John Steinbeck (1902-1968) is usually credited as California's greatest writer, winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1962. He is now honored at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.
Steinbeck grew up in the Monterey County farm town of Salinas and based much of his work on the land and people of California. Nowhere in the United States is there an author to rival him in his portrayal of a region (William Faulkner comes closest). His books were not only critically acclaimed, but wildly popular bestsellers also, and several have been made into classic movies.