The Grapes of Wrath Book Awards

Instructor: Rachel Hanson
In this lesson, we learn about the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and how John Steinbeck came to win both awards for his novel 'The Grapes of Wrath.' Then, test yourself with the quiz.

The Grapes of Wrath

When John Steinbeck won the Nobel Peace Prize, Anders Österling stated in his presentation speech, 'This is the story of the emigration to California which was forced upon a group of people from Oklahoma through unemployment and abuse of power. This tragic episode in the social history of the United States inspired in Steinbeck a poignant description of the experiences of one particular farmer and his family during their endless, heartbreaking journey to a new home.' This story is The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939. Though Steinbeck wrote many works, several of which were widely recognized, such as his novels Of Mice and Men and East of Eden, it was his book Grapes of Wrath that secured the most critical recognition. We can surmise from Österling's quote and by reading Grapes of Wrath, that Steinbeck fully embodied the idea of bringing awareness to the plight of those struggling in poverty by representing their stories in his work. Shedding light on injustice, as Steinbeck did, is a step towards rectifying it, which is one of the many humanitarian acts the Nobel Peace Prize seeks to honor. Along with the Nobel Peace Prize, Steinbeck also won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize both in 1940. This lesson will take a look at the background of these two prestigious and coveted American awards.

The National Book Award

The National Book Award was founded in 1950 and, initially, only awarded prizes to the three standard literary genres fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. However, over the years the institution expanded and eventually added a prize category for young people's literature. As the National Book Award institution evolved, it was highly praised for selecting some of the best works of American literature of the 20th Century. However, in 1980, the award name was disbanded and the institution lost some of it's prestige. Fortunately for the literary community, by 1986 The National Book Award had reclaimed its original name and became well regarded once again.

Despite The National Book Award's history of ups and downs, it remains one of the highest honors an American writer (only American writers are eligible) can attain. Winning the award not only honors an author's particular book, but it brings a larger awareness to their overall body of work. Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was among the first books to receive the National Book Award, and winning this award further solidified the novel's importance in American literature. It also helped establish the importance of Steinbeck's writing, which would again be nominated for a National Book Award in 1953 for his novel East of Eden.

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