John Steinbeck, whose 112th birthday was on February 27, 2014 would have had the chance to join the celebrations online with Google Doodle if he were still alive today. Sadly he passed away in 1968 at the age of 66 from heart failure. This legendary writer who penned great American classics such as The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, Cannery Row and Travels with Charley was born in 1902. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for The Grapes of Wrath and the Nobel Prize in 1962. His body of work included twenty-seven books of which sixteen were novels, six were works of nonfiction and five were short story collections.
Strangely enough, Steinbeck whose books have been immortalized not only by Americans but also by readers across the world had a strange relationship with critics. Despite the overwhelming amount of solid literary criticism that solidified Steinbeck’s literary merit and honed his legacy as an important and ingenious voice for the poor and the underdog in America, there were detractors who gained a fair share of notoriety. A Swedish newspaper derided his Nobel Prize win as the academy’s “biggest mistakes.” The New York Times chided Steinbeck as a writer of “limited talent.” John Steinbeck was often modest about his talent. When he was asked to respond to these allegations with a response as to whether he deserved the Nobel Prize, his response was “Frankly No.”
Fifty years later in 2012, the Nobel prize committee opened up its archives to reveal that this award was a “compromise choice.” However, the Google Doodle which went online in honor of the 112th birthday of John Steinbeck challenges what the present day detractors may have to say by invigorating the celebrated writer’s legacy. Created by Mike Dutton, this Google Doodle is unlike most others which are simple illustrations. It is interactive and the artist makes a sincere attempt to explain which of Steinbeck’s works have influenced him and in what fashion.
Dutton makes a great effort through his digital art to re imagine the landscape of Salinas and Monterey, California that Steinbeck made famous in his books. Coincidentally, Dutton also hails from this part of California and he tries to strike a balance by incorporating a modern touch that is still authentic to the period John Steinbeck was writing about. In many ways, Dutton’s work is deeply personal and yet accessible to everyone. This artwork which has been seen by millions has brought Steinbeck to legions of readers. These include those who will read Steinbeck for the first time and others who will find much satisfaction in a subtle digital interpretation.
Having first read Steinbeck in high school, Dutton re reads his favorite Steinbeck novels and is able to appreciate aspects of his work that he was previously unaware of. His favorite Steinbeck book is not the most celebrated novel The Grapes of Wrath, but the travelogue Travels with Charley, where the author travels across America, through all fifty states with his dog Charley in a camper. Dutton reminds us that much of what Steinbeck had to say about America and the American life fifty years ago is still true and relevant. In this way, this special Google Doodle does more than just recapture a global audience for the great author’s work on his birthday, it is a tribute, a celebration, an online award of sorts in which one form of art, (the visual) informs another, (the literary), and enables John Steinbeck’s legacy to live on.
By Unni K. Nair