1919–25: Graduates from Salinas High School. Attends classes at Stanford University over the course of six years, leaves without taking a degree. During this period, Steinbeck drops out for months at a time and is employed as a sales clerk, farm laborer, rancher and factory worker.
1925: Moves to New York City; working odd jobs to support himself while writing. Meets with a great deal of rejection or indifference to his work. Returns to California after he is unsuccessful getting any of his writing published.
1929: Publishes his first novel, a swashbuckler titled Cup of Gold, to a weak reception.
1930: Marries his first wife, Carol Henning, on January 14 and moves first to Los Angeles and then to the family home in Pacific Grove. His father supports the struggling couple. Meets Edward Ricketts, who becomes a lifelong friend.
1934: His mother dies in the Salinas home before he reaches any critical success as an author. A short story set in Monterey County titled "The Murder" wins the O. Henry Prize.
1935: His father dies just months before he reaches fame with the first of his Monterey novels, Tortilla Flat, which is published to instant success. With the death of his parents, he loses a strong tie to the Salinas Valley.
1936: In Dubious Battle, a novel about a strike in California, is published.
1937: Of Mice and Men is published as a novel and produced as a play; both are wildly successful with critics and audiences. The book goes on to become the second-most-banned book in America. Steinbeck is awarded the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Of Mice and Men.
1939:The Grapes of Wrath, still considered his greatest critical success, is published. The novel inspires nationwide attention on the living conditions and exploitation of farm workers and sparks a great deal of controversy in California, Oklahoma and around the country.
1940: In the Spring, Steinbeck receives the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath.
1941: Teams with good friend and biologist Edward Ricketts to publish a non-fiction work mapping his environmental vision, titled Sea of Cortez.
1941: Carol Henning and John Steinbeck are separated.
1943: Marries Gwyndolyn Conger, who gives birth to his two sons in the next few years. During World War II, Steinbeck works as a war correspondent for The New York Herald Tribune.