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Salinas Valley, Steinbeck Country

This August, as they have every year since 1998, people will gather at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas to sing, dance, and read. The event will be part of a festival that honors author John Steinbeck (1902?1968). Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley and wrote about it in many of his books. He called it the “Valley of the World” because the people and places meant so much to him. Now many people call it “Steinbeck Country.”

Carved out by the Salinas River, the valley is 85 miles long and 15 miles wide. It lies about 100 miles south of San Francisco and holds some of the world's richest farmland. In fact, the Salinas Valley is sometimes called the “Salad Bowl of the World” because its farms have been producing salad vegetables, especially lettuce, since the 1920s.

Steinbeck's Books

In his stories and novels, Steinbeck described the land, sea, and homes he knew. He made up characters, but they were in some ways like family, friends, and other people in his life. In 1940 Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize, a major literary award, for The Grapes of Wrath. The novel is about people who came to California in the Great Depression. A popular movie was based on the book. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. This is one of the highest prizes a writer can win.

Some of Steinbeck's characters were animals. In The Red Pony, he wrote about horses he remembered from his childhood. Travels with Charley was the true story of a journey he made through the United States with his poodle, Charley.

Salinas Today

The valley has changed since Steinbeck was a child. Salinas was a town of 2,500 people in 1900. Today, it is a city of more than 150,000. The valley's farms still produce lettuce. They also produce grapes and strawberries.

The Steinbeck Center, on Main Street in Salinas, is a museum where visitors can learn about Steinbeck's life. People also come there to learn and talk about the history of the region. Steinbeck lived in many places besides the Salinas Valley, but in his dreams and his writing, he often returned to the “Valley of the World.”