Six Facts about Of Mice and Men author John Steinbeck

Six Facts about Of Mice and Men author John Steinbeck

26 February 2016

Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck! Born February 27 1902, we're honouring the occasion by sharing six Steinbeck facts we think are most interesting. 

John Steinbeck Steinbeck LOVED pencils!
‘It occurs to me that everyone likes or wants to be an eccentric and this is my eccentricity, my pencil trifling.’

Steinbeck loved pencils! It was his favourite instrument to write with, having said to have begun each day with 24 newly sharpened pencils. Writing extensively about pencils in a letter while writing East of Eden, Steinbeck revealed he was very particular about the type of pencil he used but also conceded that it is the writer that influences how good a pencil is. Steinbeck wrote ‘You know I am really stupid. For years, I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was not pencils but me.’

He was passionate about people
‘I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen’

Steinbeck was drawn to people and. He enjoyed observing and trying to understand people and their situations. Many of his stories include people who were lonely or isolated, such as the itinerant workers in Of Mice and Men.  He was a believer in justice belonging in human experience, supporting and defending those who were suffering. In a letter to his editor in 1938, he wrote ‘My whole work drive has been aimed at making people understand each other’.


Steinbeck’s influences include his wife Carol Henning

In 1930, Steinbeck married Carol Henning – the woman who would later be credited as his typist and editor, as well as an influencing his work.  Meeting in 1928 at the cusp of his career, Carol was supportive of left-wing causes such as socialism and feminism and is said to have encouraged Steinbeck to attend political events. Steinbeck would eventually meet reporter Lincoln Steffens, who encouraged him to use his talents to write about those suffering in the Great Depression.

He was angered by what was happening to people in the Salinas Valley

Steinbeck was dismayed after witnessing a clash between migrant workers and growers in California during the Great Depression, writing in a journal while working on The Grapes of Wrath: “I must go over into the interior valleys. There are about five thousand families starving to death over there, not just hungry but actually starving. The government is trying to feed them and get medical attention to them with the fascist group of utilities and banks and huge growers sabotaging the thing all along the line and yelling for a balanced budget. . . . I’m pretty mad about it. No word of this outside because when I have finished my job the jolly old associated farmers will be after my scalp again.”

Steinbeck feared his life was in danger

Steinbeck received threats because of his work, the far-right were angry with what he had written about field workers and the working conditions faced. At a high school reunion in a Salinas town park in the late 1930s, a white pickup truck came out of nowhere, mounting the curb onto the picnic ground. Two men leaped out, one with a revolver, throwing Steinbeck against the tree and warning ‘You write one more ‘effin word about field workers and we’ll blow your ‘effin head off!’

Steinbeck is said to have applied for a gun permit for self-protection the following day, with records showing he applied for two Colt automatic pistols years later in 1942.

Received the Nobel Prize

In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the time, he became only the sixth American to be awarded the prize.  

Of Mice and Men premieres at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where it runs from 4 to 13 February 2016. It then tours to Cheltenham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Darlington, Blackpool, Cambridge, Brighton, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Oxford and Leicester where it concludes on 28 May.