Monday, December 1, 2008

Steinbeck Turnaround

(Photo: Main entrance of the Steinbeck Center in Salinas by beastandbean, all rights reserved.)

It’s been 40 years since novelist John Steinbeck died (Dec. 20, 1968) and 25 since he was fully recognized as a valuable part of Salinas’ history. For the latter half of Steinbeck’s life, he was persona non grata in his hometown, where his 1930s books were burned and banned, particularly for depictions of rich growers exploiting desperate workers during the Depression. After “The Grapes of Wrath” was published in 1939, Steinbeck was denounced by some as subversive. That anger lasted for years. “They want no part of me except in a pine box,” Steinbeck wrote in a letter in 1953. He was living in New York in 1962 when he won the Nobel Prize for literature, and didn’t return to Salinas until his ashes were ready for burial in the family plot. Sentiment changed by 1983, when a group of civic leaders and agribusinesses organized to raise millions to build the National Steinbeck Center. It opened in 1998 in tribute to the words of the now-favorite son.

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