Today in 1902, John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California. His novel, The Grapes of Wrath, includes a dedication “to Tom who lived it.” But this does not refer to Tom Joad, the archetypal protagonist, but to Thomas E. Collins—a nonfictional “character” whom the fictional Joad family would have known well.
Collins managed the Resettlement Administration’s Arvin/Weedpatch federal “Migratory Labor Camp” for migrant agricultural laborers in Kern County in southern California. “Weedpatch camp” appears in The Grapes of Wrath in chapters 22, 24, and 26.
The records of Collins and Steinbeck’s relationship—and what they saw in the migrant worker camps—can be found in the records of the National Archives in San Francisco.
For the full story, read the online article in Prologue magazine: Archival Vintages for The Grapes of Wrath