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From pages to film strips: Steinbeck, novelist and filmmaker | Bartell's Backroads

Visit the National Steinbeck Museum in Salinas and learn what inspired some of John Steinbeck's most prominent works.

SALINAS, Calif. — Few California born writers have had as many of their books turned into movies as John Steinbeck has. The topics in his books were complex and heavy, but Hollywood screenwriters fell in love with Steinbeck's relatable characters like Lennie Small and George Milton in the story “Of Mice and Men” who were based on real Californians and the historical issues in Steinbeck's time.

Steinbeck grew up in Monterey County in the early 1900s and it was the backdrop for a number of his books. You can experience his life and his literature at the National Steinbeck Center in his hometown of Salinas. 

“[I] feel like a lot of what he contributed was to show that California is where literature happens,” said museum archivist, Lisa Josephs.

If you take a tour with Josephs, you’ll learn how historical events inspired the more than 30 books he wrote. 

“One thing he said was, 'I am trying to write history and I am trying to get it right,'” said Josephs.

Hardships during the Great Depression inspired some of Steinbeck's most-read books including "Grapes of Wrath," which won him a Literary Nobel prize for his realistic portrayal of the migrant workers he encountered during the Dust Bowl.

“It was in 1962 and his wife turned on the TV and found out he won the Noble Prize,” said Josephs.

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After spending time as a war correspondent, Steinbeck was asked by soldiers to write a comedy to boost the spirits of the nation. He did just that in his book "Cannery Row" — a heartwarming story of the comradery between fun-loving drunks who threw a disastrous party for their friend. 

“It's people needing one another," said Josephs. "Throughout his books you will see people in relation that people can’t live without each other.”

Steinbeck goes back in time in his book, "East of Eden" and tells a story based on his own family living in the Salinas Valley through the beginning of the 20th century and World War I. Actor James Dean was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the book's film adaptation.

Steinbeck re-defined American literature during his time. Growing up in California helped shape Steinbeck and his writing, and because of that his work is still read by students today.

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas is open Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children.

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