personal letters is how Steinbeck typically started his morning and “got his game going,” to quote Herb. The author referred to the letters as his “warm-up pitches” before tackling his writing for the day. An excellent collection of many of those letters exists today in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten.  I have found his letters to be fascinating, they reveal his personal and artistic struggles, and are very helpful in determining the route on his journey with Charley.

Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath—thought by many (especially critics) to be his best—in 100 days but it was very hard on him physically and emotionally. I can only imagine the toll that must have taken.

Steinbeck was married three times.  He left his first wife Carol, his second wife Gywn left him, and after swearing off marriage altogether, Elaine turned out to be just right.

Herb recommends Jackson J. Benson’s exhaustive John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography as the definitive Steinbeck biography. He reports that Benson researched the biography for 13 years and then wrote a book about the process which is also, according to Herb, quite good.  It is called, Looking for Steinbeck’s Ghost.

My conversation with Herb Behrens was delightful.  He cautioned me that he would be checking my facts on this blog, so this Mark Twain quote is for you, Herb. “Get your facts first, then you can distort them how you please”

Herb can be reached by email at or by phone on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 831.775.4721.

Now to close on a sweet note.  My friend David Hall informed me yesterday that his Montana mom, who loves literature, told him she wants to follow my journey and my blog. Then she asked, “What’s a blog?”  Welcome aboard Mrs. Hall and as soon as I figure out what a blog is, I will tell you.

Sixteen days until departure!

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


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  1. * Ruth Ann says:

    I think this Web Log, aka Blog, is a great way to get excited and to get help with the planning. Have faith; all preparatory problems will resolve and September 7 will find you on your way. I have a lab who loves to travel if you need a sub, by the way. Getting her to Wyoming is the only minor obstacle….
    Ruth Ann

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 9 months ago
  2. * Shannon Hamons says:

    According to the calendar, you should be well on your way retracing JS’ journey. You are either approaching Ohio or already through it. I am also a JS fan and am, ironically, just finishing ‘Travels with Charley.’ The writing reflects, I believe, a very relaxed JS who thoroughly enjoyed his trip, but who grew quite weary and conflicted as he approached Texas. The mixture of hope and dismay regarding our country’s ‘snapshot’ of 1960 (the year of my birth) is quite telling of his analytical style. I grew up in northern Ohio, which may be very close to your path. I hope it provides you more amusement than it appeared to give JS as he sped through the (now decaying) industrial complex. Also, I found it interesting that you mentioned Benson’s biography and Elaine’s ‘A Life in Letters.’ Each is among my prized possesions – I finished the book of letters just a week ago. Best wishes for a wonderful trip and Godspeed. P.S. – If you are close to Rts. 2 and 53 near Port Clinton, stop at Bergman’s fruit stand for some early fall treats of peaches and plums! I always make it a mandatory stop when I am in the area.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago

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