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Writer’s block at auction house
Steinbeck’s archive in New York will be sold
Question of the Day
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, will be offered Wednesday at Bloomsbury Auctions in New York.
The collection is expected to bring a total of $200,000 to $250,000. Highlights include Steinbeck’s acceptance speech for his 1962 Nobel Prize in 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 about 800 books, including 400 hard-bound 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.
“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 Mrs. Steinbeck’s heirs, the auction house said.
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.
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