John Steinbeck, the author of such classics as “the Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men” was born to a middle class family in a beautiful, turreted Victorian on Central Avenue in Salinas, California. Guides lead tours around the house, describing the period decor and sharing stories.
These tours have been covering the same material for years, but now there’s some exciting new information guides can share with visitors. More than 45 years after his death, a new Steinbeck story has been published.
Andrew Gulli is the managing editor of literary magazine The Strand. He’s the one who found the long-forgotten manuscript while researching Steinbeck at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas - it’s called “With Your Wings.”
Gulli says the story was written in 1944 and it’s not entirely clear why it went unnoticed for so long. He says finding unpublished stories from famous writers is rare, but not unheard of in his experience. It took him several months to get all the legal rights finalized.
The story is about a black WWII airman returning home from training. His return is a source of pride, not just for his family, but for his entire community. Steinbeck actually reported from the front-lines in Europe and North Africa during WWII, so he wrote from first-hand experience. He witnessed people from all walks of life fighting and dying. His reporting gave him an insight into how the young soldiers, sailors and airmen felt as they prepared for each mission - any of which could be their last.
Steinbeck experts say “With Your Wings” is a typical Steinbeck story. It features his conversational, accessible style and, through his characters, puts readers inside the minds of people on the margins of society -- people like a pioneering black airman.
Steinbeck wrote about the lives of marginalized people in much of his work. His two most famous works “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men” told of the lives of displaced field hands in Depression-era California.
Steinbeck scholars like Robert DeMott, Emeritus Professor of English at Ohio University, say the timeless themes in his stories like poverty, oppression, and the search for home may come from his love ancient Greek epics. He says, “Some of his characters, I think have the potential for heroism that one might find in the Odyssey or the Iliad. Homer was a great favorite of his.”
Gulli says that pre-orders for this issue of The Strand magazine were much higher than usual. He says that’s proof that Steinbeck’s work can still excite readers across the generations. And now that he’s found “With Your Wings” Gulli is hoping to one day discover more buried Steinbeck treasure.