John Ernst Steinbeck III is born in Salinas, California. He is the third of four children (and the only boy) born to John Steinbeck, Sr., the treasurer of Monterey County, and his wife Olive Hamilton Steinbeck, a schoolteacher. As an older boy, Steinbeck will work summers on the nearby Spreckels Farm.
John Steinbeck graduates from Salinas High School and enrolls at Stanford University. When not at school, he works odd jobs at ranches, shops, farms and factories.
After six years as an on-again, off-again student, Steinbeck leaves Stanford for the last time. In November he travels to New York City to start his life as a writer. He never receives his degree.
Steinbeck returns to California and settles in Lake Tahoe. He works as a handyman at a local resort.
Cup of Gold, Steinbeck's first novel, is published. The book focuses on seventeenth-century pirate Henry Morgan's adventures in Panama. Two months later, in October 1929, the U.S. stock market crashes, sparking the Great Depression.
Steinbeck marries his first wife, Carol Henning. They move into a small cottage in Pacific Grove, California owned by Steinbeck's father. Steinbeck will complete much of his life's work in this cottage.
Prolonged drought in the first part of the 1930s has wreaked ecological havoc on the American Midwest. Crops have died, and with nothing to hold down the soil the region has become plagued by catastrophic dust storms. Steinbeck is moved by the plight of the thousands of farmers moving west to seek work and escape devastation at home. On 14 April, also known as Black Sunday, a dust storm of monumental proportions strikes the Midwest. The next day reporters coin the phrase "the Dust Bowl."
Tortilla Flat, a novel about a group of young drifters in post-World War I Monterey County, is published. The book garners Steinbeck's first real critical and commercial success, earning him his first California Commonwealth Club medal for best novel by a Californian.
Steinbeck continues to probe his signature theme of the struggles of the common man. In October he publishes both In Dubious Battle, a novel about striking workers, and a San Francisco News series about migrant workers entitled "The Harvest Gypsies." Steinbeck is appalled by the living conditions of the workers he interviews, and later publishes the series as a book entitled Their Blood Is Strong.
On 6 February, Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men is published. The stage v version of the book, also authored by Steinbeck, opens in New York on 23 November, earning him a New York Drama Critics Circle Award. In the same year, Steinbeck for the first time travels to Europe—including a stop in Russia—as a journalist.
The Long Valley, a collection of short stories set in and around Salinas, is published. It includes the story "The Red Pony."
The Grapes of Wrath is published. It is Steinbeck's greatest critical success. The book is wildly popular with readers, but also attracts virulent critics who decry the book's "vulgar" language, brutal depiction of Dust Bowl life, and alleged socialist bent. Several libraries ban the book.
John Ford directs the film version of The Grapes of Wrath, starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. Steinbeck receives both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for the novel. He also produces a documentary about rural Mexico entitled The Forgotten Village, and spends six weeks on a marine expedition in the Gulf of Mexico with his longtime friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts.
Steinbeck separates from his first wife, Carol, and moves to New York with a woman named Gwyndolyn Conger. He also publishes Sea of Cortez, a travelogue co-written with Ed Ricketts.
Steinbeck publishes The Moon is Down in March. The play version of the book opens in New York two months later.
His divorce from Carol Henning final, Steinbeck marries Gwyndolyn Conger. He later travels to Europe and North Africa to cover World War II as a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune newspaper.
Steinbeck is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story for his work on the Alfred Hitchcock picture Lifeboat. The Oscar ultimately goes to another writer, however.
Steinbeck's first child, son Thomas Steinbeck, is born.
The novel Cannery Row is published.
Steinbeck's second child, John Steinbeck IV, is born.
Steinbeck travels through Soviet Russia as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, accompanied by the photojournalist Robert Capa. The trip helps fuel suspicions that Steinbeck is a socialist. He also publishes The Wayward Bus, a novel set in post-World War I California, , and The Pearl, a morality tale based on a legend Steinbeck heard in La Paz, Mexico.
In a year of personal tragedy and professional accomplishment, Steinbeck's close friend Ed Ricketts is killed in a car accident. A few months later, Gwyndolyn Conger divorces Steinbeck. He publishes a non-fiction account of his tour of Russia entitled A Russian Journal and is elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Steinbeck marries his third and last wife, Elaine Anderson Scott.
East of Eden is published. Steinbeck considers it his finest work, saying that "Always before I held something back for later. Nothing is held back here. . . . I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this."25
From September to November, Steinbeck tours the United States in a camping van named Rocinante, accompanied only by his pet poodle, Charley. The road trip becomes the basis for his 1962 memoir, Travels With Charley.
The Winter of Our Discontent, Steinbeck's final novel, is published.
John Steinbeck is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Steinbeck embarks on a two-month tour of Western Europe with playwright Edward Albee as part of a cultural tour with the United States Information Agency.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, a personal friend of John Steinbeck, presents the writer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Steinbeck had helped LBJ draft his acceptance speech for the Democratic National Convention a month earlier.
America and Americans is published. The book is a collection of photographs of American life, accompanied by essays written by Steinbeck. It is the last book published in his lifetime.
John Steinbeck dies of a heart attack in New York City. His ashes are later interred in his hometown of Salinas.