Here Steinbeck suffers a bout of exam nerves before being bombarded with highly intellectual questions from his counterparts in the Soviet Union, particularly regarding ‘American writing’, which for some reason they expected him to know something about. As he says, if he’d known what a literary grilling they were in for, he and his travel companion Robert Capa would have done some homework before heading off for a month’s jaunt in the post-war, Cold War USSR.
‘The Tiflis Writer’s Union had asked us to come to a little reception. And it must be admitted that we were frightened, for these meetings have a habit of becoming extremely literary, and we are not very literary people … Again, as before, there came the questions about American writing. And, as usual, we felt terribly unprepared. If we had known we were going to be asked questions like this before we left America, we might have studied a little bit.’
Source: John Steinbeck, A Russian Journal, with photographs by Robert Capa (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999 (1948)), pp. 156-57
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