Steinbeck Guru Regales Audience with Stories of the Great Author
By Shirley Gilbert
Locate your pointer in the middle of the picture. Click to enlarge it.
Use the web page back button to return the picture to its normal size.
Some 60 listeners were held spellbound for over an hour as noted authority Audry Lynch talked feelingly about the life, the times, the works — and the wives — of classic novelist, reporter, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winner John Steinbeck.
Audry was introduced by Kathy Garfinkle who listed her many achievements and credits having to do with the famous writer. She pointed out that Audry is an AAUW member, a teacher, an author of several books on Steinbeck (some were there for sale) and one of Steinbeck’s greatest fans.
The question on everyone’s mind? How did Audry develop a passion for the works of Steinbeck?
“I spent summers,” said Audry, “at Cape Cod and picked up a copy of Cannery Row. I thought: ’What a magical place!’ The rest of the summer I sought out Steinbeck’s many works and I was enchanted and hooked.”
Steinbeck, pointed out Audry, was the only American writer, with the exception of Saul Bellows, to win both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prizes.
What drew Audry to him and his work was Steinbeck’s all abiding passion for the underdog. And this, she said, is especially epitomized in his most famous novel The Grapes of Wrath and his depiction of migrant workers who, ruined by the devastation of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, went to seek a new life in California.
Steinbeck, according to Audry, was very familiar with the life of migrant workers because he was born and lived the earlier part of his life in Salinas. There he worked in the fields himself in the summers and talked endlessly to migrant workers. In fact, money always being in short supply for migrants, he paid $1 to hear their stories and their stories became part of the fabric of the stories in The Grapes of Wrath.
Steinbeck also went to Oklahoma and traveled with a photographer on the journey on Highway 66 to California with the migrants so he could write as accurately as possible about what it was like to journey westward in jalopies in the ’30s.
Audry spent some time describing the reaction to The Grapes of Wrath. First, she said, it was an unqualified best seller and flew off the shelves. However, there were many detractors from the Associated Farmers that called him a communist to many libraries and schools who banned his book.
“What was especially tough on the family,” said Audry, “was the fact that his parents in Salinas were shunned and his book was burnt on the steps of the Salinas library.” The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still banned in many parts of the U.S. today.
Audry also talked about the movie that came out in 1940 with Henry Fonda playing the lead character Tom Joad. John Ford directed the film and won an Academy Award as did Jane Darwell as Ma Joad (Best Supporting Actress). Fonda was nominated but didn’t win. The first part of the film followed the book closely but the second part departed from the novel and the ending, especially, was different.
During the Q and A time at the end of Audry’s presentation someone asked what the reaction was to the ending of the novel. It ends in quite a shocking way and was too shocking for the movie although Audry felt the ending showed such compassion and hope.
Audry also described the relationship between James Dean and John Steinbeck — they were close friends (Audry has written a book about that friendship entitled Steinbeck and James Dean).
Finally, a question about Steinbeck’s three wives came up. Audry had met all three. “They were all interesting women,” says Audry, “and all three were very strong.” His first wife Carol, who was married to the novelist for 13 years, was intimately connected to his career and writing (she called it “their career.”) His second wife was Gwen and she was 19 while Steinbeck was 39. The couple had two sons and they were married for six years. His third wife was Elaine and she was a set designer from Oklahoma. Their marriage lasted many years.
Audry was kind enough to stay to answer questions, pose for pictures and sell copies of her books. We all left feeling better informed about this One Book, One Community choice and excited about reading other works by Steinbeck.