“I am an American, Chicago born…” Saul Bellow presented by Elaine Bucknum

Okay, full disclosure! Your WebNovice had to look up Saul Bellow’s famous first paragraph, after reading Flora Spackman’s summary of Elaine Bucknum’s presentation on Saul Bellow, the fascinating 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.

The Bellow family immigrated to Canada from St. Petersburg, Russia and settled in Lachine, Quebec where young Solomon was born two years later. In time, he changed his name to Saul. Interestingly, much of his writing was about immigrants, especially Jewish immigrants. They moved to Chicago when Saul was quite young. He was a voracious reader from a young age. While in university, he majored in anthropology and sociology. His politics caused classmates to erroneously label him a Trotskyite.

Following university, and at the start of World War II, Saul joined the Merchant Marines which experience he mined in his first novel, The Dangling Man. His literary style at this time could be called embittered irony. He taught at the University of Chicago for a time and then moved to Paris to write. His next novel, The Adventures of Augie March, contains one of the most famous opening paragraphs in American literature. His other notable novels are Herzog, followed by Humboldt’s Gift, which is a rollicking book of revenge. A consistent theme in his books is the Americanization of Jews and the disorienting nature of modern civilization.

He taught at many universities, teaching long enough to earn the money that would allow him to write. He was married five times and was the father of four children, the last child born when he was 84 years old. Saul Bellow was the recipient of many other literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize and The National Medal of Arts. He won the National Book Award for Fiction three times.

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