Born February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California, John Steinbeck truly made a mark on America as a writer. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath (1939), a novel that captured the daily struggles and strife of the Great Depression. Steinbeck wrote novels, travelogues, short story collections, and non-fiction, and his exceptional contributions to literature earned him the 1962 Nobel Prize. Steinbeck and his work have long fascinated collectors. Building a collection of Steinbeckiana offers plenty of opportunity to create an interesting and diverse personal library.
Approaches to Collecting Rare Steinbeck Books
Perhaps the most common approach to collecting Steinbeck is to focus on the "high points," that is, Steinbeck's best known works. High-point collectors would gravitate toward first editions of The Grapes of Wrath, Red Pony, The Winter of Our Discontent, and other well known books. These modern first editions are usually easy to find, though they can also be quite expensive. The avid collector may choose a different direction to create an engaging Steinbeck collection.
Single-title collections: Say that your favorite Steinbeck novel is The Grapes of Wrath. You could build a single-title collection with the numerous first editions of this individual novel. Supplement these books with movie posters, book reviews, and other ephemera. Most of Steinbeck's works have a wealth of secondary material associated with them, giving the single-title Steinbeck collector quite a long to-do list!
Periodical collections: Steinbeck frequently contributed to periodicals, many of which have become quite rare. For example, Steinbeck contributed a few articles to Stanford University's Stanford Spectator during his tenure as a student there. He also published "The Gifts of Iban" in the March 1927 The Smoker's Companion--under the pseudonym John Stern.
Vintage paperback collections: The covers of many John Steinbeck paperbacks are quite vivid, and paperbacks are usually more affordable than their hardback counterparts. Finding first edition paperbacks in fine condition also presents a considerable challenge. You'll also find that there are numerous paperback first editions of Steinbeck's books.
Whatever direction your collection takes, it's advisable to keep a definitive bibliography on hand. Probably the best Steinbeck bibliography is the one by Adrian Goldstone and John Payne. Goldstone, a consummate Steinbeck collector himself, carefully documented his collection before turning it over to institutional libraries. The majority of his collection can now be found at the University of Texas's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.
Suggested Steinbeck Titles
The titles below offer a peek into the variety and depth of Steinbeck's works. You can also peruse our entire Steinbeck collection online.
Steinbeck wrote the story and screenplay of The Forgotten Village, which recounts the tale of the boy Juan Diego, his family, and his people, who live in the long moment when the past slips reluctantly into the future. This edition includes photographs from the film adaptation directed by Herbert Kline.
This bibliography, by Adrian Goldstone and John Payne, is the definitive descriptive guide for collectors of Steinbeck. The entries are useful for identifying the many editions of Steinbeck's works and it includes not only Steinbeck collectible editions, but also foreign language editions and Steinbeck's contributions to books and periodicals.
John Steinbeck wrote the article "Always Something to Do in Salinas" for Holiday magazine. It first appeared in June 1955 as part of a series where famous writers contributed pieces about their hometowns. Steinbeck reflects on his youth in Salinas, California and how the city has changed. The article was republished in this format "as a service to Steinbeck collectors." The volume is available as a limited edition of only 300.
John Steinbeck gave his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on December 10, 1962. In his speech, he deplores our tendency to assume God-like power and warns of the responsibilities that such power entails. Steinbeck goes on to explore why literature is the best means for finding peaceful solutions to conflict and social issues. The speech was printed in an attractive limited edition of only 3,200 copies.