Biography of Saul Bellow (1915-2005)
Saul (Solomon) Bellow was born on June 10, 1915, to Russian immigrant parents. He was raised in an impoverished suburb of Montreal, Quebec, where his father, Abraham, was a bootlegger and a businessman. Abraham pushed his children to take full advantage of every opportunity they were afforded, and Liza, his wife, hoped to see her sons grow up to become Talmudic scholars. As a child, Bellow spoke French, English, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and was encouraged to pursue diverse academic interests. Bellow's parents thus instilled in him both an intense desire to succeed and a sincere thirst for knowledge.
Bellow's family moved to Chicago in 1924, and as Bellow grew older he became increasingly interested in writing. In 1933, he enrolled in the University of Chicago, where he studied literature. After two years, Bellow transferred to Northwestern University, where he graduated with honors in anthropology and sociology. Bellow then pursued a master's degree in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. After finishing his studies, he returned to Chicago and married a sociologist named Anita Goshkin.
In Chicago, Bellow became involved with the Works Progress Administration Writers' Project (WPA), an organization with ties to the Communist Party that was dedicated to providing support to young intellectuals and writers. Bellow composed short biographies of Midwestern writers and taught classes for the Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers' College in Chicago. His first story, "Two Morning Monologues", appeared in Partisan Review in 1941, and shortly thereafter his son Gregory was born.
In 1944, Bellow finished his first novel, Dangling Man, and went on to assume a wide variety of teaching posts. In 1947, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his second novel, The Victim, and moved to Paris. During the two years he spent abroad, Bellow abandoned two nearly-completed manuscripts in order to complete an extensive novel that would become The Adventures of Augie March. Augie March, published in 1953, exhibited Bellow's considerable skill, and marked a profound stylistic break from his previous two works. The novel went on to win the National Book Award.
When Bellow returned to the United States, he settled in New York for ten years, and quickly became an integral member of the Partisan Review set, a circle of Jewish intellectuals. Bellow published Seize the Day in 1956, and, shortly after, married Alexandra Tachacbasov. They had a son, Adam, but after only four years of marriage the union dissolved. Soon after, Bellow published Henderson and the Rain King, and in 1959 he married yet again - this time to a teacher named Susan Alexandra Glassman. Glassman bore him another son, Daniel, and the family moved to Chicago, where Bellow assumed a professorship in Letters and Literature at the University of Chicago. He was also named a fellow of the University's Committee on Social Thought, a small, prestigious program of interdisciplinary graduate study. In 1964, Bellow published Herzog, which won him a second National Book Award. In the wake of the deaths of both Hemingway and Faulkner, Bellow was widely hailed as the new "major" American writer.
Shortly after the dissolution of his marriage to Glassman, Bellow published Mosby's Memoirs (1969) and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970). Humboldt's Gift was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and Bellow married yet again: Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea, a Romanian-born professor of theoretical mathematics at Northwestern.
In 1976, Bellow won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The committee commended him for his outstanding portrayal of "a man who keeps on trying to find a foothold during his wanderings in a tottering world, one who can never relinquish his faith that the value of life depends on dignity, not its success, and that truth must triumph at last." A host of other works followed, including plays, journalistic accounts, short stories, critical essays, and social and political commentary: To Jerusalem and Back (1976), The Dean's December (1982), More Die of Heartbreak (1987), A Theft (1989), The Bellarosa Connection (1989), Something To Remember Me By (1991), It All Adds Up (1994), The Actual (1997), and Ravelstein (2000). Today, Bellow is considered a quintessential post-war American writer. His Russian-Jewish heritage and Canadian upbringing, as well as his exuberant and candid voice, are all essential aspects of his unique portrayals of the American spirit and the raw energy of Chicago.
Bellow wrote several plays, the most important of which is probably The Last Analysis. First performed in 1964, it tells the story of a comedian who has fallen from grace, and thus resembles, in its narrative trajectory and vision of flawed humanity, much of Bellow's other work. Bellow likewise tried his hand at literary criticism, publishing pieces in The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, The New Leader, and other journals. In a notable break from fiction-writing, he served as a war correspondent during the 1967 Six-Day War, employed by Newsday.
Towards the end of his life, Bellow frequently commented on the decline of culture in the West and the urban environment's failure to meet the demands of the soul. In 1987, Bellow composed the foreword to the controversial book The Closing of the American Mind, written by the University of Chicago's conservative social philosopher Alan Bloom. Bellow's final novel, Ravelstein, is an homage to the man and their friendship.
In 1989, Bellow married Janis Freedman. The couple moved to Boston, where their daughter, Naomi, was born in 1999. Bellow died in his home on April 5, 2005.