Listen to John Steinbeck Talk About the Dust Bowl
By Anna Green
In 1939, John Steinbeck published what would become his most famous novel: The Grapes of Wrath. Written during the height of the Great Depression, the novel follows a poor family of tenant farmers as they migrate from their Dust Bowl farmlands to an incredibly unwelcoming California. Portraying the plight of laborers, including their economic desperation and exploitation by more powerful corporations, the book—though fictional—was very much an exposé of a specific moment in American history.
In 1952, Steinbeck sat down with an interviewer at Albany University to discuss The Grapes of Wrath and the time period that inspired it. In the interview, Steinbeck discusses the immense economic, political, and social changes that had occurred in the decade since his novel’s publication, praises the government’s support of its citizens in the years since the depression, and looks with hope towards the future.
The interview is a fascinating counterpoint to the novel, and, like The Grapes of Wrath, is evocative of its time: While the depression-era novel portrayed a hopeless present and uncertain future, Steinbeck’s post-depression, post-World War II interview is much more optimistic. Listen to the fascinating interview below.