33 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 1936

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Key Figures

John Steinbeck

Writer and journalist John Steinbeck wrote several essays, articles, and books on the plight of American migrant farmworkers during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The most influential of these works was the 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, but Steinbeck first learned of the issues facing migrant farmworkers in California through an assignment for The San Francisco News, which resulted in the series of articles in this book. Steinbeck rode to and from various migrant camps on the back of a truck with Tom Collins, who managed a federal migrant labor camp in the Central Valley of California. During that time, Steinbeck went beyond his duties as a reporter to assist migrant farmworkers when possible.


Steinbeck reported on the causes that compelled largely white farmworkers from the Midwest—known as “Okies”—to migrate to California in search of employment in the state’s booming agricultural sector. He also unveiled the challenges the migrants faced in terms of working conditions and forming labor unions. Steinbeck had dreamt of becoming a writer since a young age, though he faced many setbacks on his creative journey. According to Wollenberg, “by the early 1930s, Steinbeck had matured into a big, rough-hewn man who masked his considerable sensitivities and insecurities behind a gruff, hard-drinking exterior” (vi).