Steinbeck's Nobel Prize comes to Farm

Courtesy of Stanford University Archives medal

A 1962 photo shows Nobel Prize winners (from left): Maurice Wilkins (medicine), Max F. Perutz (chemistry), Francis Crick (medicine), John Steinbeck (literature), James Watson (medicine) and John C. Kendrew (chemistry). Not pictured are winners Linus Pauling (peace) and Lev Landau (physics).

The gold medallion given to John Steinbeck when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962 was given to Stanford University Libraries last Friday at a small, affectionate gathering that likely would have pleased the down-to-earth writer. Among the facts about Steinbeck offered up by Ernie Frerking, a friend of the family who presented the medal to Provost John Etchemendy, was that the writer liked to eat beef stew right out of the can.

The medallion, under glass in a gold frame, will become part of the John Steinbeck Collections, which include manuscripts, notes, correspondence, photographs and other material associated with the writer. The author of more than 30 books, Steinbeck attended Stanford intermittently from 1919 to 1925 but never earned a degree.

The medal was a gift of Waverly Scott Kaffaga, Steinbeck's stepdaughter, from the estate of her mother, Elaine Steinbeck, who died in 2003. John Steinbeck died in 1968.

Such an artifact helps crystallize other material held in the collections, said William McPheron, librarian for Special Collections and the curator for American literary studies. The collections already contain numerous letters from Steinbeck about receiving the Nobel Prize, the typescript the writer read at the acceptance ceremony and numerous photographs, he said. "The medal brings all of this into a coordinated and coherent whole."

The gift also demonstrates how archives grow almost organically, as items in a collection attract more, said Andrew Herkovic, director of communications and development for the library.

Along with the medal, Frerking and his wife, Sharon, brought along a manila envelope of newspaper clippings—the Nobel was awarded in the midst of the Bay of Pigs crisis—and personal letters from Elaine Steinbeck to her husband.

Other recent additions to the Steinbeck Collections include Steinbeck's letters to his sister Beth and other materials, including unpublished manuscripts, McPheron said.