The cub reporter asked Steinbeck over the telephone if he could interview him. It was 1948, and Bob Sparks was writing for the Monterey Peninsula College (California) student newspaper, El Yanqui.
``I'd like that, son,'' said Steinbeck, who had recently come from New York to the family's Pacific Grove cottage on the Monterey Peninsula to do some serious writing.
When Sparks arrived at the small red house, which backs up onto a alley, he saw that ``Mr. Steinbeck was working at his card table desk on his newest book, a history of Monterey County,'' which would be called ``East of Eden.''
Sparks' interview was reprinted last week in The Cedar Street Times, a Pacific Grove weekly paper. Reporter Jon Guthrie dug up the interview and writes a forward to it. It's a revealing interview, a bit poignant.
On his appearence . . . ``Mr. Steinbeck looks as earthy as the people he writes about. He was comfortably dressed in a brown sweater and Khaki pants, yesterday's stubble on his face . . . ''
Steinbeck's kindness and gentle humor with the student . . . ``Mr. Steinbeck insisted that I stay longer much longer than I had originally planned. A pleasant hour and a half passed . . .''
And when Sparks spoke with a workman . . . `` `Don't talk with my hired help too long,' Mr. Steinbeck yelled, winking at me. `Otherwise I'll never get this house finished and my books written.' ''
The author's advice to the young writer . . . ``Writing is hard work. It is gathering ten times as much material as can ever be used . . . ''
Or . . . ``I go back over my writings. Words are written for the human mind. They should have rhythm and syllabification.''
Probing for psychological motivation to create character? . . . ``No. Nothing like that. I draw a character. Then I draw a situation and put the two of them together . . . ''
The young writer observing the famous writer . . . ``His right eyebrow is his accentuator. If the eyebrow goes high, an emphatic word is being said.''
Steinbeck about the cottage . . . ``I like Pacific Grove very much. And I like this house . . . My father built this house so we could have a place when we came over from Salinas . . .''
Steinbeck, Sparks wrote, told him he ``plans to stay at his Pacific Grove home for a number of years now to work on some of his forthcoming books.'' This is an important observation. Steinbeck tried a number of times to settle back on the Monterey Peninsula, but it simply didn't work. In 1944 he had purchased the Soto Adobe in nearby Monterey, but his novel ``Cannery Row'' had been published and met with ``mixed emotions,'' and Steinbeck wrote ``there is jealousy and hatred and the knife in the back . . . there's no one to talk to except Ed (Ricketts, the great marine biologist).'' The Steinbecks returned to New York in 1944.
When Sparks interviewed him in 1948, he was trying again to settle in but, for whatever reason or reasons, it didn't work out and eventually he returned to New York.
Although the Pacific Grove cottage was ``the `home' to which he kept returning throughout his life,'' as Anne-Marie Schmitz wrote in ``In Search of Steinbeck,'' 1948 and `49 may have been the great writer's last attempt to live and write in Pacific Grove.
But Bob Sparks, of course, could not know that, or that his college newspaper interview would shed some interesting light on the life of a Nobel Prize winner.
Where is Bob Sparks, if alive? Jon Guthrie would like to know. The piece in the Cedar Street Times: http://www.cedarstreettimes.com/?p=1269
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...