The Life and Works of John Steinbeck

By Stephanie Katz, MLS student at USF




[Introduction]                                   [Encyclopedias and Dictionaries]

[Scope]                                            [Biographical Sources]   

[Subject Headings]                           [Literary Criticism]   

[Call Numbers]                                 [Indexes and Abstracts]




John Ernst Steinbeck, who lived from 1902 to 1968, is one of America’s great writers. He contributed many works of various genres to the literary canon and won prestigious awards for his works.  His novels and short stories are taught in high schools and colleges across the nations, and film and stage adaptations of his works are still viewed today. His personal life affected his writing, and the public’s positive and negative reaction to his published words affected his personal life, so his biography is often studied in tandem with his stories. His best-known works include the poignant novella Of Mice and Men and the epic novel The Grapes of Wrath. The content of most of his stories is the lives of everyday people during the first half of the 20th century with California being a frequent setting.




Though Steinbeck wrote in many genres, the majority of his works were fiction prose, so the focus of this pathfinder is his short stories and novels. The intended audience is high school and lower level college students, and also librarians assisting these students. This pathfinder was developed specifically for the Manatee County Central Public Library (which will be simply referred to as “the library”), and only materials located at this library are included. Sources containing overlapping or cursory information were omitted and only the most useful sources are listed. It should be noted that this pathfinder would be beneficial to students researching a singular story or Stienbeck’s life and works in general.


Subject Headings

For searching in online card catalog and databases


• Steinbeck, John                                                                           

• Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968

• Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968-- Criticism and interpretations

• Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968-- Biography

• Literature -- History and criticism

• Literature -- Stories, plots, etc.

• Literature—Dictionaries


Call Numbers

For browsing in library. Note that this library utilizes the Dewey Decimal System for call numbers. There are over a dozen interesting monographs located in the Nonfiction section (please note that monographs mean academic books NOT the various Sparknotes and Cliffsnotes), and two solid biographies in the Biography section. In the Fiction section are multiple copies of around a dozen of Steinbeck’s most known books in case a researcher needs to consult a primary source. Reference books are listed in later sections and denoted with “REF” before the call number.


►Reference: 803-920

►Nonfiction: 813.52, 818.52

►Biography: Steinbeck

►Fiction: Steinbeck


Encyclopedias and Dictionaries


Magill, F. N. (Ed.). (1997). Cyclopedia of world authors (3rd ed., Vols. 1-5). Pasadena, CA:   Salem Press.  [REF 809 Cyc]

The Cyclopedia of World Authors contains a page-long sketch of Steinbeck’s life, works, and critical acceptance as well as a complete bibliography of his works is included. This source is a great first stop source to use in order to gain a general understanding of Steinbeck and prepare for further research.


Tuska, J., & Piekarski, V. (Eds.). (1983). Encyclopedia of frontier and western fiction. New York: McGraw-Hill. [REF 813.087409 Enc]

Biographical and critical information is presented with an emphasis on Steinbeck as a regional writer. Various titles are quickly analyzed for regionalism.


Henderson, H., & Pederson, J. P. (Eds.). (2000). Twentieth-Century literary movements dictionary. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics.  [REF 809.91 Twe]

This source would benefit students who need to understand how Steinbeck fits into the literary canon, and who need to study his works as they relate to broader literary movements. The book contains an entry devoted to Steinbeck and he is also mentioned in six other entries. A two-page bibliography of further reading is included.


Biographical Sources


Myerson. J. (Ed.). (1978-2005). Dictionary of literary biography. (Vols. 1-306). Detroit: Gale Research. [REF 810.9 Dic]

Each volume of the Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB) has a theme, such as Twentieth Century American Nature Writers, and Steinbeck is published in four of the volumes in the library. Each entry contains a ten or so pages of biographical information including photographs and a list of various biographies, bibliographies, and monographs on the author.


Evory, A. (Ed.). (1981-2005). Contemporary authors new revision series. (Vols. 1-132). Detroit: Gale Research.  [REF 920 Con]

Contemporary Authors New Revision Series (CANR) contains basic information about Steinbeck’s life and works. It’s most useful features include a comprehensive bibliography of Steinbeck’s works, a list of his literary awards, information about various periodicals he was published in, and a list of periodicals that printed his obituary. Note that CANR is clearer than the DLB since it is arranges prominent information in lists rather than text, but it is not as in-depth as the DLB.


Garrett, A. (Ed.). (1989-200). Authors & artists for young adults (Vols. 1-35). Detroit: Gale Research.  [REF 920 Aut]

Authors & Artists for Young Adults (AAYA) is similar to CANR, but is intended for middle and high school students only.


Literary Criticism


Pritchett, V. S. (Ed.). (2000). Critical survey of long fiction (2nd ed., Vols. 1-8). Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.  [REF 809.3 Cri]

This source is a great starting point for research on Steinbeck and his novels. Within the eight-page entry are sections on Steinbeck’s literary acheivements, personal biography, analysis of Steinbeck as a writer, bibliographies of major works and further readings, and more detailed analysis of five of Steinbeck’s best known works. The text is academic, yet also imparts a “feel” for Steinbeck’s works and their treatment by critics and the public, both at the time of first publication and the present.


May, C. E. (Ed.). (2001). Critical survey of short fiction (2nd. ed. Vols. 1-7). Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.  [REF 809.31 Cri]

Similar the Critical Survey of Long Fiction, this source provides information on Steinbeck’s life and writings, bibliographies, and detailed description and analysis on some of his short works.


Riley, C. (Ed.). (1974- 2005). Contemporary literary criticism. (Vols. 1-194). Detroit: Gale Research. [REF 809 Con]

The Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC) series and other similar series are commonly used sources for literary criticism. These books compile up to date critical commentary from a variety of sources including scholarly journals, monographs, and book review periodicals. The series also has extensive biographical information, analysis of major works, and a bibliography for further research. Steinbeck is featured in eight volumes, and each volume highlighting Steinbeck has over 50 pages of literary criticism on his works, and criticism is each volume does not overlap. The author and title indexes cumulative for all the related series. It is arranged fairly well, but the bulk of text does require a medium level of synthesis from a user. Patrons should also refer to Gale’s other similar series (some of which are listed here) as the criticism in each series is not repeated in another series.


Fitzgerald. S. (Ed.) (1988-2005). Short story criticism (Vols. 1-74). Detroit: Gale Reseacrch.  [REF 808.83 Sho]

Short Story Criticism (SSC) is arranged like CLC. Steinbeck is highlighted in two volumes, and there is information and criticism on his major short stories as well as his lesser-known stories.


Magill, F. N. (Ed.). (1996). Masterplots: 1,801 plot stories and critical evaluations of the world's finest literature (Rev. 2nd ed., Vols.1-12). Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.

            [REF 809 Mas]

This series has individual entries on many of Steinbeck’s novels, and lists vital information on each story such as  principle characters with brief descriptions, type of plot, time of plot, locale, and first publication date (this information is also included within the various Masterplots II series below). Each entry also contains a synopsis, critical evaluation, and a selective bibliography. Entries are written by various scholars. The writing style is straight-forward, yet perceptive. Researchers should make sure to consult the other Masterplots sets if they at first cannot locate information on a specific work.


May, C. (Ed.). (2004). Masterplots II: Short stories series (Rev. ed., Vols. 1-8). Pasadena, CA: Salem Press.  [REF 809 Mas]

This series contains individual entries on many of Steinbeck’s short stories lists vital information on each story including principle characters, type of plot, time of plot, locale, and first publication date. Each entry has a sections on plot, themes and meanings, and style and technique.


Magill, F. N. (Ed.). (1989). Masterplots II: Nonfiction series. Pasadena, CA.: Salem Press. [REF 809 Mas]

This set contains some of the only information available in the library on Sea of Cortez, co-authored by Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts. In addition to the standard information this entry contains sections on form and content, in-depth analysis of the book, critical context, and a short bibliography.


Indexes and Abstracts

Available to cardholders through the library’s website.


Gale Research. (2009). Literature Resource Center. Retrieved April 22, 2009, from

Literature Resource Center is a good way to access the various Gale reference sources that the library does not have.


EBSCOHost. (2009). MasterFILE Premier. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from

MasterFILE Premier contains full text for over 1,700 periodicals and 500 reference books.