Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis

Sauk Centre, Stearns County, Minnesota, USA
Death 10 Jan 1951 (aged 65)
Rome, Città Metropolitana di Roma Capitale, Lazio, Italy
Burial Sauk Centre, Stearns County, Minnesota, USA
Memorial ID 624 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Author, Nobel Prize Recipient. Born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, a farming village approximately 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul with a total population of slightly more than 1,000 at the time of his birth, his mother died when he was six years old and his father, a country physician, remarried a year later. According to his obituary in The New York Times, he was "described as a gangling, pink-skinned, freckled, red-haired young man whom everybody called ‘Red.'" He started at Yale University in 1903, but interrupted his studies to work as a janitor in Upton Sinclair's Helicon Hall, a utopian community along the Hudson River. He graduated with an A.B. degree from Yale in 1908. Sinclair stated himself that he was fired by The Associated Press, The San Francisco Bulletin and other newspapers for incompetence. He worked for the hefty salary of $60 a week for a book review syndicate based in New York and he sold short story plots to Jack London, according to The New York Times. He also worked in various positions in the publishing industry including as an editor and manuscript-reader. Lewis also had stories published in the famed Saturday Evening Post. Lewis's first five novels did not garner him any attention. All of them, according to his 1930 Nobel Prize acceptance speech "…were all dead before the ink was dry": "Our Mr. Wrenn" (1914), "The Trail of the Hawk" (1915), "The Job" (1917), "The Innocents" (1917), and "Free Air" (1919). His very first book was a children's book published in 1912 titled "Hank and the Aeroplane" that he rarely mentioned and downplayed throughout his life. Lewis's first successful novel was 1920's "Main Street," followed two years later by "Babbitt," which solidified his reputation as a force in literature. "Babbitt" introduced a new word into the American lexicon: Babbittry. The word came to signify a wishy-washy, middle-of-the-road, intellectually vapid state, Lewis characterizing the mid-Western U.S. as such. Lewis was prolific in the late-1920's, publishing novels every year: "Arrowsmith" (1925), "Mantrap" (1926), "Elmer Gantry" (1927), "The Man Who Knew Coolidge" (1928), and "Dodsworth" (1929). This is a considerable feat in light of Lewis's reputation for being a dedicated researcher, gathering many facts and much information before writing. His father's occupation would surface, in part, in "Arrowsmith," which a Dr. Paul de Kraif served as medical consultant. Lewis was both the first person to refuse the Pulitzer Prize (awarded in 1926 for "Arrowsmith") and the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930. In his refusal letter to the Pulitzer Prize Committee, he refused the award on the basis of the criteria, which stated, in part, the American novel should "…best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life…" (Joseph Pulitzer is the acknowledged father of yellow journalism). Lewis stated that such criteria will not reward novels based on their literary merit, "…but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment." He accepted the Nobel Prize four years later because the award was not based on those restrictions. In his acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize, Lewis stated that Dr. Gustaf Sondelius, of Arrowsmith, was his "favorite among all my characters." His career began to taper off in the 1930's, but his novels remained widely-read. He wrote "Ann Vickers" (1933), "Work of Art" (1934), "It Can't Happen Here" (1935), "The Prodigal Parents" (1938), "Bethel Merriday" (1940), "Gideon Planish" (1943), "Cass Timberlane" (1945), "Kingsblood Royal" (1947), "The God-Seeker" (1949), and "World So Wide" (1951), published posthumously. He also published "Selected Short Stories" and wrote the play "Jayhawker" in 1935. He was married twice: First to Grace Livingston Hegger on April 15, 1914 in New York City and a son, Wells Lewis (named for author H.G. Wells) was born to them. The couple eventually divorced and Wells was killed in World War II. Lewis married a second time to Dorothy Thompson on May 14, 1928 in England and they had a son, Michael Lewis. Lewis had been suffering from heart and lung problems for a long time, according to The New York Times, and his condition worsened. He died at a private nursing home in the suburbs of Rome, Italy.

Bio by: Donna Di Giacomo

Family Members






How famous was Sinclair Lewis?

Current rating:

140 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 624
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Sinclair Lewis (7 Feb 1885–10 Jan 1951), Find a Grave Memorial no. 624, citing Greenwood Cemetery, Sauk Centre, Stearns County, Minnesota, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .