Arthur Miller Receives the 1999 Steinbeck Award
On April 22, 1999, the Center for Steinbeck Studies recognized Arthur Miller as the third recipient of the Steinbeck Award, “In the Souls of the People.” This phrase comes from The Grapes of Wrathand it speaks to the migrants' suffering, endurance, and fine-tuned humanitarian spirit. The annual Steinbeck award recognizes an artist whose work reflects a similar sense of empathy and compassion for those who by circumstance are on the fringes.
“In every bit of honest writing in the world,” Steinbeck wrote as he was working on The Grapes of Wrath , “there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.” Arthur Miller understands deeply. John Steinbeck recognized the greatness and honesty of Miller's work. He admired his courage in writing “The Crucible;" he recognized his ability, as Steinbeck wrote Miller, to keep in touch with what people were feeling and thinking; and he paid tribute to Arthur Miller's moral integrity. After Mr. Miller refused to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Steinbeck, somewhat belatedly, was one of the only writers to publish a defense of Miller, who had been cited for contempt of Congress and was standing trial:
The men in Congress must be conscious of their terrible choice. Their legal right is clearly established, but should they not think of their moral responsibility also? In their attempts to save the nation from attack, they could well undermine the deep personal morality which is the nation's final defense. The Congress is truly on trial along with Arthur Miller. If I were in Arthur Miller's shoes, I do not know what I would do, but I could wish, for myself and for my children, that I would be brave enough to fortify and defend my private morality as he has. I feel profoundly that our country is better served by individual courage and morals than by the safe and public patriotism which Dr. Johnson called "the last refuge of scoundrels."
After he'd written this, Steinbeck wrote his editor: “Please give him my respect and more than that, my love. You see we have had all along the sharpest weapons of all, words, and we did not use them . . .”
As Elaine Steinbeck noted, “John would be thrilled to have Arty receive this award.” It comes with her heartfelt congratulations. And the heartfelt congratulations from the SJSU community; Miller honored the university with his presence.