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John Steinbeck Bio

John Steinbeck Bio

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas in 1902 to a middle-class family living a few blocks from Salinas’ bustling Main Street. His father, John Ernst Sr., worked as a manager in the local flour mill. Later, he owned a feed store and was later appointed Monterey County Treasurer. Steinbeck’s mother, born Olive Hamilton, was a former school teacher who enforced high academic standards for her children and encouraged a love of literature. John Steinbeck had three sisters: two older sisters Esther and Beth, and a younger sister Mary, whom Steinbeck was close to throughout their childhood together.

Schooling for Steinbeck showed an early love of storytelling and writing. In high school, a favorite teacher of Steinbeck, read his stories aloud to the class as positive examples, both embarrassing him due to his shyness and encouraging him to continue. He carried this love of writing to college, attending Stanford University’s growing selection of creative writing and English courses. However, the details of taking a full roster of requirements for graduation did not appeal to Steinbeck, so he left the University in 1925 without a degree, having taken the courses that interested him over six years.

Steinbeck’s early work and writing as an independent adult were varied and difficult. He worked at odd jobs, including construction work, journalism, as a winter caretaker for a Tahoe estate, and finally in a Tahoe fish hatchery. Throughout this assortment of jobs, Steinbeck tried to write in his free time. The job as a winter caretaker for a Tahoe vacation estate afforded him the most time to write; he finished his first novel-length manuscript, isolated in his cabin after long winters. This became The Cup of Gold (1929). While working at the hatchery the following summer, Steinbeck met Carol Henning, who would become his first wife. The couple married on January 14, 1930, in a courthouse ceremony.

Together, they lived as long as they could in Los Angeles until the money ran out, forcing them to move to the Steinbeck family vacation cottage in Pacific Grove. There, Carol worked a series of odd jobs herself, putting her skills as a secretary to good use, while Steinbeck wrote as much as he could. During this early period of his writing career, Steinbeck wrote The Pastures of Heaven, stories that became part of The Red Pony, The Long Valley, and To a God Unknown. However, his first commercial success came with the publication of Tortilla Flat. This was Steinbeck’s first book published with his new publisher and editor, Pascal Covici. He would remain Steinbeck’s friend and editor until his death in 1964.

After this turning point in Steinbeck’s career, he started work on some of the best-known pieces, including In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men, and the crowning achievement, The Grapes of Wrath. At its publication in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath was a controversial book. Steinbeck felt that it plagued the rest of his career: everyone from his literary agents to the reading public was waiting for another Grapes of Wrath. Unfortunately, after fame and fortune came to his life, Steinbeck’s marriage to Carol wavered and fell apart. They divorced in 1943, freeing Steinbeck to marry Gwyndolyn “Gwyn” Conger, whom he had met several years before.

With the dawning of the 1940’s, Steinbeck turned to the growing war effort, producing propaganda pieces supporting the American war effort. The Moon is Down rose to a level of prominence in Europe it never achieved in the United States. For occupied Europe, it became a well-loved work, passed clandestinely from reader to reader even when it could earn them a prison or death sentence. In 1943, Steinbeck experienced war for himself as a war correspondent, writing for the New York Herald Tribune and syndicated in every state except Oklahoma. Upon returning from the war, Steinbeck felt the need for something different. During the war, his injuries and experiences put him in a dark mood that lasted for many months afterward.

Finally moving out of his dark mood, Steinbeck wrote Cannery Row, a book that, in a 1953 essay, Steinbeck says that the soldiers asked for: something funny and not about the war, as they were sick of war. In this post-war period, Steinbeck also returned to pre-war material from his 1940 trip to Baja California, where he and Ed Ricketts went on a trip to collect marine specimens. The Pearl was the result of this tour of his recent past, a novella together with a film by Mexican director Emiliano Fernandez. He also wrote The Wayward Bus, which has its roots in Steinbeck’s time in Mexico.

However, two tragedies struck quickly in 1948: Ed Ricketts died from injuries sustained in a car accident with an oncoming train, and Gwyn asked for a divorce. Later that year, Steinbeck returned to the cottage in Pacific Grove, where he spent much of his time in the 1930s. The following year, he received a visit from actress Ann Southern, who brought along her friend, Elaine Scott. She would become Steinbeck’s third and last wife; the couple married less than a week after Elaine secured her divorce from actor Zachary Scott in December 1950. Then, in early 1951, Steinbeck turned to the “big novel” of his career, East of Eden, drawing on his own family history intertwined with the fictional Trask family. They play out a retelling of the Cain and Abel story. The novel took nearly a year to complete and was published in 1952.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Steinbeck and Elaine traveled widely. Steinbeck finally achieved his goal of supporting their travels through journalism, written about the places they visited. The trip that stood out most for Steinbeck was a ten-month stay in Somerset, England, where Steinbeck worked on a modernized version of the King Arthur stories he loved from his childhood. It stood incomplete for the rest of Steinbeck’s life, though published posthumously in 1976. After months abroad for many years, Steinbeck turned back to his own country, writing about the United States in Travels With Charley and expressing his concern over moral decay in America in The Winter of our Discontent. Later, in America and Americans, Steinbeck returned to the issue of Americans, their culture, and what America was like in the mid-1960s. Although critical of excesses and moral laziness, Steinbeck was clearly sympathetic to Americans as a people and wrote about his belief in the potential Americans have for greatness.

In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his body of work. His is “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and social perception,” said Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Anders Osterling in his presentation speech. In 1964, Steinbeck was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson, with whom the writer was personally acquainted.

Steinbeck’s health continued to decline throughout the mid-sixties, and he eventually died at his home in New York City on December 20, 1968.

The National Steinbeck Center, a museum and cultural center in downtown Salinas, pays tribute to his life and lasting impact on American letters and American identity. The Steinbeck Museum explores his ecological vision, his commitment to social engagement, and his many stories about the working class—all of which ensure his work is deeply relevant today. Steinbeck’s books have been published in more than 45 languages, and he is, truly, a citizen of Salinas as well as a citizen of the world.

Young Authors

Steinbeck Young Authors Program

The Steinbeck Young Authors Program aspires to ignite the imagination of middle school students, specifically those in grades 6th to 8th. It seeks to lead them on an inspiring journey through the works of the legendary American author, John Steinbeck, while simultaneously encouraging the cultivation of their own unique narrative talents. Participating in this program offers a platform for students to not only express their artistic flair but also to deepen their appreciation for Steinbeck’s literary legacy.

Program Highlights:

Discovering John Steinbeck: Students will embark on a voyage into the world of John Steinbeck—his life, his creations, and the thematic tapestries he wove into his narratives.

Crafting Original Narratives: Encouraging young minds to channel their imaginative energies, the program invites students to craft their own original stories. This endeavor not only nurtures their writing acumen but also empowers them to articulate their distinctive voices.

Anthology Publication: The pinnacle of this journey is the anthology publication, which will feature submitted works by students. This honor is not merely a celebration of their creative endeavors, but an affirmation of their literary aptitude.

Steinbeck Center’s Day of Writing*: Two students, nominated by their teachers, will be granted the unique privilege of participating in the Steinbeck Center’s Writing Day here at the National John Steinbeck Center located in Salinas, CA. (Local Students Only*)

We firmly believe that the Steinbeck Young Authors Program will significantly enrich your student’s educational journey. By fostering a passion for literature, refining their writing skills, and nurturing their creative instincts, this initiative promises to be a transformative experience. 

In order to facilitate seamless participation, we kindly request that you disseminate this information to your esteemed teaching colleagues. Linked at the bottom of this email, you will find a Google Form tailored for teachers who wish to partake in this year’s Steinbeck Young Authors program. The deadline for teachers to complete the form is set for Friday, September 29th, 2023. We kindly request that each teacher completes the form only once. 

Following this, teachers can anticipate receiving their Google Drive links from education@steinbeck.org by no later than Friday, October 6th, 2023. Teachers can have their students start working on their writing as soon as teachers get their Google Drive resources. Student submissions are due by January 31st, 2024. We will be in contact about dates for the Day of Writing and the Steinbeck Young Authors Awards night as we approach the end of the semester. 

If you are a School District, School or Teacher who would like to sign up for the 2025 program, please visit this Google Form.

Should any queries arise or further information be required, please do not hesitate to contact us at education@steinbeck.org.

Listening to America
Follow along with “Listening to America’s” Clay Jenkinson as he voyages in John Steinbeck’s footsteps and his “Travels with Charley” journey!
Stay up to date by visiting his website!
My Itinerary: Phase One: April 27-June 6, 2024

My plan is to drive about 250 miles per day. My intrepid scout Frank is getting me reservations in campgrounds. Months ago, I provided him with an elaborate set of criteria for choosing locations: county and state parks wherever possible and non-chain commercial campgrounds, unless KOA is the only option. I’ll spend at least one or two nights in Walmart parking lots. Connectivity matters! I’ll be posting photos and commentary virtually every day.

The plan looks like this. Get to the starting gate at Sag Harbor on Long Island: Bismarck to Fergus Falls, Minnesota; Fergus Falls to Mankato, Minn.; Mankato to Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Cedar Rapids to Ottawa, Illinois, home of my friend WGN Chicago radio talk show host John Williams, the brainiest of AM talk show hosts; Ottawa to Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, where Jefferson’s proteges Meriwether Lewis and William Clark dug up mastodon bones for the entry museum at Monticello; Big Bone Lick to Bethany, West Virginia, where I will interview the “bad boy of Steinbeck studies,” Bill Steigerwald, author of Dogging Steinbeck: Discovering America and Exposing the Truth about Travels with Charley; Bethany to Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania to Long Island, New York. I’ve studied his book carefully and printed out his blog prose from his 2010 50th anniversary retracing of Steinbeck’s 1960 journey. Steigerwald did important field research and concluded that:

A: Steinbeck embellished and even fictionalized some of Travels with Charley (TWC).

B: He actually stayed in his truck camper less often than he would have you believe.

C: His wife Elaine was with him for about 40% of the time, a fact he suppressed to keep up the appearance of a lonely journey through the heart of America.

D: He raced through long stretches of the journey to rendezvous with Elaine.

E: He didn’t always sleep where he said he did.

F: Although he said he had to travel incognito so that his fame would not distort the process, he used his celebrity when it was important.

I disagree with many of Steigerwald’s conclusions, and I think his mistook a work of travel literature by demanding punctilious and verifiable reportage. However, he has provided all future Steinbeck re-tracers with an excellent day-by-day guide to what Steinbeck saw and did.

The cad! Steigerwald wrote me an email saying that I could park in his driveway and if I needed a hot shower or a comfortable bed, I could be a guest in his house. I wasn’t born yesterday, Bill. I wrote back to say he was trying to lure me inside his house so that he could later denounce me for embellishing and fictionalizing my own journey! That, of course, was not his intention, but you cannot trust a muckraker on a journey like this.

When I finally reach Sag Harbor on the far end of Long Island around May 10, the actual Steinbeck journey begins. 

In a nutshell: through New England to the top of Maine, which he insisted on touching so I will, too; then down through New Hampshire and Vermont to the Erie Canal, which I have always wanted to see; Niagara Falls; then along the underside of the Great Lakes to Chicago, where I will stay in the Ambassador East Hotel, where Steinbeck’s wife Elaine met him for a few days; then through Wisconsin and Minnesota (with stops at Sinclair Lewis’ Sauk Centre, and Frazee, where Steinbeck camped among a sea of turkey farms and Lake Itasca, the “true source” of America’s greatest river the Mississippi); and finally back to Bismarck.

Day 1

Sunday, April 28, 2024 — Well, I’m underway! After somehow managing to assemble a bike rack for my Listening to America Airstream (five hours, the worst instruction manual, bruised knuckles, and several bleeding injuries to my fingers), I locked the front door of my house. “Nothing to do now except go,” I said out loud. It was a chilly and still wintry morning in Bismarck, temperature 42, brisk wind, gray skies. I gassed up in the nearby village of Stirling, then drove nonstop to Fargo, North Dakota where I bought gas and a bag of pretzels. In mid-afternoon, I drove southeast to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, found the Swan Lake Resort, and checked in. The owners were at the lakeside putting docks into place for the summer. I could have stolen sundries, decals, patches, mugs, and t-shirts from the deserted office. Thoreau wrote, “I think we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.” 

I chose Fergus Falls for my first stop because it was a moderate distance from Bismarck (262 miles) and because my maternal grandparents had a dairy farm here in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. I don’t know what they would have thought of my career, but they would have been astonished that one can live a whole life without doing any real work. They worked hard every day of their lives; even on Sundays, the steers needed feeding, and the cows had to be milked, all 16 of them, with names like Petunia, Daisy, Whitey, Pal, and Blossom. They would have shaken their heads at the sight of a gleaming Airstream trailer. They seldom traveled far beyond Otter Tail County, Minnesota. They drove once to California, where they were fish out of water at Disneyland and on the LA freeways. 

At the “Compass” site at Swan Lake Resort, once I got the rig hooked up to water and electricity, I began to unpack and find places in the cabinetry for clothes, electronic equipment, books (11), food, toiletries, notebooks, and other necessities. The camp hosts had invited me to supper (in the rural Midwest, dinner is served at mid-day), but I declined because I needed to get everything settled in the rig. But — in Steinbeck fashion — I invited them to stop by later. They did, about 8:45 p.m. They lit a fire in the firepit. They brought local beer and a half bottle of whiskey. They are young — in their later 30s. Anna had her 11-month-old baby swaddled in her arms. Tom served as drinkmaster. Anna brought a plate of outstanding carrot cake. 

We talked for a couple of hours. About their decision to leave corporate America to buy a modest resort in a place where they had no kin. About the essential goodness of the people who come stay here. The resort doesn’t allow flags at the campsites, so they have no way to know people’s politics and generally avoid the topic. They wanted to know about my ambitious journey. I explained my quest. This led to a discussion of the State of the Nation as we approach America’s 250th birthday. They were thoughtful. Tom’s well-read and ready to talk. 

Eventually, the fire subsided and we were all cold (except for the swaddled baby), so we called it a night. I tumbled into bed. 

Day Two Begins

It’s a gray morning in northwestern Minnesota, but so far dry, 42 degrees, some wind in the still-bare trees. I’ll pack up soon and head to Mankato, 212 miles south. I want a full day here to finish unpacking and do some writing, but I’ve got to keep moving if I am going to get to the eastern tip of Long Island within 10 days.

Immediate conclusions:

1. Setting up camp only takes about 10 minutes — hose to the spigot, stout electrical cord into the gray metal box.

2. Nothing had tumbled around in the Airstream on a blustery day of driving with many road bumps and potholes. If you pack it right, there is no chaos upon arrival.

3. Driving a pickup-RV combination 60 feet long requires concentration (no texting!), and a few hundred miles will wear you out.

4. Given the spontaneous little party we scared up at my fire pit, and the quality of the conversation, I reckon that it’s going to be easy enough to Listen to America. 

A Message from Clay

Hello Everyone,

I write this from central Pennsylvania. After a 4-hour drive today, I arrived at a lovely RV campground an hour ago. Hooked up electricity and water. Deployed my Starlink internet antenna, which resembles a large white plastic cutting board. Then I took a very pleasing hot shower, shaved a two-day beard, erected a new backdrop for video interviews in the Airstream, and now I am checking in with all of you. The last two days have been the only ones in a week without high winds, though it rained hard for more than an hour at dawn today at Bethany, West Virginia, where last evening I had the honor of interviewing the “bad boy of Steinbeck studies,” Bill Steigerwald, author of Dogging Steinbeck: Discovering America and Exposing the Truth about Travels with Charley. 

Mr. Steigerwald turned out to be a delight. Mostly I listened to his entertaining account of his travels. I challenged him on a couple of points, one involving my beloved North Dakota, but it was all joy. We’ll be posting parts of the interview soon.

Tomorrow I drive through New York City to Long Island and on Tuesday morning I have the honor of seeing Steinbeck’s Sag Harbor house, now dedicated to supporting writers and artists. Then the true Travels with Charley journey begins.

In this week’s newsletter, my Dispatch about the loveliness of Iowa, and its depiction by the painter Grant Wood (1891-1942). Iowa is much more interesting and beautiful than perhaps you have heard, especially in the fullness of spring. 

This week’s podcast is an interview with political cartoonist Phil Hands about the history of American cartoons. You’ll find one here that we talked about on the program. If you want to read a history of political cartoons I recommend The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartoons by Donald Dewey; and Victor S. Navasky’s The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and their Enduring Power.

It’s 4 p.m. local time. I’m clean, glad to be done driving today, and glad to be alive!!

Please visit our Listening to America Facebook site and return to LTAmerica.org frequently to keep abreast of the great road trek. I’ve traveled just under 2,000 miles so far. I started the day by visiting the Portiuncula Chapel at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. It’s a marvelous replica of the chapel in Assisi where Francis heard directly from God and rededicated his life to “restoring the church.” I’ve wanted to see it for a very long time, ever since my friend Sharon Kilzer spoke of its beauty and its power to inspire.

Across Iowa

Iowa — I drove across Iowa this week to get to Illinois and beyond. I’ve been to Iowa many times over the years, but this journey — straight through — was particularly beautiful. It’s spring and it has been raining. The wide farm fields are a deep rich black usually without a single weed anywhere to be seen. All the grass in Iowa in early May — from Kentucky bluegrass to alfalfa and prairie — is spring green, clean, almost garish green. Although Iowa is one of the most productive farm states in America, employing state-of-the-art equipment, including GPS driven tractors, sprayers, and combines, the whole countryside is still punctuated with the old concrete tile silos we associate with the mid-20th century, not the 21st. Over every rural hill I saw old classical gambrel (English style) barns, some painted red, others white, most needing paint and in some degree of dilapidation. One or two had smiley faces, and of course a few anti-Biden signs, some homemade.

Iowa has the great honor of being bounded on east and west by two of the world’s great rivers. On the west, the Missouri (2,341 miles, beginning at Upper Red Rock Lakes in extreme southwestern Montana; on the east the mighty Mississippi (2,340 miles, beginning at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota). I know the Missouri River well. I live just two miles from it in Bismarck, North Dakota, and every summer I float the famous White Cliffs section in central Montana on my annual Lewis and Clark cultural tour. (See the Cultural Tours page for details.) But when I came suddenly upon the Mississippi at Davenport, Iowa, yesterday, it took my breath away and I fell into a dreamy Huck Finn meditation. Even this far north the Mississippi is an awesome river, half a mile wide and 30-40 feet deep. If you have not read Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883), you owe yourself that pleasure.

Iowa is not at all flat. Its rolling hills look like they were painted by Missouri’s Thomas Hart Benton or Iowa’s Grant Wood. This gives great character to Iowa’s family farms. Many of the fields embrace hills and gentle ridges, and the farmer has to perform some sinuous plowing on the sides of surprisingly angular hillsides. 

Grant Wood (1891-1942), by the way, grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also the boyhood home of the journalist and historian William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1962), a copy of which John Steinbeck was carrying in his truck camper on the Travels with Charley journey. Everyone knows Wood’s American Gothic (1930). The farm couple were modeled on Wood’s sister Nan Wood Graham and his dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby, neither of whom was pleased with how he depicted them. 

But it is Wood’s farm scenes that I was reminded of as I drove Iowa. The state still looks that way. 

I’ve been reading about Grant Wood in Shirer’s memoir, American Journey: The Start. Most of his paintings are admiring of rural life and the rural countryside, with a slight edge of irony about what Sinclair Lewis regarded as the psychic claustrophobia of the rural Midwest. The couple in American Gothic do not look happy with their lot. 

Wood’s most satirical painting is titled Daughters of Revolution (1932). He was commissioned to create a stained glass window at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids. Because he did not regard U.S.-manufactured glass as high enough in quality for his art, he used glass manufactured in Germany for the project. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) criticized Wood for using German glass for a World War I memorial. Wood dismissed his critics as “those Tory gals,” and decried “people who are trying to set up an aristocracy of birth in a Republic.” (This, by the way, was Thomas Jefferson’s criticism of the Society of the Cincinnati, which was planned as a hereditary organization for veterans of the Revolution and their descendants. Jefferson saw organizations like this as attempting to create a hereditary aristocracy in an equalitarian republic.) Wood got his revenge five years later. His Daughters of Revolution depicts pretentious and soulless church ladies sipping tea before a framed print of Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 Washington Crossing the Delaware.

I can tell you from personal experience that members of the DAR are still miffed by Wood’s painting to this day!

I’ve chosen a Grant Wood landscape to give you an accurate sense of what I saw on my travels, and two by Thomas Hart Benton.

Visiting John Steinbeck's in Sag Harbor, New York

Clay visits John Steinbeck’s Sag Harbor home on Long Island where the noted author began his 1960 cross-country journey, immortalized in Travels With Charley. See his video HERE!

John Steinbeck, his dog Charley and camper rig. (Sketch by Nate Calderone of Salida, Co.)

A journey in the wake of John Steinbeck’s 1960 Travels with Charley trek has to begin at Sag Harbor on Long Island. Steinbeck lived there off and on beginning in 1955.

So I drove my Airstream, Rocinante, from Bismarck, N.D., to the end of Long Island to do it right. (And learned some RV lessons along the way.)

I was delighted to be shown around the property by Kathryn Szoka of the Sag Harbor independent bookstore Canio’s Cultural Cafe. The bookstore is hosting a marathon public reading of Travels with Charley on June 7. Last year they did Melville’s Moby Dick, compared to which Travels with Charley is a mere pamphlet!

Steinbeck set off on his transcontinental journey from Sag Harbor on September 23, 1960, in a new pickup camper, with hunting and fishing equipment, more books than he could possibly read along the way, a well-stocked supply of liquor, and his giant French poodle Charley.

He drove the perimeter of the United States, 11,500 miles. And then wrote a superb account of his travels, published in 1962.

I’ll write more about this, but for the moment just a few comments:

1) The house at Sag Harbor is smaller than I had expected, but the grounds are larger, with magnificent old oak trees that have just begun to leaf out.

2) The dock is still there in the bay. It was the scene of a preliminary drama, when Hurricane Donna swept through and threatened to crush the Faire Elayne (the boat) against the dock. Steinbeck rescued the boat, anchored it safely, well away from shore, and then swam back through the flood tide. It was a dangerous thing to do and Steinbeck’s wife Elaine was both relieved and scolding when he straggled back to shore.

Inside Steinbeck’s writing hut, Joyous Garde, at his home in Sag Harbor, N.Y.


3) His writing hut, Joyous Garde, is quite far from the house, right on the edge of the bay. He had it built small enough so that he would not be beleaguered by visitors while he wrote every day. He strung electrical cords from the house to Joyous Garde when he needed electricity.

4) The Steinbecks divided their time between their place in New York City and Sag Harbor which is more than 100 miles from Manhattan and traffic in our time can be congested.

So now I have touched base at the embarkation point. Tomorrow I will take the ferry to Connecticut and begin — first up to the top of Maine (which he insisted upon and partly regretted), then to Niagara, down along the southern shore of the Great Lakes to Chicago, and from Chicago through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota, where Phase One of my great journey ends around June 6.

Special thanks to Kathryn Szoka and Canio’s Cultural Cafe, an excellent bookstore where, of course, I bought a couple of books.

I was deeply moved, grateful, and inspired to wander the property and sense the contentment (and privacy) one of America’s greatest writers enjoyed “far from the madding crowd” of New York City.

A Stop at Thoreau's Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts

Walden Pond, near Concord, Mass., immortalized by Henry David Thoreau. (Photo by Nolan Johnson)


I recently had the immense joy of revisiting Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, for the 10th or so time. Perfect weather. In spite of the detractors who abuse Henry David Thoreau for taking his laundry to town and not being John Muir, I regard Walden as America’s greatest book, almost the “bible” of American environmentalism. It’s not really a Nature book (though it is that, too), but a manifesto for simplifying one’s life, advancing boldly in the direction of one’s dreams, and calculating the “cost” of all that we purchase and accumulate.

Guilty, as charged, Your Honor!

My friend Nolan took this stunning drone photograph of the pond, where Thoreau lived two years, two months, and two days, beginning on the 4th of July 1945.

Today, my last day in Massachusetts (for now), I visited the Concord Museum, which has almost all of the furnishings Thoreau put into his cabin. You see here the green desk on which he wrote Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, not to mention his immense and revolutionary journal.

I had never been to the Concord Museum before. It’s a close to Thoreau as you are ever going to get — inside!

I know some of you will disagree that Walden is America’s greatest book. I’d be interested in your nomination.

I’m now two weeks into my transcontinental journey, thriving in my own little portable Walden cabin, the Listening to America Airstream, with the same square footage as Thoreau himself had.

Reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich While Traveling With Charley

     Pioneering CBS radio journalists, Ed Murrow and William Shirer.

Clay visits Cedar Rapids, Iowa, boyhood home of pioneering journalist and author William Shirer, who later became friends with John Steinbeck.

As I made my way from Bismarck, North Dakota, to Long Island, New York, to visit John Steinbeck’s Sag Harbor home, I wanted to make several “humanities stops.” These include Pipestone, Minnesota, one of the most important pipestone quarries in North America; Mankato, Minnesota, site of the largest mass execution in American history; and Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, where Jefferson’s friends and proteges quarried mastodon bones to send him at Monticello.

Planning my initial itinerary with maps spread out before me and a copy of Travels with Charley, I decided to pilgrimage to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the boyhood home of William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer is one of my heroes. His talent, drive, and some good luck made him one of the most important American journalists of the 20th century. After graduating from Coe College in Cedar Rapids in 1925, Shirer ventured to Paris in hopes of finding a job at an English-language newspaper and maybe writing the great American novel. He found work first as a print journalist and, soon enough, as one of the first of CBS’ Murrow Boys. With Murrow, Eric Sevareid, and a few others in March 1938, during the Anschluss (Hitler’s annexation of Austria), Shirer helped to invent the radio news roundup. His appearances on CBS radio, usually beginning with “This is Berlin!” were not as widely acclaimed as Murrow’s London rooftop commentary during the Blitz; nevertheless, Shirer was famous in America well before the U.S. entered the war in December 1941.  

Shirer wrote more than a dozen books, including one of the best autobiographies of the 20th century, the three-volume 20th Century Journey. Volume two, The Nightmare Years, is one of the best books I have ever read.

John Steinbeck met William Shirer in New York not long before he (Steinbeck) traveled to Europe and North Africa in 1943 as a war correspondent. They met through a mutual friend, Lewis Gannett, the book editor for the Tribune. As he prepared to see the war for himself, Steinbeck sought out Shirer several times for advice about what to expect in war-torn Europe and how to report it. Shirer’s Berlin Diary was published in the United States in June 1941, at a time when most of the American establishment was skeptical of the horror stories coming out of Germany — the Gestapo, the SS, persecution of the Jews, the concentration camps. 

The Complexity of Marriages

John Steinbeck’s domestic drama began unfolding at the same time. He was married three times. His first wife, Carol Henning (1930-1943), typed his manuscripts, helped him creatively, and named The Grapes of Wrath. She saw him through the lean and hungry years. After their divorce in 1943, Steinbeck selected his second wife on the rebound. He married aspiring singer Gwendolyn Conger in 1943. On the rebound — a leggy blonde with what observers called a “great figure,” a frustrated aspiring singer and actress, 20 years John’s junior, edgy about his celebrity. What could go wrong? In their five years together, Gwyn bore Steinbeck two children: Thom (1944) and John (1946). They divorced in 1948. In 1950, Steinbeck married Elaine Scott. They had most of two decades together. Elaine survived Steinbeck by 34 years. It was the happiest of the three marriages.

The second marriage was never really happy, partly because Gwyn convinced herself that she had sacrificed a promising stage career to become the wife of a selfish and famous novelist. But Steinbeck may have poisoned the marriage from the start by deciding, almost immediately after the wedding in New Orleans, that he had to get himself “into the war.” John and Gwyn were married in New Orleans on March 29, 1943. Just over two months later, he left for Europe. Gwyn was devastated. I think she never really forgave him for running off to war.

Desperate to keep her husband home during the honeymoon period of their relationship, Gwyn had visited Shirer secretly to convince him to dissuade Steinbeck from taking the assignment. Shirer refused. He told Gwyn that he understood John’s desire to get into the arena, contribute to the war effort, and not miss the greatest story of his lifetime. 

Steinbeck embarked for England in June 1943. He took a typewriter, 4 quarts of Scotch, 2 pounds of pipe tobacco, and a hundred Multicebrin tablets (vitamins). Some of his war reporting was published as Once There Was a War in 1958. Steinbeck spent considerable time with William Shirer in London, partly, according to his biographer Jackson Benson, because Shirer “was of the breed of correspondent that is part scholar, part newspaperman.” 

Readers of Travels with Charley know Steinbeck was carrying Shirer’s magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, with the other volumes he packed in his truck camper. After a satisfying conversation in the rig with a local farmer in New Hampshire, Steinbeck wrote: “Charley looked after him and sighed and went back to sleep. I ate my corned beef hash, then made down my bed and dug out Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. But I found I couldn’t read, and when the light was off I couldn’t sleep.”

There is a mystery here. This incident occurred in late September 1960 in New England. However, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was not published until October 17, 1960. How does John Steinbeck have a copy in his rig? There are only a few possibilities. 1) He’s making this up, perhaps because he doesn’t want to report that he was really reading Heidi or Old Yeller 2) He got an advance copy of the book before he left Long Island. This is entirely possible given Steinbeck’s friendship with Shirer and his celebrity. 3) He bought a hardback copy somewhere on the road when the book came out (Seattle? San Francisco?) and misremembered the sequencing when he came to write Travels with Charley. We have no way of knowing.

How to Read Travels with Charley in an Age of Disillusionment

At this point, I should explain my Travels with Charley methodology.

1. I believe that John Steinbeck really made this 10,000-mile journey in 1960, leaving Long Island on September 23, 1960, and arriving home sometime in December.

2. I believe he is reporting his itinerary accurately.

3. I believe every story or virtually every story in Travels with Charley is true, that every or almost every encounter and incident in the book happened during the trip.

4. Several writers, chiefly Bill Steigerwald, have proven (beyond any doubt) that Travels with Charley is not a book of punctilious fidelity to a kind of reporter’s “the facts and only the facts in precisely the right sequence” objectivity. It is clear that Steinbeck embellished his adventures and, I suppose, invented some of the dialogue. How could it be otherwise? 

5. Steigerwald has shown beyond doubt that

  • Steinbeck did not sleep in the truck camper as often as he would have us believe.
  • Steinbeck’s wife Elaine was with him far more than Travels with Charley acknowledges. Steinbeck admits to meeting Elaine in Chicago for a couple of days of R & R (at a luxury hotel), in Seattle, and in the panhandle of Texas, where John and Elaine celebrated Thanksgiving on an opulent and ostentatious ranch to which Elaine had a connection. It’s not entirely clear how much of the time Elaine was with Steinbeck, but it comes close to 40%.
  • Steinbeck tended to rush from one Elaine rendezvous to the next in such a way that he could not have been doing much searching for America.

6. I accept all of that, in substance if not with my friend Steigerwald’s gotcha tone. But I am not nearly so bothered by these discrepancies as Steigerwald. I’ve always accepted that Travels with Charley is the work of a literary master, not a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Steinbeck reminds us several times in the book that an author inevitably shapes his material. That to turn an adventure into a book requires structure, a beginning, middle, and end, and that the stories he tells in Travels with Charley — like all stories from the beginning of time — behave like stories — they get tidier, more dramatic, and more tightly structured as they are transformed from something that happened at the Maple River in eastern North Dakota into a usable incident in a work of non-fiction literature. 

7. My default position, therefore, when I come upon a story, incident, or personage in Travels with Charley is that it is true, or I should say True in a higher sense. My default position is not — and this is where I chiefly break with Steigerwald — that the story is probably not true, that it was probably invented or so heavily embellished as to make it unreliable from the perspective of what a Steinbeck Cam would have revealed on that day.

8. Reporters should read Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech before embarking on this kind of investigative journalism. On that occasion, December 10, 1962, in Stockholm, Steinbeck reminded his worldwide audience that humans are fundamentally a story-telling species:

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.”

9. Finally, where there are discrepancies or things don’t quite track or match up, my approach is to figure out what actually happened (where he actually slept and under what circumstances) and then to try to understand why Steinbeck was shaping the narrative as he did. For what literary purpose? The two easiest “distortions” to understand are a: that he exaggerated how often he really camped somewhere and slept in the rig sipping Scotch and reading under the light of a gas lantern and b: how often Elaine was with him in his travels. 

  Elaine and John Steinbeck in 1959. (Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, SJSU)

Steinbeck wants us to picture him at the end of the day, parking under the trees in some quiet and obscure place on the backroads of America, heating a can of chili con carne, reading under the light of his gas lantern, sipping some smooth Scotch, letting Charley out for the last pee of the evening, writing a letter to Elaine, and making up his bed. It’s romantic and a little forlorn, with a bit of risk, a long way from the comforts of home. We’d probably be pretty dismayed if we knew exactly how many (or, as Steigerwald puts it, how few) nights he slept in his rig. Although he admits to staying from time to time in a “motor court” to have a good hot bath, he does not explain how often he wound up in a luxury hotel. That’s not the spirit of the quest.

The book would have been less satisfying if he had admitted how much he was with Elaine on the journey, how often he did not sleep in the truck camper, and how much he rushed to the next rendezvous site with Elaine. He was more candid in the original manuscript, now a treasure of the J.P. Morgan Library in New York City. But by the time the book went to press in 1962, Steinbeck and his editors had done what it took to cast the journey as a lone man’s adventure that ended almost every night in a camper bed converted from the dining table. He refused to eliminate Elaine altogether, but nearly so. This is what good authors and editors do to shape a story for publication. 

I certainly don’t doubt that Steinbeck carried his friend William Shirer’s masterpiece for some at least of his 1960 odyssey around America.

And So to Coe College 

  The Quad at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Clay Jenkinson)

So I made an appointment at Coe College to talk with their library staff about Shirer, one of the handful of the college’s greatest alums. The campus is beautiful. Coe’s Stewart Memorial Library has a splendid art collection, including a Picasso, a Matisse, and a fair number of paintings by another Cedar Rapids worthy Grant Wood. I was treated as an honored guest.

But no shrine to Shirer, not even a portrait (or a photograph) or, for that matter, a plaque. What a mistake! When Shirer graduated, Coe College president Harry Morehouse Gage, impressed by the young man’s talent and aware of his big dreams, gave Shirer a loan of $100 (about $1,785 today) and told him to go take on Paris and the world. Thanks to that act of inspired mentoring and faith, Shirer went on to write more than a dozen books, including the critically acclaimed and still widely read Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer’s father died when William was just 9 years old. Raised by his widowed mother in provincial Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Shirer was lucky to be able to attend college at all, and thanks to big dreams, discipline, and drive, he went on to become one of the 20th century’s most successful journalists, as important to the ways of modern broadcast media as Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. 

What could be a better student empowerment story than this? Or maybe they would all be demanding $1,785 upon graduation!

I lobbied hard for Coe to do justice to Shirer — with the usual result. So far.

Because Steinbeck knew Shirer and because he carried with him a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in his rig, I’m carrying the book, too. I first read it when I was 15. It was one of my father’s favorite books, and he urged me to read all 1,249 pages. I did. Much later, I portrayed Shirer in the Great Basin Chautauqua. I suppose I have read it five or six times over the years, and it never ceases to live up to one’s great expectations. 

It would be a small but important contribution to Steinbeck studies if I could solve the mystery of how he seemed to have with him a book that had not been published by the time he said he lay awake reading it. An audio interview between Shirer and biographer Jackson Benson, housed at Stanford’s Green Library, may hold some clues. My friend Russ Eagle has ordered a digital copy. Stay tuned.

Resilience and Heart in Lewiston, Maine

The recently reopened Just-In-Time recreation center in Lewiston, Maine.

Today on my way to Bar Harbor, at a friend’s suggestion, I visited the Just-In-Time recreation center in Lewiston, Maine. It’s a bowling alley. It just reopened, six months after yet another in the endless string of mass shootings in America. A mentally ill man shot and killed 18 innocent people on October 25, 2023, eight in the bowling alley, and 10 more down the street at a bar and grill. Thirteen others were wounded.

Sometime after the shooting, the perpetrator committed suicide.

The story is both about the worst of America — an epidemic of mass shootings and a political establishment that refuses to do anything meaningful about it — and also about the wonderful resilience of humanity. Just-In-Time reopened quickly to reassert normal life in the second largest community in Maine, after the worst shooting incident in the state’s history.

I spent half an hour in the bowling alley. There are several signs welcoming people back to the recreation center and a wall with 18 bowling pins painted with the names of the victims. Four or five small clusters of people were bowling on this Saturday afternoon, and a handful were sitting at the bar/snackbar, but the large facility was mostly empty.

It will take time.

Bowling pins painted with the names of two victims of the tragic shooting at the recently reopened Just-In-Time recreation center.

(Photo by Clay Jenkinson)

Visitors from Jupiter — heck, visitors from France or Germany — could only shake their heads in wonder and disbelief that an advanced civilization finds it possible to tolerate mass shootings, now so frequent that they no longer always reach the front pages of our newspapers or the lead on the nightly news.

Surely we are capable of addressing this appalling national disorder in a reasonable way, protecting people’s Second Amendment rights but nevertheless doing what it will take to stop the mayhem. Most Americans have indicated their desire for reasonable firearms restrictions such as mandatory waiting periods, rigorous background checks, red flag laws, and some serious restrictions on assault rifles and the AR-15.

What do you think we should do about the problem? Please don’t say, “just enforce existing laws,” because that is no real solution …

I’m glad I diverted my trajectory to visit the bowling alley. If I am wandering America trying to make sense of our national experiment on the eve of our 250th birthday (July 4, 2026), surely trying to understand the plague of gun violence has to be a central theme.

Here are the names of the people of Maine who were minding their own business and enjoying an evening out on October 25, when they were slaughtered by a man with guns his moral compass could not manage:

Ronald G. Morin

Peyton Brewer-Ross

Joshua A. Seal

Bryan MacFarlane

Joseph Walker

Arthur Strout

Maxx Hathaway

Stephen Vozzella

Thomas Conrad

Michael Deslauiers

Jason Adam

Tricia Asselin

William Young

Aaron Young

Robert Violette

Lucille Violette

William Frank

Keith Macneir


18 bowling pins painted with the names of victims of the shooting at

Just-In-Time recreation center (recently reopened) in Lewiston, Maine.

(Photo by Clay Jenkinson)

Mount Katahdin - Maine's Tallest Mountain

Mt. Katahdin, which translates to “Greatest Mountain” in Penobscot, is the highest mountain in the state of Maine at 5,269 feet.

(Photo by Clay Jenkinson)

As I drove up the eastern spine of tall Maine this week, I pulled over to gaze at Mount Katahdin.

Henry David Thoreau and two companions ascended Katahdin nearly to its summit in 1846. He loved its unsympathetic rawness: “This was that Earth of which we have heard,” he wrote, “made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was not man’s garden, but the unhandseled globe. … Man was not to be associated with it. It was Matter, vast, terrific.”

From 27 miles away Katahdin took my breath away.

The photograph cannot do justice to the quality of light or the quality of the afternoon breeze in mid-May in America’s most tree-carpeted state. But you get the idea!

Sports, Lawn Care and Fishing at Karen's Diner - Waterville, Maine

  The counter of Karen’s Diner in Calais, Maine. That’s Karen on the left. (Photo by Clay Jenkinson)

Waterville, Maine, May 2024 — It’s a little early to draw many conclusions about the country’s mood, but this is what I have heard in a little more than two weeks on the road in America.

Most people I have met are just tired out. They are weary of the endless national narrative — our dysfunctional do-nothing Congress; the mutual demonization of each party towards the other; Trump’s narcissism and disruptions, Biden’s shuffling and verbal gaffs, two old men running for president that nobody seems excited about; Stormy Daniels and Hunter Biden; the perpetual crisis at the border; the fundamental intractability of things in the Middle East; the campus protests; the ongoing Culture Wars; the seeming futility of the west’s support for Ukraine; the flirtation with autocracy, including here in the U.S.

Etc., etc., etc., etc.

“That’s why the wife and I are out here,” one man told me as he grilled chicken at a KOA Kampground in Maine, “to tune all that stuff out. We’re just seeking our own happiness now. I know that’s probably bad, but that’s exactly how we feel.”

“A plague on both their houses,” another said as we gassed up our rigs at a giant service plaza in New Hampshire. “We just want it to end.”

When I asked people whether America is:

A: circling the drain

B: doing just fine

C: lurching on as always

Most began by saying, “Duh!” but they invariably stepped back and provided a more thoughtful answer: “We’ll get through this. We always do. There is more right with America than wrong with America, but our leadership on both sides is really letting us down right now.”

“I’m worried, but what are we going to do about it?” my server said at a lunch counter the other day.

This morning at breakfast at Karen’s Diner in Calais, Maine, sitting at the counter, I asked Karen what the coffee klatches of men (there were six at a nearby table) talk about when they come in a couple of times per week. “Everything,” she said with an affectionate grunt. “The political situation?” I asked. “No. I’m not ok with that. When I bought this place 18 years ago I told my husband there were two subjects we wouldn’t have people talking about in here: politics and religion.” Pause. “So, you know, sports, lawn care, the fishing season, Canada (just across the St. Croix River), tourists!”

I should immediately acknowledge that I’m not meeting a representative sample of the American people. In campgrounds — state parks, county parks, ma and pa RV parks, and KOA campgrounds — the people I meet are overwhelmingly white senior citizens with enough money and freedom to travel the country in comfortable RVs, some that cost $10,000 and some that cost $350,000, not to mention the splendid pickups that haul them. Most of the people I meet aren’t rich, but they are privileged.

The limitations of my observational lens came home to me yesterday when I went into a local museum in Calais, Maine, not far from the Penobscot Indian Reservation. On the registration desk, I saw a stack of “please take one” documents about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls in America. And food pantries in every town or village I drove through. And plenty of rural shabbiness, which I take to mean rural poverty.

This, too, is America.

As I plugged in my Airstream last evening beside a lovely Maine lake, the man doing the same next to me (wearing an absurd and expensive mosquito net helmet) asked me what I was doing with whatever Listening to America is. “I’m driving around the country retracing John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley journey, trying to listen to the mood of the country as we approach our 250th birthday,” I said. “I’m more concerned about the gnats,” he replied. “Look, we’re out here partly to get away from all that. We love America. But we’re worried. Mostly, we’re just sick of it.”

I’m only just beginning to listen to America. Still, the full picture will not likely emerge around the Kampfire, where a perky KOA employee in a yellow shirt is making s’mores to order.

A Visit With Author Jay Parini of Middlebury, Vermont

    Author, Jay Parini, talks with Clay about his book John Steinbeck: A Biography.

Middlebury, Vermont — Last night I had a delightful interview (in the Airstream Rocinante) with Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini of Middlebury College in Vermont.

In his driveway.

Parini’s John Steinbeck: A Biography was published in 1995. It was, he said, his first biography. He was invited to write the book by Steinbeck’s third and final wife Elaine. She gave him unlimited access to Steinbeck materials and a list of scores of people he should interview.

Although we concentrated on Steinbeck’s 1960 Travels with Charley tour of America, our conversation was wide-ranging. Parini has written more than a score of books, including a critically acclaimed biography of the poet Robert Frost. His 2020 memoir, Borges and Me: An Encounter is being made into a movie. He has written eight novels, with subjects ranging from Herman Melville to the apostle St. Paul. He is an accomplished poet. At the moment I’m reading two of his books — his biography of Gore Vidal, Empire of Self: A life of Gore Vidal; and Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America.

He’s a brilliant man and a superb writer. We had about 75 minutes together in the Airstream and then Jay and his wife Devon served me homemade pasta and fresh asparagus provided by a neighbor. Plus rhubarb pie!

Perhaps the most important thing Parini said about Travels with Charley is that it must be seen as “autofiction” and not mere reportage. In other words, Steinbeck organized, shaped, and indeed embellished his experience as he transformed something that happened in the autumn of 1960 into a minor literary classic. “This is what great writers do,” Parini said. “This is what we all do when we remember our experiences. This is the essence of storytelling.”

John Steinbeck: A Biography by Jay Parini

My goal is to interview as many Steinbeck experts as possible during my travels. So far I’ve had — in my rig — Professor Parini and also Bill Steigerwald, the author of an important investigation into “the real story” behind Steinbeck’s 1962 book Travels with Charley.

Parini was a friend of the late Gore Vidal. He guided the late Jorge Luis Borges around the Scottish Highlands. He debated Christopher Hitchens about the war in Iraq.

What an honor to spend an evening with such a humanist, writer, storyteller, and dedicated college professor.


The Steinbeck Collection at the National Steinbeck Center started with a small donation of Steinbeck first-edition books in the 1960s. From humble origins and with the careful collecting and stewardship across decades by people dedicated to Steinbeck’s legacy, the Collection has grown to include approximately 40,000 items, ranging from manuscripts to newspaper clippings, and films to artwork.

The mission that drives the collection, preservation, and sharing of the items in the Steinbeck Collection is to document and share Steinbeck’s legacy. To that end, the collection includes items as varied as John Steinbeck’s life and experiences as a student, war correspondent, novelist, State Department emissary, and Nobel Laureate.

The highlights of the Collection are further described below. For more information about other parts of the Collection, such as foreign editions of Steinbeck’s works, critical analysis and review of Steinbeck’s life and writing, art, or film, please contact the Archivist at archives@steinbeck.org

John Steinbeck Museum Archives

Agricultural and Local History

John Steinbeck Museum Letters


John Steinbeck Letters


John Steinbeck Museum National Steinbeck Center Archives


John Steinbeck Museum

Pauline Pearson Oral Histories

John Steinbeck History Museum

Steinbeck Family Artifacts

Contact the Archivist

Please contact Guest Services for Archive Showings or Docent-led Tours at 831.775.4721


In an effort to support our amazing educators, we have officially launched the National Steinbeck Center’s Educational Resources web page, where you will find interactive lesson plans from our award-winning Red Pony curriculum, fun activities, interactive content and more that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home.

The Time the Wolves Ate the Vice Principal

Interactive Activity 8 – Teaching The Pearl Curriculum Guide: Writing an I AM Poem

Poetry is a creative form of writing that allows people to express their feelings and ideas through the use of distinctive style and rhythm. Use the “I AM” model below to craft a poem from the point of view of a character from John Steinbeck’s novels or short stories. You can also choose to write one after a literary character that you read about recently. The poem should be no longer than one page. Study the poem on the second page to give you a better idea of how your poem can look like.

Let’s celebrate National Poetry Month together by show us your dramatic reading abilities and recording yourself (with your parent/guardian’s permission) reading it out loud portraying the character you chose and hash tagging #SteinbeckFromHome for a chance to be featured in our social media accounts. Be creative and have fun!

Interactive Activity 7 – Share Your Family Stories

Did you know that John Steinbeck’s maternal grandfather, Samuel Hamilton, was from Ireland and was one of the pioneer settlers of the town of Salinas during the 1850s? Steinbeck’s family history can be traced all the way back to his European roots. While we are all spending more quality time with our families at home, why not dive into your families’ histories and discover new tales about your past and ancestors.

Straight from our National Steinbeck Center Vault we are sharing a set of bilingual activities from our “A Century Ago in Steinbeck Country” Curriculum for Grade 3 that will provide students with a model for asking the right questions to dig deeper into their family history and find some true gems.  Download the “Family Stories Lesson Plan for Grade 3” activities from the link above or click here!

Interactive Activity 6 – Steinbeck Scavenger Hunt

Today we invite you to take your Steinbeck knowledge and powers of deduction by participating in our virtual scavenger hunt! Download the clues from the link above (or click here) and use our virtual museum tour by visiting here (or here: www.steinbeck.org/visit/virtual-tour) to find the answers to the questions.

Record the time that it takes you to complete it and share it on our social media: www.facebook.com/nationalsteinbeckcenter!

Interactive Activity 5 – Interactive Activity 5 – Steinbeck Crossword Puzzle

Interactive Activity 4 – “Steinbeck Lotería / Mexican Bingo” Lesson Plan

Today we’re going to have a fun bilingual activity with “Steinbeck Lotería / Mexican Bingo”!

All the materials you will need to play this game are available on the download link above, including instructions and “Lotería” game cards. If you have any questions or if you’d like to suggest more interactive lesson plans, please send us an email to: SYA@steinbeck.org.

We also invite you to take a video or photo of your favorite board games and tag us @steinbeckcenter on your posts and we will share our favorites on our Instagram stories.

Interactive Activity 3 – “Preparing a Veterinarian Report” Lesson Plan

Today we’ll discover what it’s like to be a vet and learn about the fascinating world of horses! Tag us on social media with the hashtag #SteinbeckCenter with your favorite animal friend for a chance to be featured in our stories!

“No matter how good a man is, there’s always some horse can pitch him.”  
-John Steinbeck, The Red Pony

Interactive Activity 2 – “Writing a Letter” Lesson Plan

Nowadays, writing letters can be a fun and quarantine-compliant way to show solidarity with one another. Learn to write a compelling letter to your favorite recipient by downloading our Red Pony curriculum “Writing a Letter” lesson plan from our Educational Resources web page.

During John Steinbeck’s lifetime, letter writing was one of the most popular forms of communication.

Interactive Activity 1 – Steinbeck Coloring Sheets

Steinbeck Academic Conference

National Steinbeck Center’s next Academic Conference is still TBD

For questions or more information, contact:


or email