Thomas Steinbeck

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Thomas Steinbeck
BornThomas Myles Steinbeck
(1944-08-02)August 2, 1944
New York, New York, U.S.
DiedAugust 11, 2016(2016-08-11) (aged 72)
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
OccupationScreenwriter and novelist
Education California Institute of the Arts
University of California, Los Angeles
Period20th century
GenreFiction, Screenplays
Relatives John Steinbeck (father)
Gwyndolyn Conger (mother)
John Steinbeck IV (brother)

Thomas Myles Steinbeck (August 2, 1944 – August 11, 2016) was a screenwriter, photographer, and journalist. He published numerous works of fiction, including short stories and novels. He was the elder son of American novelist John Steinbeck.


Life and work

Early years

Thomas ("Thom") Steinbeck was born in Manhattan, [1] New York City, to American novelist John Steinbeck and his second wife, singer-composer Gwyndolyn Conger on August 2, 1944. [2] His younger brother John Steinbeck IV, was born two years later. His parents' marriage dissolved four years after he was born, [2] and subsequently "Thom" spent a great deal of time with his father. He credited his father for instilling in him not only a passion for the works of the world's great writers, but also a recognition of how language and the poetic rhythm of words affected individuals and society in general. [3] Thom had a good relationship with his famous father, stating that he would rate him, "an eight-and-a-half or a nine" on a ten-point scale. [4]

Thom was educated at a number of boarding schools on the east coast. [2] As he told an interviewer in 2011:

My mother was difficult, to put it lightly. She was a drinker. And the only way my father could save me from her was to put me into boarding schools on the East Coast from the time I was in third grade. [5]

His mother's perspective was markedly different: "By her account, Steinbeck rarely showed affection to her or their two sons, Thomas and John Jr., and had never wanted any children. When she was experiencing problems during her pregnancy with John Jr., Steinbeck told her that she had 'complicated' his life during a busy period of writing. When John Jr. arrived prematurely in 1946, she recalls Steinbeck telling her: 'I wish to Christ he’d die, he’s taking up too much of your fucking time.' She identifies the conversation as 'the moment when love died ... He never cried for me. He never cried for his sons.' " [6]

When not in school or on holiday, Thom and his younger brother traveled widely with their father to Europe, Greece, North Africa. [2] In 1961, the family spent a year traveling the world with a young teacher named Terrence McNally, whom the elder Steinbeck hired as a tutor for his sons. [7] McNally later gained acclaim as a playwright and won four Tony Awards and an Emmy.

After high school, Thom Steinbeck studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts, then went on to study film at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. [2] However, the Vietnam War cut his studies short. [3]

Military service

Steinbeck trained to serve with Armed Forces Radio and Television at Fort Knox, but arrived in Vietnam on the second day of the 1968 Tet Offensive and was immediately reassigned as a helicopter door gunner. [2] Afterwards, he resumed work as a combat photographer (he once said that "we had a fantasy that somehow we could take the photograph that could stop the war") [8] and returned to his original posting with AFVN as a television production specialist. After his service, he returned to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as a journalist and photographer. [3] [4]

Writer and filmmaker

Upon his return to the U.S. from Asia, Thomas Steinbeck wrote and crewed on a number of documentaries, films and television projects. During the next twenty-five years, he wrote his own original screenplays and documentaries, but he also wrote screenplay adaptations of his father's work. [9] The latter included the screenplays based on In Dubious Battle, The Pearl , and Travels With Charley . [2]

After a time, he turned to writing books. At the age of 58, Steinbeck published his first book, Down to a Soundless Sea (2002), a series of short stories based upon the original settlers of Big Sur, California, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. [2] The book was translated into seven languages, an audio version, and a large print edition, and was part of Oprah's Book Club. In 2010, Simon & Schuster published his first novel, In the Shadow of the Cypress. His second novel, The Silver Lotus, was released in November 2011 by Counterpoint Press. [3]

Steinbeck contributed to the My California Project, a collection of short stories written by 27 California authors. Sales from the book were used to help save the struggling California Arts Council. [9] This book went into three printings, and the project helped the Arts Council to reach its goal of financial solvency. [3]

Personal life

In addition to his writing and producing, Steinbeck was an active public speaker and teacher, who often lectured on American literature, creative writing, and the communication arts. [9] He served as a board member of both the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California and The Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University. [9] And once every year, he would personally present the John Steinbeck Award through his foundation, The John Steinbeck Family Foundation in affiliation with The Center for Steinbeck Studies. [10]

During his lifetime, Steinbeck was an advocate for authors' rights. In 2009, he and his friend, folk-singer Arlo Guthrie (another son of a famous father), brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against Google which was eventually settled. [2] [9]

At the time of his death, Steinbeck lived with his wife Gail in Santa Barbara, California. According to his family, he died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. [2] He was 72.

Selected works



Further reading

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  1. Slotnik, Daniel E. (August 12, 2016). "Thomas Steinbeck, Novelist and Son of John Steinbeck, Dies at 72". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Associated Press & Tribune Services (August 11, 2016). "John Steinbeck's son, fellow author Thomas Steinbeck, dies at 72". Chicago Tribune.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "Thomas Steinbeck - About Thom". Archived from the original on April 1, 2013.
  4. 1 2 "FWOMP (Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula) Interview: Thomas Steinbeck". 13 April 2004. Archived from the original on 13 April 2004.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  5. Werris, Wendy (October 7, 2011) "Thomas Steinbeck: The Last Steinbeck". Publishers Weekly .
  7. Frontain, Raymond-Jean (August 7, 2010). "McNally and Steinbeck". ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews. 21 (4): 43–51. doi:10.3200/ANQQ.21.4.43-51.
  8. Neumeister, Larry (July 10, 2006) "At 61, Steinbeck's son finds own voice as author". Associated Press.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 "Thomas Steinbeck (author spotlight)". Huffington Post.
  10. Steinbeck, Thomas (September 27, 2010). "John Steinbeck, Michael Moore, and the Burgeoning Role of Planetary Patriotism". Huffington Post. – Article written by Thomas Steinbeck about the selection of Michael Moore as the 2010 recipient of the John Steinbeck Award