Saul Bellow, dead at 89

By Ryan Uricks

Saul Bellow, former Chicago faculty member, world-renowned author, and a Nobel Prize laureate, died Tuesday at age 89.

During his most prolific writing period, Bellow joined the University faculty as a professor of English in 1962, and taught at the University for thirty years. Chicago served to inspire many of Bellow’s literary backdrops and characters, as glimpsed in the famous opening line of his novel, The Adventures of Augie March, in which the main character proclaims: “I am American, Chicago-born…”

Bellow himself was born in Lachine, Quebec on June 10, 1915 a child of Russian immigrants from St. Petersburg. At age nine, his family moved to Chicago, where he studied shortly at the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, before continuing his education at Northwestern University, where he studied Anthropology and Sociology, and graduated in 1937.

After college, Bellow studied briefly at the University of Wisconsin and then joined the Federal Writers Program of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. During this time he wrote two novels, which he considered amateur attempts. In 1948, Bellow received a Guggenheim fellowship to study in Paris. There, after a personal epiphany, he achieved literary renown with Augie March. Many attribute Bellow’s deeply investigative writing style as rooted in his background in anthropology and sociology. In 1964, Bellow published Herzog, a novel about a Jewish man in a bind with his wife and friend that earned him the National Book Award.

He won his third National Book Award with Mr. Sammler’s Planet in 1969 and in 1975 he published his most popular novel Humboldt’s Gift, about a Pulitzer-Prize winning author coping with the death of his mentor, which, as luck would have it, earned its author the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. Bellow received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976 with the Nobel Committee commending him “for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that is combined in his work.”

It came to the surprise of many in 1993 that Bellow decided to leave Chicago, his adopted home, for Boston University, where he taught and wrote well into his 80’s, publishing his last novel in 2000. Many critics considered Bellow, along with William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, to be one the most prolific and influential writers of the 20th century.