all the Jewish-American writers of merit throughout history, few have
achieved so much recognition from their literary peers as Saul Bellow.
Bellows to Russian immigrants in Lachine, Quebec, Canada, on June 10, 1915,
Bellow moved with his family to Chicago when he was nine. He learned
Hebrew at an early age, and his mother wanted him to be a Talmudic scholar;
but he was often sickly as a child and spent much of his time reading the
great classics of literature.
Growing up during the Great Depression of the 1930s, he felt
something energizing about the strength of character of the people around
"There were people going to libraries and reading books," he
said in a 1997 interview with the Associated Press. "They were going
to libraries because they were trying to keep warm; they had no heat in
their houses. There was a great deal of mental energy in those days,
of very appealing sorts. Working stiffs were having ideas."
Not long thereafter, Bellow decided to become a writer.
His father didn't like the notion and tried in vain to dissuade him. He said,
"You write and then you erase. You call that a profession?" His
brothers all went into more conventional careers, and Bellow once commented
that "All I started out to do was to show up my brothers."
wrote a couple of novels that didn't do well commercially.
Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim
(1947) sold fewer than 5,000 copies combined. In 1948, he went
to Paris with his wife on a two-year Guggenheim fellowship, but he hated the
city. The longer he stayed there, the more he realized how much he
really loved Chicago. It was there that he began writing his first
successful book, The Adventures of Augie March.
The story of
a young man's adventures in
Chicago just before the Great Depression, Augie March was his first big success.
British writer Martin Amis recently called it "the Great American Novel" for
its "fantastic inclusiveness, its pluralism, its qualmless promiscuity....Everything is in here." It won the National Book Award for
fiction in 1954.
followed Augie March with Seize The Day (1956),
Henderson The Rain King (1959), Herzog (1964), Mosby's Memoirs
and Other Stories (1968), and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970). His
Humboldt's Gift (1975) was awarded the
for literature. Both Herzog and Mr. Sammler's Planet
were awarded the National Book Award for fiction. Bellow's first
nonfiction work, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account,
published on October 25, 1976, is his personal and literary record of his
sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975.
In 1965, Bellow received the International Literary Prize
for Herzog, becoming the first American ever to claim the award.
In January 1968, the Republic of France awarded him the Croix de
Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded
by that nation to a non-citizen, and in March 1968, he received the B'nai
B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish literature."
A playwright as well as a novelist, Saul Bellow penned
The Last Analysis, along with three short plays, collectively
entitled Under the Weather, which were produced on Broadway in 1966.
He contributed fiction to Partisan Review, Playboy, Harper's Bazaar,
The New Yorker, Esquire, and various literary quarterlies. His
criticism has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Horizon,
Encounter, The New Republic, The New Leader, and elsewhere. During
the 1967 Arab-lsraeli conflict, he served as a war correspondent for
Newsday. He taught at Bard College, Princeton University, and
the University of Minnesota and was a member of the Committee on Social
Thought at the University of Chicago.
In 2003, the Library of America
published Bellow's first three novels in a volume called Novels, 1944-53,
making him the first living author to be so honored.
"I came humbly, hat in hand, to literary America," the
author said. "I didn't ask for much; I had a book or two to publish.
I didn't expect to make money at it. I saw myself at the tail end of a
great glory. I was very moved by the books I had read in school, and I
brought an offering to the altar."
Bellow published fiction for
more than half a century, writing more than 30 books. He once
commented, "There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to
write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good
Saul Bellow died at his home in Brookline, Mass., on April
6, 2005. He was 89.
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