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Steinbeck not popular choice for 1962 Nobel, Swedish archives reveal

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Newly opened Swedish archives reveal that John Steinbeck, the most famous native son of Salinas, Calif., was not a universally popular choice to receive the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Sixty-six of the world's great authors were put forward that year. Others in the running included British authors Lawrence Durrell and Robert Graves and Danish author Karen Blixen (pen name: Isak Dinesen), who wrote “Out of Africa.” Steinbeck ended up among the final six, after having been nominated eight times.

“There aren't any obvious candidates for the Nobel Prize, and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation,” wrote committee member Henry Olsson, according to a piece published this month by Swedish journalist Kaj Schueler in Svenska Dagbladet, a major Swedish newspaper.

Steinbeck historian Carol Robles disagrees, saying Steinbeck's enduring popularity has proven the worthiness of his works.

“He deserved that prize, and part of the reason is the length of time that people continue to read him and the broad audience he has in so many foreign countries,” Robles said. “His works have endured, and they're still relevant.”

All information about the Swedish academy's deliberations on nominated authors is kept secret for 50 years. Records including the 1962 Nobel committee meetings were released earlier this month.

“Steinbeck remains one of the major writers of the world,” said Herb Behrens, volunteer archivist with the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. “The fact that others didn't think so — well, that's part of the selection process. But people are still reading him and writing about him.”

Steinbeck, himself, had his doubts about his receiving the Nobel Prize. When asked if he did deserve it, he said, “Frankly, no.”

Dave Nordstrand is a staff writer for The (Salinas) Californian.

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