Travels With Steinbeck

John Steinbeck Profiled

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


Nine days until departure!

Profile: Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck

As a writer, Steinbeck was brilliant at capturing and creating character-driven stories. At times he was criticized for not connecting the scenes as artfully as the traditional novel form requires, but he was superb at crafting the nuances of dialect and character, especially of Americans. Think of Lenny in Of Mice and Men and Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. One of the most rewarding elements of my trip will be gathering the stories of typical Americans, especially “the man in the field,” which is how Steinbeck described the sort of person he wanted to meet on his travels.

John Steinbeck was a complex and paradoxical man. He had a child-like enthusiasm and curiosity for detail. He was a scientist and a naturalist but also mystical and sentimental. He was often paranoid, depressed and lonely, especially as his fame grew. Steinbeck was passionate about America and at the same time harshly critical of it. He enjoyed great success and elaborate travel but simplicity and privacy were what he truly sought. He was modest, shy, thin-skinned, idealistic and outraged by injustice. He enjoyed an intimate relationship with nature. Jay Parini in the introduction to the 1997 Penguin edition of Travels with Charley writes, “As Steinbeck moved slowly toward California, he grew steadily more disenchanted with everything except the natural world.”

Steinbeck was married three times and had a turbulent relationship with his sons, Thom and John, whom he fathered with his second wife, Gwyn. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and yet he suffered vicious criticism throughout his career that insisted he had produced nothing of equivalent merit to The Grapes of Wrath published in 1939. As heart disease began to take its toll near the end of Steinbeck’s life, and friends suggested he slow down and do less, he wrote in a letter to one, “I’m still a man, damn it!” Then he drove solo 11,000 miles around the United States and published a book about it.

As for me, I will get to know Steinbeck well and have one hell of an adventure following his tracks around the country.  It will be a thrill to recreate one of the classic American odysseys and perhaps offer a modern perspective on that journey, and on this great country.

Sources for this profile: John Steinbeck, A Biography by Jay Parini, John Steinbeck, Writer, A Biography by Jackson J. Benson, and Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten.

Find out more about John Steinbeck at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.

The Dog: Max is being a really good sport about all this and I think he secretly likes the attention. But, to be honest, he is still sort of clueless about the whole thing. I haven’t told him he is going to send the second graders at Rowland Hall-St. Marks School postcards from every state we visit or discussed the enormity of the trip. I just told him that on September 7th he and I are going to the grocery store…and beyond.

Sweet Notes: Thanks to Steve at the library for blogging support, Valerie for a photographic seminar and so much more, and Dick C. for the supreme sacrifice of parting with a large portion of his delicious homemade limoncello liqueur for my consumption while on the long journey.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Sharon says:

    Max will love it, not sure about you loving Max. What if you current wife says Max isn’t allowed to go? You may have to go to the pound to find your “muse.”

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
  2. * Dick & Nancy Collistr says:

    Hope you are having a great trip. We are anxious to hear about and learn if you need more limoncello.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago

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