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When American authors are studied in the secondary English Language Arts classroom for their short stories and their novels, John Steinbeck is usually featured. Students, however, may not have read a speech he penned or listened to him read these words aloud.
There is such a speech that allows students this opportunity. Steinbeck was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature for his "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception."
Steinbeck had been nominated numerous times for his body of work: Of Mice and Men (1937),The Red Pony (1945), The Grapes of Wrath(1939), The Pearl (1947) and East of Eden (1952). But documents released in 2013 from the Swedish Academy's archives now reveal that his selection as a Nobel Prize recipient was a bit of a compromise.
According to a January 2013 article in The Guardian, "Swedish Academy reopens controversy surrounding Steinbeck's Nobel prize" the choice of Steinbeck was originally described by a Swedish newspaper as "one of the Academy's biggest mistakes." British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell were snubbed in favor of Steinbeck.
Even back in the United States, The New York Times questioned the Nobel committee's on why they would choose Steinbeck whose "limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophising".
Apparently, even Steinbeck himself question his selection, responding when asked if he deserved the Nobel, "Frankly, no."
Nevertheless, on December 7th, 1962, Steinbeck accepted the award in a short speech that lasted around three minutes. An audio recording of the speech is on the Nobel Prize website . There is also a video of him accepting the award. The text of this short speech runs 852 words with a grade level readability score of 10.4 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 60.1)
Giving students a speech by an author to analyze can help students better understand how each writer effectively meets his or her purpose using a different medium. Since Steinbeck was note for both his fiction and non-fiction, a speech adds another genre for study.
Using a speech in the secondary classroom also meets the Common Core Literacy Standards for English Language Arts that require students to determine word meanings, appreciate the nuances of words, and steadily expand their range of words and phrases.
Like other authors who were writing during the Cold War, Steinbeck recognized the growing potential for destruction that man had developed with increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he expresses his concern stating:
"We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God;
Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world—of all living things.
The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand."
The speech ends in a powerful allusion in the conclusion. An allusion is a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance.
Steinbeck's allusion is to the opening line in the New Testament's Gospel of John:1- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (RSV)
"In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man - and the Word is with Men."
A speech that ends on that note should have reassured the Swedish Academy that they did not compromise in selecting Steinbeck for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1962, they made an excellent choice.