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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 15:44 GMT
Steinbeck's legacy remembered
John Steinbeck
Steinbeck: Famed for writing Of Mice and Men
Monterey, the small, Californian town that inspired the US author John Steinbeck, commemorates the 100th anniversary of his birth on 27 February. Chloe Veltman went there to see how the author is being remembered.

Ocean View Avenue, Monterey, has changed a lot since the days when sardine-canning factories lined the street.

Soon after the Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck immortalised the dilapidated area in his 1945 novel, Cannery Row, the landscape began to alter, as did the clientele.

In the 1950s, the street was renamed Cannery Row, in honour of the novel.

Today, Cannery Row is at the centre of the John Steinbeck tourism industry.

It is roughly as authentic to the spirit of the author's novel about down-on-their-luck factory workers as a street full of themed restaurants, gift shops and hotels can be.

copyright Stuart Schwartz, Courtesy National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, CA
The National Steinbeck Center is hosting a 100th birthday ceremony
But as Monterey joins the US in commemorating what would have been Steinbeck's 100th birthday, the small town that inspired him is celebrating the relationship more than ever before.

A year-long series of bus tours, book-signings, performances, parties and lectures has been getting under way in Monterey and nearby Salinas, where the author of The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row and East of Eden was born in 1902.

On February 27, Salinas is hosting a 100th birthday ceremony at the National Steinbeck Centre, during which local residents, special guests and school children will come together to sing Happy Birthday.

Monterey is presenting its own festivities, including a birthday party and a John Steinbeck look-alike competition judged by Thom Steinbeck, the late author's son.

Accolades

From February 24-26, the Monterey Symphony is performing the world première of a commissioned work by composer Allen Shawn with lyrics by author Jamaica Kincaid.

Steinbeck, whose father John was a country treasurer and his mother, Olive was a teacher, died in New York in 1968.

Among the many accolades he received during his distinguished career were the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1940 and Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

A Centre for Steinbeck studies was established at San Jose University in California in 1971 in honour of his work.

Steinbeck
Steinbeck died in 1968 in New York
"He's very popular and beloved," said Dr Susan Shillinglaw, director of the Centre for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University.

'Sad'

"People all over the world respond to his empathy and passion. He's a writer of the people."

Yet Monterey has not always welcomed its most famous son so enthusiastically.

When Steinbeck bought a house in the town in 1944, the local community was hostile.

No one would rent him office space and he was harassed when trying to get fuel and wood from the local wartime rations board.

"This isn't my country any more," he wrote in a letter. "And it won't be till I'm dead. It makes me very sad."

'Hated'

Steinbeck thought people resented his success, but the author's criticism of local life in The Grapes of Wrath and other works, turned the Monterey community against him.

"One cannot underestimate the impact of The Grapes of Wrath," said Shillinglaw.

"Steinbeck's feelings of not belonging in Monterey were well grounded. People hated him."

In the intervening years, local people have come to embrace Steinbeck.

He has helped increase tourism and shaped the area's cultural identity.

Tribute

"He crystallised what California was," said Amanda Holder, spokesperson for the National Steinbeck Centre. Shillinglaw agreed that "he defined Monterey".

The rest of the US is also remembering the esteemed author, with New York paying tribute on 19 March.

Leading literary figures such as Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel and William Kennedy are gathering at the Lincoln Center to commemorate "the bard of the American worker".

And In Redwood City, California, artist Jackson Brown, recipient of this year's Steinbeck Award (an honour previously given to Arthur Miller and Bruce Springsteen) is performing a benefit concert.

Meanwhile, libraries all over the country are hosting lectures and panel discussions about the author's work.

Steinbeck is just one of several leading American authors, including Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, to have celebrated their centenary in recent years.

See also:

17 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Steinbeck family had NI links
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