Today, February 27, is John Steinbeck’s birthday as noted, thoughtfully, but incompletely by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. (http://app.info.americanpublicmediagroup.org/e/es?s=1715082578&e=9333&elq=daf1cddcd35f43fa88e5fe39e05aa6ae)
We must add that Steinbeck lived, worked, fished, drank and generally had a good time here in Sag Harbor on the East End of Long Island. Some have called ours a “charming fishing village” not dissimilar to Steinbeck’s beloved Monterey Bay. Steinbeck spent the last decade of his life here, driving out from New York when his works were performed on Broadway stages.
We see a steady stream of Steinbeck fans on pilgrimage who stop in to ask about where he lived — The writer’s home is now a private residence overlooking Sag Harbor Cove. Our literary walking tours always wind up there, a respectful distance from the place he wrote The Winter of Our Discontent. It’s said he based several characters on Sag Harbor locals. Steinbeck’s American road book, Travels with Charley begins here in the wind-churned cove, just as Hurricane Donna blows through:”Under the big oak trees of my place at Sag Harbor sat Rocinante…”
John found pals among the locals, fishing buddies and drinking buddies in the days of the notorious Black Buoy bar when Sag Harbor was a place God-fearing mothers forbade their kids from venturing to. But local folks just let Steinbeck be Steinbeck, allowed him his privacy. In a show of affection for what was then a proudly blue-collar town, Steinbeck helped create our Whalers festival, a giant street parade and rowdy weekend party featuring boat races that once brought sailors and boozers from far and near. The festival, now toned down as Sag Harbor has gone upscale, is celebrated as HarborFest, in early September when the crowds have dissipated, but when the weather’s still fine.
Steinbeck conducted his war with the ospreys here, as described in a humorous piece we included in our Sag Harbor Is: A Literary Celebration. At the centenary of his birth, we hosted a Steinbeck celebration with an exhibit of photographs from the family collection and a stirring tribute by Steinbeck’s friend, the late Budd Schulberg. There’s a beautiful bronze bust of the writer in our beloved John Jermain Library, a tribute to the village’s claim on the Nobel Prize winner.
All this to say, Steinbeck once slept here! He lived here, played here, wrote here. Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck. Sag Harbor salutes you!