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Epic Google Doodle honors John Steinbeck, champion of the underdog

John Steinbeck is being honored Thursday with an epic Google Doodle that brings to life a literary career that gave voice to the plight of the poor, the powerless and the underdog.

The California native wrote such classics as "Of Mice and Men," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "East of Eden." His novels turned attention to men and women toiling to find a small slice of happiness in an uncaring world. The Google Doodle arrives on what would have been his 112th birthday.

Steinbeck, who died in 1968 at the age of 66 of heart failure, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for "The Grapes of Wrath." Many consider the Depression-era tale of Oklahoma farmers who move to California to become migrant workers to be Steinbeck's finest work.

PHOTOS: Vintage images of John Steinbeck

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 in recognition of his nuanced exploration of social and economic issues in rural America:

"Steinbeck's novels can all be classified as social novels dealing with the economic problems of rural labour, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his books," the Nobel Committee wrote in its citation of Steinbeck, adding the award was for "his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." (Our sister blog, Jacket Copy, has details about Steinbeck's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.)

A Los Angeles Times article published shortly after his death recalled Steinbeck as a shy man who used words to ponder "America's problems and progress." He was quoted as saying that his favorite book was always "the one I'm writing" and said that he wrote because it "probably is a kind of nervous tic. I'm a conditioned animal. But I enjoy it."

In addition to his literary imprint, Steinbeck has left an indelible mark upon the California landscape, and tourism. Cannery Row in Monterey is a popular destination for visitors from around the globe, whether or not they are familiar with Steinbeck's work of the same name about the denizens living and working in the shadow of the sardine canning industry.

While the Google Doodle highlights Steinbeck's masterpieces through a series of drawings and quotes, it also makes room for what might arguably be Steinbeck's most accessible work: "Travels With Charley," a travelogue-meets-memoir about his drive across America with his poodle, Charley.

Another tidbit about Steinbeck you might like to know? He was a college dropout. He attended Stanford University on and off, but never got around to actually graduating. 

What's your favorite Steinbeck novel? Tweet me @ReneLynch (Mine? "The Pearl.")

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