Below we will look at the time when literary giant John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968), who won both the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize for his works, visited Radio Free Europe in the first week of July 1954.
In 1954, Steinbeck and his wife Elaine were living in Paris and he was writing a weekend column for the French newspaper Le Figaro. Steinbeck received a request from RFE in June to visit the radio station. He and his wife then visited Munich for seven days, beginning with the first week of July, during which time Steinbeck read this stirring, personal letter to RFE's listeners:
To my friends,
There was a time when I could visit you and you were free to visit me. My books were in your stores and you were free to write to me on any subject. Now your borders are closed with barbed wire and guarded by armed men and fierce dogs, not to keep me out but to keep you in. And now your minds are also imprisoned. You are told that I am a bad writer but you are not permitted to judge for yourselves. You are told we are bad people but you are forbidden to see and to compare. You are treated like untrustworthy animals, subjected to conditioning as cold and ruthless as though you were rats in a laboratory. You cannot travel, you cannot read freely and you cannot work at the profession of your choice. Your writers are the conditioned servants of a regime. All of this is designed to destroy your ability to think.
I beg you to keep alive the integrity of the individual in his ability to judge and compare and create. May your writers write secretly and hold their writing for the time when this grey anesthetic has passed as pass it must. The free world outside your prison still lives. You will join it again and it will welcome you. Everything around you is cynically designed to destroy you as individuals. You must remember and teach your children that they are precious, not as dull cogs in the wheel of party existence, but as units complete and shining in themselves.
Steinbeck had hoped to read his message on the air to RFE’s listeners in their own languages. He diligently practiced from phonetically written texts of his message and tapes prepared for him by RFE's broadcasters. Steinbeck eventually gave up on Hungarian, Romanian, and Polish, and decided to concentrate on Czech. His wife Elaine finally convinced him to read his statement in English, telling him "Your English is so beautiful."
The U.S. Postal Service's Literary Art series of stamps began in 1979, with the commemorative John Steinbeck stamp shown above.