Saul Bellow was an acclaimed Canadian-American writer. Bellow is known for his vivid depiction of the human condition and insightful portrayals of modern life that still resonate with viewers today. He is regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest authors, known for his rich prose and deep philosophical insights.
Named Solomon Bellows at birth, Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, a couple of years after his parents, Lescha (née Gordin) and Abraham Bellows, made their journey from Saint Petersburg, Russia, to Canada. He was the youngest, with three older siblings: his sister Zelda (who later changed her name to Jane, born in 1907), and his brothers Moishe (who became Maurice, born in 1908) and Schmuel (who became Samuel, born in 1911). The Bellow family had Lithuanian-Jewish roots, with his father hailing from Vilnius.
Though Bellow celebrated his birthday on June 10th, records from the Jewish Genealogical Society-Montreal indicate he might have been born on July 10th. In the Jewish community, where the Hebrew date of birth is customarily recorded and does not necessarily coincide with the Gregorian calendar, this disparity is not uncommon.
When he was nine years old, his family relocated to Chicago, which would become a major theme in many of his writings. Saul Bellow thought a lot about how his family’s move affected his identity and his writing in the future. Their migration from Russia to the New World was evidence of their quest for a better life, a topic that reverberates throughout Bellow’s writing as he explores identity and belonging.
Bellow saw the hardships of urban life firsthand at a young age while growing up during the Great Depression, which had a significant impact on his subsequent writing.
After attending the University of Chicago, he moved to Northwestern University to pursue his studies in sociology and anthropology. His novels were characterized by a deep knowledge of civilizations and human behaviors springing from this challenging academic background.
Throughout his six-decade writing career, Bellow authored a large number of novels, short stories, and essays. His first book, “Dangling Man,” about a young man who is waiting to be inducted into the army, made him a sensation in literary circles in 1944. From 1946 to 1948, Saul Bellow taught at the University of Minnesota. He went on a book tour supporting his book “The Victim” and in the fall of 1947 settled into a large, venerable mansion at 58 Orlin Avenue SE in Minneapolis’s Prospect Park district.
Bellow’s career took a significant turn when he was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1948, which allowed him to go to Paris. There, he began writing what would eventually become “The Adventures of Augie March” (1953), a picaresque novel that many have compared to the epic Spanish novel “Don Quixote”. The novel tracks the central character of Augie as he explores the world using only his keen mind and unyielding resolve.
The novel opens with one of the most well-known paragraphs in American literature: “I am an American, Chicago born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted.” With this piece, Bellow effectively blended conversational and academic language, enhancing his standing as a significant writer.
Bellow became well-known to most Americans as a writer after “The Adventures of Augie March” was published. The work was received well across generations, being perceived as a break from the more limited and depressing writing of the age because of its picaresque tone and exaltation of the individual.
In 1958, Bellow returned to the University of Minnesota to resume his teaching duties. It was during this period that he and his spouse, Sasha, underwent psychoanalysis with the university’s psychology professor Paul Meehl.
Later, Bellow was a creative writing instructor at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, beginning in the spring semester of 1961. One of his pupils, William Kennedy, saw in Bellow not only a teacher but also a mentor who inspired him to pursue fiction writing.
Bellow kept examining themes of alienation, survival, and the difficulties of contemporary living throughout his career. Bellow’s own intellectual and cultural pursuits are reflected in his characters’ frequent struggles with identity and social expectations. “Herzog” (1964), “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” (1970), and “Humboldt’s Gift” (1975) are a few of his other well-known works. “Herzog” received the Pulitzer Prize and helped the author win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976.
American literature has been profoundly impacted by Bellow’s extraordinary literary career, which was marked by an unwavering examination of the human condition and a deep comprehension of the intricacies of contemporary life. His writings are still thought-provoking and inspiring, providing deep insights into the challenges and victories faced by people attempting to navigate dynamic social and cultural environments..
While specific details about Saul Bellow’s net worth at the time of his death in 2005 are not widely published, it is estimated to have been about $1.1 billion.
Bellow’s career was marked by numerous achievements and honors. Here are some highlights:
Saul Bellow's prominence came at a time before the explosion of social media, so he did not have public social media handles as contemporary writers do.