This Week in Intellectual Property History

Anthony A. Coppola, Esq.

On April 19, 1939 John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” was copyright registered

Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California.  After graduating from Salinas High School in 1919, Steinbeck attended Stanford University. Originally an English major, he pursued a program of independent study and his attendance was rather sporadic. During this time he worked periodically at various jobs and left Stanford permanently in 1925 to pursue his writing career in New York. However, he was unsuccessful in getting any of his writing published and finally returned to California.  Back in California Steinbeck lived in Pacific Grove where much of the material for his first well received novel “Tortilla Flat” was gathered.  After writing several poorly received novels, “Tortilla Flat” (1935) marked the turning point in Steinbeck’s literary career. It received the California Commonwealth Club’s Gold Medal for best novel by a California author. Steinbeck continued writing, relying upon extensive research and his personal observation of the human condition for his stories. “The Grapes of Wrath” however, garnered Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize. During World War II, Steinbeck was a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Some of his dispatches were later collected and made into “Once There Was a War.”

The “Grapes of Wrath,” first published in the United States of America by the Viking Penguin, Inc., depicts the lives of ordinary people striving to preserve their humanity in the face of social and economic desperation. When the Joads lose their tenant farm in Oklahoma, they join thousands of others, traveling the narrow concrete highways toward California and the dream of a piece of land to call their own. Each night on the road, they and their fellow migrants recreate society: leaders are chosen, unspoken codes of privacy and generosity evolve, and lust, violence, and murderous rage erupt.

The novel paints a portrait of the bitter conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of a woman’s quiet, stoical strength, The Grapes of Wrath is considered a landmark of American literature, one that captures the horrors of the Great Depression as it probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America.

The book created quite a stir upon its release.  In fact, Steinbeck was somewhat ostracized by bankers and large land owners for his depiction of them in the novel as being greedy, manipulative and taking advantage of poor migrant farm workers.

Despite writing such other literary classics as “Tortilla Flat” (1935), “Of Mice and Men” (1937), “Cannery Row” (1945), “East of Eden” (1952), and “The Winter of Our Discontent” (1961), Steinbeck was awarded the 1940 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Award only for “The Grapes of Wrath” – which arguably defined his career.

That is not to say that John Steinbeck’s works were ignored.  Indeed, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 “… for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and a keen social perception.

Make some Intellectual Property History this week!

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