Who Was Saul Bellow? Originally Published June 4-5, 2021.

Born Solomon Bellows on June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec, near Montreal, to Lescha and Abraham Bellows, immigrants from St. Petersburg (and his grandfather had been born in Vilnius), over his lifetime writer Saul Bellow would be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts.  He was the only writer to be awarded the National Book Award for Fiction thrice, and in 1990 received the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.  The Nobel Committee described his writing as “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 called the dilemma of our age.”

When he was nine, the family moved to Chicago, and his father went into the onion business.  (In the old country, the family had been affluent.)  His mother, who died when he was 17, had wanted him to become a rabbi or a concert violinist.  But he was already both a writer and a great reader.  Holding degrees in sociology and anthropology, and having served as a Merchant Marine during WWII, Mr. Bellow’s first novel, Dangling Man, came out in 1944.  Having published his second, The Victim, in 1947, in 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years based in Paris and traveling around Europe.  He began his novel The Adventures of Augie March at that time, published in 1954.  In 1956, he published Seize The Day, followed by Henderson The Rain King (1959), Herzog (1964), Mosby’s Memoirs and Other Stories (1968), Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970), and Humboldt’s Gift (1975, which won the Pulitzer).  In 1976, he published the nonfiction To Jerusalem and Back:  A Personal Account.  He continued publishing books throughout his life.  Meanwhile, he was also writing plays which were produced on Broadway and contributing to periodicals as well.  During the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, he served as war correspondent for Newsday.  Additionally he has taught at several universities.

Mr. Bellows was the first American to be awarded the International Literary Prize, for Herzog, in 1965.  In 1968 the Republic of France awarded him the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, their highest award to non-citizens, and also that year he received the B’nai B’rith Jewish Heritage Award for “excellence in Jewish literature.”  In 1976 he received the America’s Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. 

Mr. Bellow passed away on April 5, 2005, in Brookline, Massachusetts.  Perhaps we ought to be reading more of his works.