National Steinbeck Center
One Main Street

Salinas, California

November 5, 2000

While staying in Monterey, California we heard many references to John Steinbeck's writings. One of the books that Steinbeck wrote is called Cannery Row which talks about the life and times of the people that ran the sardine canneries that lined the streets along Monterey Bay. Today these buildings still exist but have been turned into shops and restaurants for tourists. Since we had seen Cannery Row we decided to run up to Salinas and see the Steinbeck Center. I found it difficult to picture how one would present a center on one writer and make it interesting. Well, the people responsible for the Steinbeck Center did all that and more. They used a number of multi-media presentations to draw the visitor into the actual stories created by Steinbeck. One of his stories was The Red Pony. Since this story was written for children, the exhibit was for them as well. They had a small pony that had a mane that could be brushed. Also the children could mount the pony. At the display for Cannery Row you could actually smell the sardines. In addition they featured a "pipe-home" which was simply a very large section of iron pipe that was used by people in the Cannery Row area during the depression years as homes. During his career Steinbeck wrote 17 novels in addition to five journals and four plays. Steinbeck had the ability to write about the people and times surrounding him and make them very real to the reader. Several of his books were adapted for the stage. The Broadway version Of Mice and Men was so successful that it ran for 207 performances. In addition his plays have been translated into many different languages and performed all over the world. Several of his books were picked up by Hollywood and turned into movies. East of Eden starring James Dean was one of these. Several places in the center they had clips from the many movies playing. In addition to many other awards he won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his Grapes of Wrath. As we wandered through the center I couldn't help but admire anyone who was able to turn out the number of writings that he had. I just had to wonder how one can write that kind of volume and still have any kind of life. For me, just writing our stories once a week sometimes seems like a monumental chore. The last exhibit in the center was my favorite. They had the pick-up truck and camper that Steinbeck traveled the country in, with his dog Charley(a full-size French Poodle), writing Travels with Charley in Search of America. A letter that Steinbeck wrote to a friend stating "I am trying to say clearly that if I don't stoke my fires and soon, they will go out from leaving the damper closed and the air cut off...what I am proposing is not a little trip or reporting, but a frantic last attempt to save my life and the integrity of my creative pulse.." In other words he needed to get out and meet new people, see new places to get his creative juices flowing again. The interior of his camper was compact but pretty much complete, much as many of our campers are today. He carried with him a week's supply of food, a number of tools, tow lines, and a 30-gallon tank of fresh water. It's hard to picture America as it was then. The expressways that many of us travel today to get from place to place just didn't exist. Everywhere he went he traveled the two lane roads. His forte seemed to be to get out and talk to "the common man" at their level. People accepted him as one of them and talked with him freely about their lives. Then it was up to him to put these things he learned down on paper in such a manner as to interest his many readers which he seemed to do judging from the vast number of books he sold.
While you're there don't fail to see his boyhood home which is only two blocks from the Center. The house was built in 1897 and purchased by the Steinbeck family in 1900, John, was the
third of four children born in the house. His parents' bedroom is described in East of Eden. It was while he was living in this house that he wrote The Red Pony and Tortilla Flat. In 1971 a group of Salinas Valley women raised funds needed to purchase and renovate the home. Today they operate a gourmet restaurant out of it. All profits from the restaurant and gift shop (located in the basement) go to Salinas Valley charities.
If you are interested in getting more information you can call 831-775-4720 or check out their website at:

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