In 1962 John Steinbeck became the sixth American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In his acceptance speech, he said: " Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed . . .The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams, for the purpose of improvement." In his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck brought to life the suffering and exploitation of Depression-era migrant laborers.
Steinbeck's life spanned both world wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, in which one of his sons served. Steinbeck avoided publicity, preferring to live simply and casually. As a young man, he held jobs as a ranch hand, a factory worker, and a construction worker.