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Saul Bellow at the Miami Book Fair International of 1990
Solomon Bellows June 10, 1915(1915-06-10) Lachine, Quebec, Canada April 5, 2005 (aged 89) Brookline, Massachusetts, United States Canadian/American Nobel Prize in Literature 1976
called the dilemma of our age."  His bestknown works include The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, Seize the Day, Humboldt’s Gift and Ravelstein. Widely regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest authors, Bellow has had a "huge literary influence". 
Saul Bellow was born "Solomon Bello" in Lachine, Quebec, two years after his parents emigrated from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Bellow celebrated his birthday in June, although he may have been born in July (in the Jewish community, it was customary to record the Hebrew date of birth, which does not always coincide with the Gregorian calendar). Of his family’s emigration, Bellow wrote: “ The retrospective was strong in me because of my parents. They were both full of the notion that they were falling, falling. They had been prosperous cosmopolitans in Saint Petersburg. My mother could never stop talking about the family dacha, her privileged life, and how all that was now gone. She was working in the kitchen. Cooking, washing, mending... There had been servants in Russia... But you could always transpose from your humiliating condition with the help of a sort of embittered irony. ”
Nationality Notable award(s) Influences
The Bible, Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare, Stendhal, Mark Twain, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust
Influenced Philip Roth, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, Julian Barnes, John Berryman
Saul Bellow (June 10, 1915 – April 5, 2005) was a Canadian-born American writer of Russian-Jewish origin. For his literary contributions, Bellow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts. He is the only writer to have won the National Book Award three times, and the only writer to have been nominated for it six times. In the words of the Swedish Nobel committee, his writing exhibited "exhuberant ideas, flashing irony, hilarious comedy and burning compassion... the mixture of rich picaresque novel and subtle analysis of our culture, of entertaining adventure, drastic and tragic episodes in quick succession interspersed with philosophic conversation, all developed by a commentator with a witty tongue and penetrating insight into the outer and inner complications that drive us to act, or prevent us from acting, and that can be
A period of illness from a respiratory infection at age eight both taught him self-reliance (he was a very fit man despite his sedentary occupation) and provided an opportunity to satisfy his hunger for reading: reportedly he decided to be a writer when he first read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When Bellow was nine, his family moved to the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, the city that was to form the backdrop of many of his novels. Bellow’s father, Abraham, was an onion importer. He also worked in a bakery and delivered coal and as a
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bootlegger. Bellow’s mother, Liza, died when he was 17. She was deeply religious, and wanted her youngest son, Saul, to become a rabbi or a concert violinist. But he rebelled against what he later called the "suffocating orthodoxy" of his religious upbringing, and he began writing at a young age. Bellow’s lifelong love for the Bible began at four when he learned Hebrew. Bellow also grew up reading William Shakespeare and the great Russian novelists of the 19th century. In Chicago, he took part in anthroposophical studies.
In 1948, Bellow was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to move to Paris, where he began writing The Adventures of Augie March (1953). Critics have remarked on the resemblance between Bellow’s picaresque novel and the great 17th Century Spanish classic Don Quixote. The book starts with one of American literature’s most famous opening paragraphs, and it follows its titular character through a series of careers and encounters, as he lives by his wits and his resolve. Written in a colloquial yet philosophical style, The Adventures of Augie March established Bellow’s reputation as a major author.
Education and early career
Bellow attended the University of Chicago, but later transferred to Northwestern University. He originally wanted to study literature, but he felt the English department to be anti-Jewish and instead he graduated with honors in anthropology and sociology. It has been suggested Bellow’s study of anthropology had an interesting influence on his literary style, and anthropological references pepper his works. Bellow later did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. John Podhoretz, a student at the University of Chicago, said that Bellow and Allan Bloom, a close friend of Bellow (see Ravelstein), "inhaled books and ideas the way the rest of us breathe air." In the 1930s, Bellow was part of the Chicago branch of the Works Progress Administration Writer’s Project, which included such future Chicago literary luminaries as Richard Wright and Nelson Algren. Most of the writers were radical: if they were not cardcarrying members of the Communist Party USA, they were sympathetic to the cause. Bellow was a Trotskyist, but because of the greater numbers of Stalinist-leaning writers he had to suffer their taunts. In 1941 Bellow became a naturalized US citizen. During World War II, Bellow joined the merchant marine and during his service he completed his first novel, Dangling Man (1944) about a young Chicago man waiting to be drafted for the war. From 1946 through 1948 Bellow taught at the University of Minnesota, living on Commonwealth Avenue, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Returns to Chicago
Bellow lived in New York City for a number of years, but he returned to Chicago in 1962 as a professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. The committee’s goal was to have professors work closely with talented graduate students on a multi-disciplinary approach to learning. Bellow taught on the committee for more than 30 years, alongside his close friend, the philosopher Allan Bloom. There were also other reasons for Bellow’s return to Chicago, where he moved into the Hyde Park neighborhood with his third wife, Susan Glassman. Bellow found Chicago to be vulgar but vital, and more representative of America than New York. He was able to stay in contact with old high school friends and a broad cross-section of society. In a 1982 profile, Bellow’s neighborhood was described as a high-crime area in the city’s center, and Bellow maintained he had to live in such a place as a writer and "stick to his guns". Bellow hit the bestseller list in 1964 with his novel Herzog. Bellow was surprised at the commercial success of this cerebral novel about a middle-aged and troubled college professor who writes letters to friends, scholars and the dead, but never sends them. Bellow returned to his exploration of mental instability, and its relationship to genius, in his 1975 novel Humboldt’s Gift. Bellow used his late friend and rival, the brilliant but self-destructive poet Delmore Schwartz, as his model for the novel’s title character, Von Humboldt Fleisher.
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time to discuss Seize the Day). In order to take up his appointment at Boston, Bellow moved in 1993 from Chicago to Brookline, Massachusetts, where he died on April 5, 2005, at age 89. He is buried at the Jewish cemetery Shir HeHarim of Brattleboro, Vermont. Bellow was married five times, with all but his last marriage ending in divorce. His son by his second marriage, Adam, published a nonfiction book In Praise of Nepotism in 2003. Bellow’s wives were Anita Goshkin, Alexandra Tsachacbasov, Susan Glassman, Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea and Janis Freedman. In 1999, when he was 84, Bellow had a daughter, his fourth child, with Freedman. While he read voluminously, Bellow also played the violin and followed sports. Work was a constant for him, but he at times toiled at a plodding pace on his novels, frustrating the publishing company. His early works earned him the reputation as one of the foremost novelists of the 20th century, and by his death he was widely regarded to be one of the greatest living novelists.  He was the first novelist to win the National Book Award three times. His friend and protege Philip Roth has said of him, "The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists – William Faulkner and Saul Bellow. Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century." James Wood, in a eulogy of Bellow in The New Republic, wrote: “ I judged all modern prose by his. Un- ” fair, certainly, because he made even the fleet-footed – the Updikes, the DeLillos, the Roths – seem like monopodes. Yet what else could I do? I discovered Saul Bellow’s prose in my late teens, and henceforth, the relationship had the quality of a love affair about which one could not keep silent. Over the last week, much has been said about Bellow’s prose, and most of the praise—perhaps because it has been overwhelmingly by men—has tended toward the robust: We hear about Bellow’s mixing of high and low registers, his Melvillean cadences jostling the jivey Yiddish rhythms, the great teeming democracy of the big novels, the crooks and frauds and intellectuals who loudly people the brilliant sensorium
Wins Nobel Prize
Saul Bellow (left) with Keith Botsford ca 1992 Propelled by the success of Humboldt’s Gift, Bellow won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1976. In the 70-minute address he gave to an audience in Stockholm, Sweden, Bellow called on writers to be beacons for civilization and awaken it from intellectual torpor. The following year, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Bellow for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Bellow’s lecture was entitled "The Writer and His Country Look Each Other Over." Bellow traveled widely throughout his life, mainly to Europe, which he sometimes visited twice a year. As a young man, Bellow went to Mexico City to meet Leon Trotsky, but the expatriate Russian revolutionary was assassinated the day before they were to meet. Bellow’s social contacts were wide and varied. He tagged along with Robert F. Kennedy for a magazine profile he never wrote, he was close friends with the author Ralph Ellison and he rubbed shoulders with Chicago gangsters. His many friends included the journalist Sydney J. Harris and the poet John Berryman. While sales of Bellow’s first few novels were modest, that turned around with Herzog. Bellow continued teaching well into his old age, enjoying its human interaction and exchange of ideas. He taught at the University of Minnesota, New York University, Princeton University, the University of Puerto Rico, the University of Chicago, Bard College and Boston University, where he co-taught a class with James Wood (’modestly absenting himself’ when it was
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of the fiction. All of this is true enough; John Cheever, in his journals, lamented that, alongside Bellow’s fiction, his stories seemed like mere suburban splinters. Ian McEwan wisely suggested last week that British writers and critics may have been attracted to Bellow precisely because he kept alive a Dickensian amplitude now lacking in the English novel. [...] But nobody mentioned the beauty of this writing, its music, its high lyricism, its firm but luxurious pleasure in language itself. [...] [I]n truth, I could not thank him enough when he was alive, and I cannot now.
of nature. There is a nice part in a short story about when there is a storm in Chicago. And the main character and his father have this terrible mission to go and bum some money off a couple of do-gooders and they have a terrible journey through the storm. He says, "When we emerged from the subway the storm was still having it all its own way in the street." I always thought that one force of nature was recognizing another. He breaks all the rules [...] [T]he people in Bellow’s fiction are real people, yet the intensity of the gaze that he bathes them in, somehow through the particular, opens up into the universal. For Linda Grant, "what Bellow had to tell us in his fiction was that it was worth it, being alive." “ His vigour, vitality, humour and pas- ” sion were always matched by the insistence on thought, not the predigested cliches of the mass media or of those on the left which had begun to disgust him by the Sixties... It’s easy to be a ’writer of conscience’ anyone can do it if they want to; just choose your cause. Bellow was a writer about conscience and consciousness, forever conflicted by the competing demands of the great cities, the individual’s urge to survival against all odds and his equal need for love and some kind of penetrating understanding of what there was of significance beyond all the racket and racketeering.
Themes and style
The author’s works speak to the disorienting nature of modern civilization, and the countervailing ability of humans to overcome their frailty and achieve greatness (or at least awareness). Bellow saw many flaws in modern civilization, and its ability to foster madness, materialism and misleading knowledge. Principal characters in Bellow’s fiction have heroic potential, and many times they stand in contrast to the negative forces of society. Often these characters are Jewish and have a sense of alienation or otherness. Jewish life and identity is a major theme in Bellow’s work, although he bristled at being called a "Jewish writer." Bellow’s work also shows a great appreciation of America, and a fascination with the uniqueness and vibrancy of the American experience. Bellow’s work abounds in references and quotes from the likes of Marcel Proust and Henry James, but he offsets these high-culture references with jokes. Bellow interspersed autobiographical elements into his fiction, and many of his principal characters were said to bear a resemblance to him.
Criticism and controversy
Martin Amis described Bellow as "The greatest American author ever, in my view". “ His sentences seem to weigh more than anyone else’s. He is like a force ”
On the other hand, Bellow’s detractors considered his work conventional and old-fashioned, as if the author was trying to revive the 19th century European novel. In a private letter, Vladimir Nabokov once referred to Bellow as a "miserable mediocrity." Journalist and author Ron Rosenbaum described Bellow’s Ravelstein (2000) as the only book that rose above Bellow’s failings as an author. Rosenbaum wrote, “ My problem with the pre-Ravelstein Bellow is that he all too often strains too hard to yoke together two somewhat contradictory aspects of his being and style. There’s the street-wise ”
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Windy City wiseguy and then-as if to show off that the wiseguy has Wisdom-there are the undigested chunks of arcane, not entirely impressive, philosophic thought and speculation. Just to make sure you know his novels have intellectual heft. That the world and the flesh in his prose are both figured and transfigured. Sam Tanenhaus wrote in New York Times Book Review in 2007: “ But what, then, of the many defects -- ” the longueurs and digressions, the lectures on anthroposophy and religion, the arcane reading lists? What of the characters who don’t change or grow but simply bristle onto the page, even the colorful lowlifes pontificating like fevered students in the seminars Bellow taught at the University of Chicago? And what of the punitively caricatured ex-wives drawn from the teeming annals of the novelists’s own marital discord?
barren land, industrialize it, build cities, make a society, do research, philosophize, write books, sustain a great moral tradition, and finally create an army of tough fighters.’ He has also been criticized for having praised Joan Peters’s controversial book, From Time Immemorial, which challenged the conventional history of the Palestinian people. Although never beholden to any single political school of thought, as he grew older, Bellow gravitated away from leftist politics and became identified with cultural conservatism. His opponents included feminists, campus revolutionaries and postmodernists, and he thrust himself into the often contentious realm of Jewish and African-American relations. In Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Bellow’s portrayal of a black pickpocket who exposes himself in public was criticized, by some activists, as racist. In 2007, attempts to name a street after Bellow in his Hyde Park neighborhood were scotched by local alderman on the grounds that Bellow had made remarks about the neighborhood’s current inhabitants that they considered racist. In an interview in the March 7, 1988 New Yorker, Bellow sparked a controversy when he asked, concerning multiculturalism, "Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans? I’d be glad to read him." The taunt was seen by some as a slight against nonWestern literature. Bellow at first claimed to have been misquoted. Later, writing in his defense in the New York Times, he said, "The scandal is entirely journalistic in origin... Always foolishly trying to explain and edify all comers, I was speaking of the distinction between literate and preliterate societies. For I was once an anthropology student, you see." Bellow claimed to have remembered shortly after making his infamous comment that he had in fact read a Zulu novel in translation: Chaka by Thomas Mofolo (an inaccuracy remains in this: Mofolo’s novel is in Sesotho, not Zulu). Despite his identification with Chicago, he kept aloof from some of that city’s more conventional writers. Studs Terkel in a 2006 interview with Stop Smiling magazine said of Bellow: "I didn’t know him too well. We disagreed on a number of things politically. In the protests in the beginning of Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night, when Mailer, Robert Lowell and Paul Goodman were marching to protest the Vietnam War, Bellow was invited to a sort of counter-gathering. He
But, Tanenhaus went on to answer his question: “ Shortcomings, to be sure. But so ” what? Nature doesn’t owe us perfection. Novelists don’t either. Who among us would even recognize perfection if we saw it? In any event, applying critical methods, of whatever sort, seemed futile in the case of an author who, as Randall Jarrell once wrote of Walt Whitman, is a world, a waste with, here and there, systems blazing at random out of the darkness -- those systems as beautifully and astonishingly organized as the rings and satellites of Saturn.
V. S. Pritchett praised Bellow, finding his shorter works to be his best. Pritchett called Bellow’s novella Seize the Day a "small gray masterpiece." Bellow’s account of his 1975 trip to Israel, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account, was criticized by Noam Chomsky in his 1983 book Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel & the Palestinians. Bellow, Chomsky wrote, "sees an Israel where ‘almost everyone is reasonable and tolerant, and rancor against the Arabs is rare,’ where the people ‘think so hard, and so much’ as they ‘farm a
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said, ’Of course I’ll attend’. But he made a big thing of it. Instead of just saying OK, he was proud of it. So I wrote him a letter and he didn’t like it. He wrote me a letter back. He called me a Stalinist. But otherwise, we were friendly. He was a brilliant writer, of course. I love Seize the Day."
Library of America editions
• Novels 1944-1953: Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures of Augie March (2003) • Novels 1956-1964: Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog (2007)
"[There is] an immense, painful longing for a broader, more flexible, fuller, more coherent, more comprehensive account of what we human beings are, who we are and what this life is for." "I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction." "A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep." "People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned."
• Gimpel the Fool (1945) by Isaac Bashevis Singer (trans. by Bellow in 1953)
• To Jerusalem and Back (1976) - Memoir • It All Adds Up (1994) - Essay collection
Works about Saul Bellow
• Saul Bellow, Tony Tanner (1965) (see also his City of Words ) • Saul Bellow, Malcolm Bradbury (1982) • Saul Bellow: Modern Critical Views, Harold Bloom (Ed.) (1986) • Handsome Is: Adventures with Saul Bellow, Harriet Wasserman (1997) • Saul Bellow and the Decline of Humanism, Michael K Glenday (1990) • Bellow: A Biography, James Atlas (2000) • "Even Later" and "The American Eagle" in Martin Amis, The War Against Cliché (2001) are celebratory. The latter essay is also found in the Everyman’s Library edition of Augie March. • ’Saul Bellow’s comic style’: James Wood in The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel, 2004. ISBN 0224064509. • The Hero in Contemporary American Fiction: The Works of Saul Bellow and Don DeLillo , Stephanie Halldorson (forthcoming December 2007)
for a complete list of works see Bibliography of Saul Bellow
Novels and novellas
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • Dangling Man (1944) The Victim (1947) The Adventures of Augie March (1953) Seize the Day (1956) Henderson the Rain King (1959) Herzog (1964) Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970) Humboldt’s Gift (1975), won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize The Dean’s December (1982) More Die of Heartbreak (1987) A Theft (1989) The Bellarosa Connection (1989) The Actual (1997) Ravelstein (2000)
• PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction
 University of Chicago accolades National Medal of Arts. Accessed 2008-03-08.   Press Release: The Nobel Prize in Literature, 1976, Swedish Academy  Obituary: Saul Bellow BBC News, Tuesday, 5 April, 2005
Short Story Collections
• Mosby’s Memoirs (1968) • Him with His Foot in His Mouth (1984) • Something to Remember Me By: Three Tales (1991) • Collected Stories (2001)
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 ^ http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/  Martin Amis Author of Yellow Dog talks 04/arts/trbellow.php with Robert Birnbaum, Identity Theory,  ^ Mel Gussow and Charles McGrath, December 8, 2003, by Robert Birnbaum Saul Bellow, Who Breathed Life Into  ’He was the first true immigrant voice’ American Novel, Dies at 89, The New Linda grant, The Observer, Sunday 10 York Times April 6, 2005. Accessed April 2005 2008-10-21. "...his birthdate is listed as  Wood, James (February 1, 1990) "Private either June or July 10, 1915, though his Strife." Guardian Unlimited. lawyer, Mr. Pozen, said yesterday that  Rosenbaum, Ron. "Saul Bellow and the Mr. Bellow customarily celebrated in Bad Fish." Slate. 3 Apr 2007 June. (Immigrant Jews at that time  Tanenhaus, Sam (February 4, 2007) tended to be careless about the Christian "Beyond Criticism." New York Times calendar, and the records are Book Review. inconclusive.)"  Review: The Joan Peters Case, Edward  Saul Bellow, It All Adds Up (Penguin, W. Said, Journal of Palestine Studies, 2007), pages 295-6. 15:2 (Winter, 1986), pp. 144-150.  The New York Times obituary, April 6, Accessed 2008-03-27. 2005. "He had hoped to study literature  The Fate of an Honest Intellectual, Noam but was put off by what he saw as the Chomsky (2002), in Understanding tweedy anti-Semitism of the English Power, The New Press, pp. 244-248. department, and graduated in 1937 with Accessed on 2008-03-27. honors in anthropology and sociology,  Ahmed, Azam and Ron Grossman subjects that were later to instill his (October 5, 2007) "Bellow’s remarks on novels." race haunt legacy in Hyde Park."  Drew, Bettina. Nelson Algren, A Life on Chicago Tribune. the Wild Side. Austin: University of Texas  Saul Bellow’s Nobel Lecture, December Press, 1991 12, 1976.  Slater, Elinor; Robert Slater (1996).  Alfred Kazin and George Plimpton (eds.), "SAUL BELLOW: Winner of the Nobel Writers at Work: The Paris review Prize for Literature". Great Jewish Men. interviews, Volume 3. New York, NY: Jonathan David Company. pp. 42. ISBN Viking Press, 1967. ISBN 0-67079-096-6. 0824603818. http://books.google.com/  Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back: A books?id=T91sokr_nJYC&pg=PA42&dq=bellow+naturalized+citizen&sig=Z1uJ1PxtO0mBpersonal account, p. 127. Penguin Zh_Fnzvv17WQgI. Retrieved on Classics, 1976. ISBN 0-14118-075-7. 2007-10-21.  Quoted in Steven Gilbar, The Reader’s  http://www.saulbellow.org/ Quotation Book: A literary companion. NavigationBar/LifeandWorks.html Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1990.  The New York Times Book Review, ISBN 0-91636-664-2. December 13, 1981  Vogue, March 1982  ^ Atlas, James. Bellow: A Biography. • Mr. Sammler’s City, City Journal, Spring New York: Random House, 2000. 2008  Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website • Nobel site with two speeches (one of (retrieved January 22, 2009). which is an audio recording) & longer  ’He was the first true immigrant voice’ biography The Observer, Sunday 10 April 2005 • Annotated Bibliography of Criticism by the  Wood, James, ’Gratitude’, New Republic, Saul Bellow Society 00286583, 4/25/2005, Vol. 232, Issue 15 • Bellow’s 1955 autobiographical statement  Malin, Irving. Saul Bellow’s Fiction. for reference book Carbondale: Southern Illinois University • JM Coetzee on the early novels Press, 1969 • Slate’s assortment of other writers’ takes  [http://www.identitytheory.com/ on Bellow, mostly eulogistic interviews/birnbaum135.php Martin • Joyce Carol Oates on Saul Bellow Amis Author of Yellow Dog talks with Robert Birnbaum] December 8, 2003, by Robert Birnbaum
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• Saul Bellow ’Bookweb’ on literary website The Ledge, with suggestions for further reading.
• Blogpost on Bellow’s Russian family name–Belo or Belov? • Saul Bellow, a neocon’s tale by John Podhoretz