Acclaimed writer John Steinbeck admires the waterfront view from the...

Acclaimed writer John Steinbeck admires the waterfront view from the sun porch of his Sag Harbor home in 1962, a home the Town of Southampton has proposed acquiring and turning into a writer's retreat that also offers public tours by appointment. Credit: Newsday/Max Heine

When John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1939 classic “The Grapes of Wrath,” the renowned American writer donated his $1,000 in prize money to an aspiring novelist.

That legacy is at the heart of a proposal to develop a new writer’s retreat at the Sag Harbor home where Steinbeck wrote “Travels with Charley” and his last novel, “The Winter of Our Discontent.”

Southampton Town recently announced a plan to spend $11.2 million to purchase and preserve the waterfront Steinbeck home with community preservation funds — property transfer tax revenue the town uses for land acquisition.

The nonprofit Sag Harbor Partnership will contribute the rest of the money toward the $13.5 million purchase of the property from a trust named for the author's widow, Elaine Steinbeck. She died in 2003 and the home was listed for sale in 2021.

The town board could vote on a resolution to approve the project on Feb. 14.

The future of the small cottage that was built in 1925 would be twofold: It would open on a limited basis for public tours while also becoming the “Steinbeck Writer’s Retreat." The Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas in Austin — Elaine Steinbeck's alma mater — would operate the retreat through a fellowship program.

The Southampton Town Board held a hearing last week for residents to weigh in on spending community preservation funds for the property. More than two dozen people spoke in favor of the plan, sharing memories about when the Steinbecks lived in Sag Harbor, the literary history of the village and the importance of a property many feared would be lost forever when listed for sale.

The property includes a hexagonal writing hut Steinbeck called Joyous Garde that looks out over Morris Cove.

The hexagonal writing hut at John Steinbeck's Sag Harbor home.

The hexagonal writing hut at John Steinbeck's Sag Harbor home. Credit: Newsday/Tony Jerome

Kathryn Szoka of Sag Harbor, one of the leaders of the preservation effort, thanked the town board for its vision and called the project "a huge milestone." Jayne Young, Sag Harbor Partnership co-president, called the preservation “incredibly important.”

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the cottage’s location at the end of the residential Bluff Point Lane doesn’t lend itself to a typical museum. Including a public use for the property is important if the town uses community preservation money, he said.

Officials have been finalizing a tentative plan that would allow public access to the home Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., by appointment only and limited to 10 people per hour. From June through August, appointments would be biweekly on Saturdays. There also would be open houses on Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.

John Steinbeck's home in Sag Harbor, showing some of the...

John Steinbeck's home in Sag Harbor, showing some of the grounds, the water and the dock in 1961 and then in 2002.

Credit: Newsday/Tony Jerome

“We want everybody to experience this property,” Schneiderman said. “At the same time, we want to protect the historic resources there and also create a contemplative place for the aspiring writers or even the renowned writers.”

Michener Center director Bret Anthony Johnson said during the fall, the retreat would be used for an early career writer. A more acclaimed writer, such a Pulitzer winner, would use the space in the summer, he said.

Those writers would engage with the community in different ways, perhaps through school or library programs.

Johnson said writing happens both in solitude and in community.

“That’s the model that John Steinbeck has given us. And that’s the model that we want to continue," he added.

More on John Steinbeck

  • The California native bought the Sag Harbor cottage in 1955.
  • He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962 "for his realistic and imaginative writings."
  • Among his famous books are "Of Mice and Men," "The Grapes of Wrath" and "East of Eden."
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