11 Facts About The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is John Steinbeck’s award-winning political novel about the Great Depression. It follows the Joad family as they’re forced to leave their Oklahoma farm and go west to California for work. The 1939 book humanized the “Okies,” captured history as it was happening, and earned its author so much personal trouble that he started carrying a gun for protection. Find out more about the classic below.

1. THE NOVEL WAS INSPIRED BY VISITS TO LABOR CAMPS. 

In 1936, the San Francisco News hired Steinbeck to write a series of articles about migrant labor camps in California. The articles, which you can read here, were later reprinted in a pamphlet along with Dorothea Lange’s iconic photographs. In the pieces, Steinbeck described Americans living in filthy shacks without running water and suffering from malnutrition, illness, and death. He used much of what he saw in The Grapes of Wrath.

2. STEINBECK INADVERTENTLY USED RESEARCH FOR SOMEONE ELSE'S NOVEL.

The author dedicated The Grapes of Wrath to Tom Collins, who managed the Migratory Labor Camp in Kern County, California and helped Steinbeck research the novel. "I need this stuff,” Steinbeck wrote of the detailed reports Collins gave him about the camps. “It is exact and just the thing that will be used against me if I'm wrong.” But Steinbeck didn’t know that another writer, Sanora Babb, had written the reports and was using them as the foundation for her own novel, Whose Names Are Unknown. It was going to be published by Random House when The Grapes Of Wrath hit the bestseller list. Steinbeck’s novel upstaged Babb and her book was shelved until she finally published her work in 2004, the year before she died.

3. WHILE HE WAS RESEARCHING THE WORK, THERE WAS A RIOT IN STEINBECK'S HOMETOWN. 

Steinbeck grew up in Salinas, California, a farming community that was politically divided between workers and agricultural landowners. Although born into the middle class, Steinbeck sympathized with the workingman and worked on a sugar beet farm as a young man. (He used to pay workers a quarter to tell him their life stories, which sometimes made it into his fiction.) At the time Steinbeck was writing about the labor camps, the Salinas Lettuce Strike broke out when tension between workers who wanted to unionize, landowners, and the police erupted in violence in the streets. Here’s footage of the riot:

4. STEINBECK FOUND WRITING THE NOVEL HARROWING.

While writing The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck kept a journal of his process. The account shows the emotional ups and downs of an intense writing experience. He knew he was writing something that could be potentially great, but he doubted his ability to do it. “This book has become a misery to me because of my inadequacy,” the journal reads. He seemed to find writing not only mentally difficult, but hard on the nerves. “My stomach and my nerves are screaming merry hell in protest against the inroads,” he wrote. And again later, “And now home with a little stomach ache that doesn’t come from the stomach.” For more, here's a podcast of an actor reading from the journal. 

5. THE TITLE COMES FROM 'THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC.'

Steinbeck’s wife Carol thought of taking The Grapes of Wrath from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic": “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord/He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” The poem—later a song—was written by Julia Ward Howe in 1861. She got “grapes of wrath” from Revelation 14:19 in the Bible. In choosing the title, Steinbeck was emphasizing that the book was American, not Communist propaganda, as he knew it would be called.

6. THE BOOK WAS BURNED AND BANNED.

The novel was critically acclaimed and a bestseller—some 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940. But it was also controversial. The Associated Farmers of California was angered by the book, which implied that they used the migrants for cheap labor. They called the book a “pack of lies” and launched an attack against it, publicly burning the work and calling it Communist. Other institutions banned the book because of profanity and because of the ending, when a woman breastfeeds a starving man. 

7. STEINBECK GREW SO AFRAID THAT HE STARTED CARRYING A GUN. 

Steinbeck encountered so much hostility after The Grapes of Wrath came out that he considered giving up writing altogether. Articles in the press, buoyed by the Associated Farmers of California, launched a “hysterical personal attack” on Steinbeck. “I’m a pervert, a drunk, a dope fiend,” he wrote. For a time, the FBI put him under surveillance. In Salinas, people he knew his entire life became unfriendly toward him. He received death threats and was advised by the Monterey County Sheriff to carry a gun. Steinbeck complied. His son, Thomas Steinbeck, said, “My father was the best-armed man I knew, and went most places armed.” 

8. THE 1940 MOVIE VERSION WAS A BOX-OFFICE SMASH.

While the book did well on its own, the 1940 movie cemented The Grapes of Wrath as a classic. Directed by John Ford, it starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. Steinbeck reportedly liked Fonda’s performance, saying it made him “believe my own words.” Ford won an Oscar for Best Director and Jane Darwell won Best Supporting Actress as Ma Joad.

9. WOODY GUTHRIE WROTE THE BALLAD OF TOM JOAD.

When the movie came out, Victor Records asked Woody Guthrie to write 12 songs about the Dust Bowl for an album called Dust Bowl Ballads. One song was supposed to be based on the movie. So Guthrie borrowed a friend’s typewriter, sat down with a jug of wine, and typed out the lyrics to “Tom Joad.” 

10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH GAVE ROUTE 66 ITS NICKNAME. 

In the book, Steinbeck writes about Route 66, the 2,500-mile-road between Chicago and Los Angeles, which used to be a major artery in the United States. “66 is the mother road, the road of flight,” Steinbeck penned. Since then, the "Mother Road" has been portrayed in everything from Bobby Troup's song "Route 66" to Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road

11. THE NOVEL LED STEINBECK TO THE NOBEL PRIZE. 

The Grapes of Wrath won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and was a major factor for Steinbeck winning the Nobel Prize in 1962. Here’s his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. 

Lost Sketches From The Little Prince Have Been Discovered in Switzerland

Oleksandr Samolyk, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Oleksandr Samolyk, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, published in 1943, has long been regarded as one of the most compelling books of the 20th century. Drawing upon Saint-Exupéry's own experiences in aviation, the book tells the tale of a pilot who crashes in the Sahara and befriends a little boy who claims to have come from outer space. The book is accompanied by a number of illustrations by Saint-Exupéry. Now, Smithsonian reports that some of the original preparatory sketches have surfaced.

According to France24.com, the sketches—of the titular Little Prince chatting with a fox, a boa constrictor devouring an elephant, and a character called the Tippler—were purchased at auction in 1986 by an art collector named Bruno Stefanini, who tucked them away in a folder. When Stefanini passed away in December 2018, the artwork—drawn on airmail paper—was uncovered by workers at his non-profit Foundation for Art, Culture, and History in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Aviator and 'The Little Prince' author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is photographed inside of an airplane cockpit in 1935
Aviator and The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1935.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The organization intends to share its findings with the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which currently houses the original book manuscript (including drafts of the book's most famous phrase, "What is essential is invisible to the eye") and 35 other sketches.

The Stefanini collection also includes a particularly personal piece of material. One of the sketches includes a love letter made out to Saint-Exupéry's wife while the pilot was in New York in 1942 following Germany’s invasion of France. It was there he wrote The Little Prince, which was published the following year. In 1944, Saint-Exupéry was shot down by a German pilot over the Mediterranean.

[h/t Smithsonian]

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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