Why I Love John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck wrote as part of his Noble Peace Prize speech in 1962: “The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.” And within the same context, he also wrote, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
How can one not be in awe of his perception? As a writer, even in fiction, Steinbeck broke boundaries of how to reconcile what is humane. He mixed literary prose and realism with such grit and fortitude that I’m charmed by his depressing and enriching style. The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still inside my head, and in fact I have made soft suggestions to both books in my WWII novel, Eyes Behind Belligerence. I named two of my characters Tom and Rose, (although they are married and not brother and sister,) as a quiet dedication to The Grapes of Wrath; and even slid in Of Mice and Men as a favorite book of one of the protagonists in an effort to understand who has the right to take away someone’s life. It also plays into effect of bonding between two unlikely friends who only share the commonality of their environment.
I discovered Steinbeck in high school, as many secondary students have before me in English classes. I’m grateful he was included as part of the curriculum. Up to that point in my life I had not read that many “goddamns” and “bastards” in YA fiction. In fact, that was the first time I learned how to spell other swear words not often read in bathroom stalls that rhyme with
spelled correctly, I might add. I began
counting how many times these “goddamned bastards” appeared in Of Mice and
Men. And yet we weren’t allowed to
say them in the classroom if we weren’t reading the texts out loud. The reason I bring this particular topic up
is to explain how I began to comprehend a coarse, migrant lifestyle from people
who came out of the Dust Bowl. The book
opened up another world and I loved it.
Not only did I want to be a part of that world by continuing to read
John Steinbeck, but I wanted more. I too
wanted to write about the depravity and faith mankind.
Initially I wanted to be an artist- mainly focusing on drawing and painting, and I do have a graphics art degree in addition to a history degree. Because I’m dyslexic, reading and writing came to me slowly as a child, and I somehow compensated by memorizing the structure of words. Up until I was a teenager, I didn’t believe I had any other talent. It has taken me some time to find courage to peruse a writer’s career. I have a highly creative brain that engages in any creative outlet possible- including writing, which later has dominated my desire to be creative both visually, (describing scenes like describing paintings,) and intellectually. And as a teenager, while investigating American history, I came across the Japanese-American internment camps. When I learned more about the camps I felt compelled to then write about these camps. Why? I don’t have any Japanese ancestry in my family tree. I live in the
and grew-up in a medium size town where cultural diversity is a bit
underdeveloped. My reason is
simple: I don’t want to continue to live
in a conical world. Consciousness does
not develop and mature by existing in a frozen pond. I wanted to write about issues of camp life
that has never been written about before in fiction. Much like what Steinbeck
did when writing about migrant workers during his time.
I like to believe that after decades worth of introspection we have learned more wisely than something that happened yesterday. And that’s why I love history: To learn. To question. To redeem our humanity. My philosophy is this: “Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.” I think John would agree on some transcending level.