1939 November 15

“Grapes of Wrath” Ordered Burned


The Board of Directors of the public library in East St. Louis, Illinois voted, 5–4, on this day to burn its copy of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The novel was a moving account of the plight of “Okies,” tenant farmers driven off the land because of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. A week later, the library rescinded the decision by a vote of 6–2.

This was one of many instances around the country where Steinbeck’s novel was censored. The Board of Education in Kansas City, Kansas, ordered The Grapes of Wrath removed from the libraries of all 20 of its schools on August 18, 1939. John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

At the time of this incident in 1939, Americans were already aware of the example of Nazi book burning, and should have known better. There were also a number of shocking incidents where U.S. officials burned books in the post-World War II years, with full knowledge of the example of Nazi Germany. On March 31, 1950, the federal government seized and burned 3,000 copies of Scientific American because it alleged published the “secret” of the atomic bomb. Officials in Newark, New Jersey, burned allegedly “lewd” books and magazines on March 7, 1953.  U. S. officials on August 23, 1956, seized and burned all the materials of the controversial psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, including all of his scientific papers. And on November 10, 1973, school officials in North Dakota burned copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse Five.

Read: Rick Wartzman, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (2008)

Read the famous novel: John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (many editions available)

Rent the classic movie directed by John Ford based on the novel: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Banned Books Week presents, Authors Speak Out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKE7k5Qjobw

Learn more at the Steinbeck Center: http://www.steinbeck.org/

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