Saul Bellow Biography

Canadian-born American author Saul Bellow wrote novels centered around Jewish characters, culture, and tradition. Much of his work touches on the theme of alienated individuals in an indifferent society. In 1976 Bellow won both the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and the Nobel Prize for literature.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005), American novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976. Bellow’s novels depict the struggle of individuals to preserve their personal identities in an indifferent society. His Nobel Prize citation read, “For the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work.”

Bellow was born in Lachine, Québec, Canada, and when he was a child his family moved to Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from Northwestern University in nearby Evanston, Illinois, Bellow taught at the University of Chicago and worked as an editor for Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World series. During World War II (1939-1945), Bellow served in the Merchant Marine of the United States. During the war he also published his first novel, Dangling Man (1944), which deals with the anxiety and discomfort of a young man waiting to be drafted in wartime. Bellow’s next book was The Victim (1947), a novel about anti-Semitism.

After winning a Guggenheim fellowship, Bellow lived for a time in Europe, where he wrote most of his novel The Adventures of Augie March (1953; National Book Award, 1954). A long, loosely structured narrative with a picaresque hero, the novel gives a vivid, often humorous picture of Jewish life in Chicago and of a young man’s search for identity.

Modern humanity, threatened with loss of identity but not destroyed in spirit, is the theme of Seize the Day (1956), about a man whose life is falling apart around him. Many critics regard Seize the Day as Bellow’s masterpiece. Henderson the Rain King (1959) is an account of an American millionaire’s search for peace and self-knowledge. Herzog (1964; National Book Award, 1965) is the story of a university professor who writes letters to the world at large in an attempt to correct personal and universal injustices. The hero of Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970; National Book Award, 1971) is an aged Jewish intellectual, a refugee from Nazi Germany living in New York City. As the embodiment of old European values, Sammler is dismayed by contemporary American life, but he manages to maintain perspective.

Bellow received the 1976 Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his novel Humboldt’s Gift (1975), which concerns the relationship between an author and a poet who was his mentor. Three months later he won the 1976 Nobel Prize for literature. Bellow’s subsequent works include To Jerusalem and Back (1976), a reflective study of a visit Bellow made to Israel; The Dean’s December (1982), in which he continued his analysis of contemporary culture; and More Die of Heartbreak (1987), a novel in which Bellow returned to a Midwestern setting. In 1988 Bellow received the National Medal of Arts. His essay collection, It All Adds Up, appeared in 1994. The Actual (1997) is a novella about a high school relationship taken up again after many years. Ravelstein (2000), his last major novel, about a university professor and his friendship with his own biographer, is based on the life of Bellow’s friend Allan Bloom, a prominent American intellectual.

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