Harry Sinclair Lewis, 1885 - 1951

portrait of Sinclair Lewis


Born: 7 February 1885, Sauk Centre, Minnesota
Died: 10 January 1951, Rome, Italy

Educated in the public schools of a small town, Lewis was tall, pop-eyed, and afflicted with acne. He was an avid and somewhat romantic reader as a boy, he attempted to run away from home at age thirteen to be a drummer boy in the Spanish-American War. He spent a year at Oberlin Academy to prepare for Yale, where he earned a degree in 1908 and set to work writing romantic poems and stories at night and picking up a series of jobs to pay the bills. He became adept at cranking out shallow popular stories that appeared in various magazines and selling plots to other authors including Jack London, who notably had issues with plotting. He wrote five novels before 1920 of which he was not proud, but found his voice with Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), and Elmer Gantry (1927). He was awarded, but refused, a Pulitzer in 1926 for Arrowsmith on the grounds that the prize was to be awarded for a work that presented "the wholesome atmosphere of American Life" and his work was critical of just that. He was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, a prize he accepted. The award presentation largely focused on Babbitt. He published nine more novels after the Nobel, none with the reach of his work in the '20s. He spent his last years in Europe, refusing to see friends, and died from advanced alcoholism in a clinic outside Rome.

Biography from Wikipedia and Nobel Foundation

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