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John Steinbeck:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968
Title: John Steinbeck Collection
Dates: 1926-1977
Extent: 12 boxes (5 linear feet), 3 galley files
Abstract: Handwritten and typescript articles, novels, and short stories, and correspondence with Steinbeck's editor, Pat Covici, make up the bulk of the collection.
RLIN Record #: TXRC00-A9
Language English.
Access

Open for research




Acquisition

Purchases and gifts, 1958-1997

Provenance

A large portion of the materials in the John Steinbeck Collection were originally acquired at part of the Pascal Covici Collection in 1969.

Processed by

Chelsea S. Dinsmore, 2000

Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin


Born in 1902, the third of four children, John Steinbeck was the only son of John Ernst and Olive Hamilton Steinbeck. Raised in the family home in Salinas, California, Steinbeck roamed the woods and explored Monterey Bay and the Big Sur. He was not a motivated student, but he knew from an early age that he wanted to write. He graduated from Salinas High School in 1919 and entered Stanford University, which he attended intermittently until 1925. He often took time off in order to earn money for the following term's tuition and took a variety of jobs including clerk, surveyor, and ranch hand. In 1923 Steinbeck took a class in marine biology which sparked a life long interest in the subject. He left Stanford in 1925 without graduating.

Steinbeck began writing fiction in college and published a few pieces in the school paper. When he left school he decided New York was the place for an aspiring writer to be, so he took a job on a freighter and headed East. Less than a year later, discouraged by his lack of success, he returned to California on another steamer. He spent the next couple of years working as a handyman and caretaker at a Lake Tahoe estate and in February 1928 he finished his first novel Cup of Gold. Later that year he met Carol Henning, whom he would marry two years later. At the end of the year he moved to San Francisco, where Henning had a job, moved in with a friend who was also a budding writer, and began working on his second novel.

Cup of Gold was published in 1929 and Steinbeck and Henning were married in 1930. The couple lived simply, largely supported by Steinbeck's father. Steinbeck published Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933) in quick succession, but the bankruptcy of his publisher left him without any consistent means of income from his writing. The couple moved into the Steinbeck family's cottage in Pacific Grove and, as the grip of the Depression tightened, lived largely on what they could grow or catch in the sea. Steinbeck traveled in California a great deal during the Depression and he wrote about what he saw. What some critics consider his greatest works were published during the thirties including Tortilla Flat (1935), Of Mice and Men (1937), The Red Pony (1937), and The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Early in 1941 Steinbeck separated from Henning and in the fall moved to New York City with Gwyndolyn Conger. His divorce became final in 1942 leaving him free to marry Conger in early 1943. Steinbeck left almost immediately to travel to Europe as a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Gwyndolyn had two children with Steinbeck, Thom in 1944 and John in 1946. The couple moved back and forth between New York and California during the forties and divorced in 1948.

Steinbeck met his third wife, Elaine Scott, in 1949 and they married in 1950. They lived primarily in the New York City area, spending part of each winter in Mexico or other warm climes, and in 1955 they bought a summer cottage in Sag Harbor. Steinbeck continued to write, varying his steady stream of novels with plays and screen adaptations. Many of his novels were performed on stage or made into movies. In 1960, despite illness, Steinbeck took a cross-country trip with only a French poodle for company. The diary of this trip became Travels with Charley (1962). His last novel, The Winter of Our Discontent, was published in 1961. After traveling to Stockholm in 1962 to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature, Steinbeck's health began to decline. He had been suffering small strokes for several years, and they began to worsen. He died at home in 1968.


Dictionary of Literary Biography -- Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945. James J. Martine, Ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1981).

Parini, Jay. John Steinbeck: A Biography. (London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1994).


Holograph and typescript articles, novels, and short stories, and correspondence with his publisher make up the bulk of the John Steinbeck Collection, 1926-1977. The collection is organized into four series, arranged alphabetically by author or title and chronologically where possible: Series I. Works, 1926-1966 (9 boxes); Series II. Correspondence, 1932-1964 (1 box); Series III. Personal Papers, 1943-1946 (1 folder); and Series IV. Third-Party Works and Correspondence, 1939-1977 (2 boxes). These papers were previously accessible through a card catalog, but have been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project. Adrian Goldstone materials that were formerly part of the Steinbeck collection have been withdrawn and cataloged separately.

The Works Series contains draft and proof versions of many of Steinbeck's better known novels as well as dozens of articles written during his travels in Europe and while reporting on national political conventions, and numerous short stories, scripts, and screenplays. Of particular interest may be the journal Steinbeck kept while envisioning Grapes of Wrath and complete holograph and typescript versions of East of Eden. Also present are the novel, play, and radio play versions of The Moon Is Down as well as holograph versions of Pastures of Heaven, Tortilla Flat, and The Wayward Bus. Individual titles are listed in the Index of Works at the end of this guide.

The Correspondence Series is composed of letters to and from Steinbeck. Over 500 letters between Steinbeck and his editor, Pascal "Pat" Covici, represent the bulk of this series with additional letters from Steinbeck to Ben Abramson, Robert Ballou, and others. Correspondents are listed in the Index of Correspondence at the end of this guide.

The small Personal Papers series contains notes, a memorandum of agreement, and Steinbeck's war correspondent identity card. The Third-Party Works and Correspondence Series contains a number of works by Steinbeck's friends and associates as well as a few letters. Of note is a typescript of Oscar Hammerstein's Pipe Dream, a play adaptation of Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, a draft television adaptation for Travels with Charley, and a number of letters from Steinbeck's third wife Elaine. Individual titles and correspondents are listed, by author, in the Index of Works by other Authors and the Index of Correspondence at the end of this guide.

Elsewhere in the Ransom Center are about 60 photographs of Steinbeck and his family, and eleven Vertical Files containing newspaper clippings with biographical information and literary criticism in addition to published articles by Steinbeck.


Other materials associated with John Steinbeck may be found in the following collections at the Ransom Center:

  • Adams, James Donald
  • Anderson, Maxwell
  • Armitage, Merle
  • Conrad, Joseph
  • Covici, Pascal
  • Dobie, J.F.
  • Downing, Robert
  • Genesis West
  • Goldstone, Adrian
  • Harpers
  • Jeffers, Robinson
  • Masters, E.L.


Correspondents

Abramson, Ben

Ballou, Robert

Covici, Pascal, 1885-1964

Steinbeck, Elaine

Subjects

Arthur, King--Fiction

Authors, American--20th century

Community life--Monterey, California--Fiction

Depression--1930s--United States

Document Types

Galley proofs