Nobel Prize in Literature Recipient. Sinclair Lewis received acclaim as a prolific American author of the twentieth century, receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930 and refusing the Pulitzer Prize in 1926. With one single nomination for the Nobel candidacy, he received the coveted award, according to the Nobel Prize committee, "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." Born the youngest of three sons in a small farming village, he was six years old when his mother died 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 in late 1906 to work as a janitor for author, Upton Sinclair's Helicon Hall, a Utopian community located along the Hudson River in New Jersey, which was for those in the literary field. 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 American author 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. He also had stories published in the "Saturday Evening Post." His very first book was a children's book published in 1912 "Hank and the Aeroplane," which he rarely mentioned and downplayed throughout his life. According to Lewis' 1930 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, his first five novels, "Our Mr. Wrenn" in 1914, "The Trail of the Hawk" in 1915, "The Job" and "The Innocents" in 1917, and "Free Air" in 1919, did not give him any attention as they "…were all dead before the ink was dry." His first successful novel was "Main Street" in 1920, which followed two years later by "Babbitt," which solidified his reputation as a force in American 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, with Lewis characterizing the mid-Western United States as such. Publishing novels every year, he wrote "Arrowsmith" in 1925, "Mantrap" in 1926, "Elmer Gantry" in 1927, "The Man Who Knew Coolidge" in 1928, and "Dodsworth" in 1929. This is a considerable feat in light of his reputation for being a dedicated researcher, gathering many facts and much information before writing. His father's occupation as a physician would surface, in part, in "Arrowsmith," which Dr. Paul de Kruif served as medical consultant for that novel. He was both the first person to refuse the Pulitzer Prize, which was 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 claimed the award on the basis of the criteria, which stated, in part, the American novel should "…best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life." He 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." The founder of the Pulitzer Prize, Joseph Pulitzer was famous for his "yellow journalism," or tabloid-style, sensational writings, which would be diametrical to his own criteria for receiving the prize. 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, he mentioned that Dr. Gustaf Sondelius, of "Arrowsmith," was his "favorite among all my characters." Although his novels remained widely-read, his popularity began to decline as he wrote "Ann Vickers" in 1933, "Work of Art" in 1934, "It Can't Happen Here" in 1935, "The Prodigal Parents" in 1938, "Bethel Merriday" in 1940, "Gideon Planish" in 1943, "Cass Timberlane" in 1945, "Kingsblood Royal" in 1947," "The God-Seeker" in 1949, and "World So Wide" in 1951, which was published posthumously. He also published "Selected Short Stories" and wrote the play "Jayhawker" in 1935. He was married twice: the first on April 15, 1914 in New York City to Grace Livingston Hegger, an editor for "Vogue" magazine, and a son, Wells Lewis, which was named for author H.G. Wells, was born to them. Eventually, the couple divorced and their son, Wells, was killed in action by a sniper in 1944 during World War II as a hero, receiving the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre. Lewis married a second time to journalist, Dorothy Thompson, on May 14, 1928 in England and they had a son, Michael Lewis Sinclair, who became an actor, dying in a plane crash at age 44. Suffering from heart and lung problems for a long time, according to "The New York Times," he died from pneumonia.
Bio by: Donna Di Giacomo