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Monday, February 27, 2017

Explaining the inexplicable

“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.” – John Steinbeck

I distinctly remember when Steinbeck died in 1968 because we discussed his legacy at length in my college class on The American Novel.  “He is,” my professor told us without hesitation, “the embodiment of The American Novel.”
Of course the embodiment of Steinbeck’s work was his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature in 1939 and cemented his position for what would later become his selection for the Nobel Prize in Literature.    Author of 27 books – 16 novels, 5 collections of creative short stories, and 6 absolutely wonderful books of non-fiction including one of my favorites, Travels With Charley – Steinbeck can be found around the globe, published in virtually every language.    It is estimated that his writings have sold in excess of 200 million copies in these various iterations.

Many of his writings are considered classics of Western literature and so palatable that  a remarkable 17 were adapted to film.
A native Californian who set many of his works there,                         
 he also did more to document the ravages of The Great Depression than any other writer.  Those stories, though, took their toll.  “In utter loneliness,” he wrote, “a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”

Despite his brilliance and many awards and accolades, he often questioned his own writing.   “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world,” he once said.   “And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

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