I’ll prove him wrong, thought John, as he put his head down and scribbled furiously in his exercise book. He jumped as the Professor came up behind him
“What are you doing here?” the Professor hissed in his ear. “Didn’t I tell you it is a waste of your time?”
“You did sir,” John mumbled, and turned back to his work.
“Yes, and I said that you will never be an author. Do I have to spell it out again? Your writing is so appalling that pigs will fly before you will be published.”
Tears stung John’s eyes as the Professor moved on but he was not about to let them show. He doodled a caricature of the main character in his story that just happened to have a distinct likeness to the man of learning in front of him; tiny eyes squinted out through little round glasses, an oversize nose protruded from his ruddy face, and little wings sprang out of his bald head.
At home his mother, Olive, was more encouraging.
“You have a talent,” she told him. “Miracles can happen and if you put the work in you never know what will happen.” All his life they had enjoyed reading and writing together, and in between teaching at the local school and keeping home for her family she liked nothing better than to explore literature and encourage her son to do the same.
John finished the year to get his credits, but made sure to choose different tutors in subsequent years. In the summer holidays he took long walks in the local forests, fields and farms of his small rural town, worked various jobs on the ranches and made friends with many of the immigrant workers. Without realising it he was building up life experience and deep knowledge of the harsh depression years which would feature heavily in his novels. In California and later New York he struggled with various jobs while trying to write in his spare time. No one would publish his work; it seemed the Professor’s words were true.
* * * * * * * * * *
Straight hair combed back, beard and moustache close-cut on his wrinkled face, the middle-aged man sat with other candidates to hear the announcement.
“The Nobel Prize for Literature 1962 is awarded to John Steinbeck.” Gasps filled the room, and John rose unbelieving from his seat to accept the award. At the following reception he answered questions as if in a dream, not quite believing that he was the recipient of this prestigious award.
At the reception a journalist approached him. “Tell me about this inscription in the front of your book?” he asked pointing to the words "Ad astra per alas porci" (to the stars on the wings of a pig).
John smiled. “Many years ago one of my professors said pigs would fly before I was published,” he replied with satisfaction. “Now in my books I always include this inscription. It is a reminder that miracles can happen.”
John Steinbeck: A Biography, Jay Parini, Holt Publishing, 1996
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