The Grapes of Wrath Turns 75
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published for the first time on April 14th, 1939, making the Depression era masterpiece 75 years old today. The first edition (left) was published by Viking, its dust jacket illustrated by Elmer Hader. The illustration depicts families moving west during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s.
Steinbeck’s portrait of the Great Depression is told through the trials and tribulations of the Joad family. The Oklahoma farming family was driven off their land and, along with throngs of other Dust Bowl families, traveled west to California only to find the promised land was in fact dry and destitute.
The Grapes of Wrath‘s timely publication resonated with the American working class, selling over 400,000 copies in its first year. It won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. When Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, The Grapes of Wrath was singled out. In an interview with AbeBooks, Dr. Susan Shillinglaw of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California explained,
Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath not intending or wishing for notoriety – he simply wrote about a problem he thought needed addressing. Honesty was called for – and still is, always and forever.
As a landmark of American Literature, The Grapes of Wrath has been published many times over its 75-year lifetime, though no edition is as beautiful or as collectible as the first. The most expensive copy of The Grapes of Wrath to sell on AbeBooks was a first edition signed by the author with a price tag of $12,750.
Other notable editions include the movie tie-in version published by World Books (right). The black and white cover features the stars of the 1940 Oscar-winning film that starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.
Even more collectible is the beautiful Limited Editions Club edition illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton (below).
And while endless paperback copies exist on bookshelves around the world, we can’t help but share a 1951 vintage Penguin edition of what is arguably America’s most beloved story.