NEW YORK CITY — John Steinbeck kept his California roots close when writing such masterpieces as “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden,” but the Nobel Prize winner also loved New York and made it his home for much of his life.
Now, a trove of his personal letters, manuscripts and photographs from his sunny three-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he lived until his death in 1968, is being offered at Bloomsbury Auctions in New York on June 23.
Expected to bring a total of $200,000 to $250,000, highlights include Steinbeck’s acceptance speech for his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature and numerous manuscripts written in his neat script on lined yellow paper, on topics as diverse as his Irish roots and observations on camping.
Additionally, his library of some 800 books, including 400 hardbound reference volumes, first editions and presentation copies — many with his rubber stamp or signature — is being offered as a single lot at a pre-sale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.
“What makes the material attractive,” said John Larson, Bloomsbury’s book specialist, “is it’s a very nice snapshot, small and large, of Steinbeck, particularly postwar.”
“You have everything from his typescript copy of his Nobel acceptance speech to speeches he wrote for Adlai Stevenson to photographs of Lyndon B. Johnson that are inscribed to Elaine, his wife.”
Considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Steinbeck is hailed for his keen portraits of the human condition and for serving as a voice for the disenfranchised and downtrodden while celebrating the human spirit. He penned 27 novels, many of which were adapted for film and the stage.
His best-known work is “The Grapes of Wrath,” a Depression-era novel of migrant farmers who travel to California after losing their land in the Dust Bowl. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939 and made into a movie that starred Henry Fonda and earned director John Ford an Oscar.
A Viking Press uncorrected galley proof of the great novel, on original plain brown unprinted butcher paper, is part of the Bloomsbury fine books sale. The second issue galley misspells both the title (Gropes of Wrath) and the author’s name (Steinback).
An exterior printed label gives the publication date of April 21, 1939, with a price of $2.75. Not seen on the market since 1977, it has a pre-sale estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It has been consigned by a private collector, and is not part of the Steinbeck apartment archive.
Born in Salinas, Calif., the author lived in the Manhattan apartment for 13 years with his third wife, Elaine, who died in 2003. They also had a home in Sag Harbor on New York’s Long Island.
The Bloomsbury material dates from the early 1940s up until his death and is being sold by Elaine Steinbeck’s heirs, the auction house said.
Jay Parini, a novelist and Steinbeck biographer who was a close friend of Elaine Steinbeck, said she often spoke to him about the material.
While not as important as earlier Steinbeck documents, “these manuscripts are fascinating as they offer a look inside the creative imagination of a major writer,” he said.
Parini said he hoped the buyer would make it available to scholars.
The sale also has several never-published Steinbeck works.
Estimated at $9,000 to $12,000, it contains, among other material, a Western Union telegram notifying Steinbeck of Ricketts’ death. The marine biologist, who worked at the Pacific Biological Laboratories sardine canning factory in Monterey, Calif., was killed when a train struck his car in 1948. It devastated Steinbeck.
Among personal effects are his leather chair and globe, and a Courvoisier Cognac box filled with tobacco pipes, reading glasses and leather billfolds.