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Stephen R. Pastore collection on Sinclair Lewis

Biographical note

Sinclair Lewis was born Harry Sinclair Lewis on February 7, 1885, in Sauk Center, Minnesota. He began reading as a young child and read often. His father, Edwin, was strict and often hard on Sinclair, who was sensitive and bookish in comparison to his older brothers, Fred and Claude. Lewis is said to have led a lonely childhood, and at the age of thirteen he ran away from home in an attempt to join the Spanish-American War as a drummer boy. Sinclair Lewis entered Yale University in 1903 but did not complete his Bachelor’s degree until 1908. While he was at Yale, he was the editor of the Yale Literary Magazine, where he demonstrated his talents as a young writer.

After his graduation from Yale, Lewis held various jobs where he wrote "shallow, popular stories" that were purchased by many magazines. Lewis published his first book, Hike and the Aeroplane, in 1912, and several books and serial stories followed. In 1914, he married Grace Hegger, who worked at Vogue magazine. Lewis's serial novel about small-town life, Main Street, had astronomical success when it was published in 1920. He followed up with Babbitt, which was a satire on American capitalism, and his success continued throughout the 1920's. He was offered a Pulitzer Prize for his 1925 novel Arrowsmith, but he refused the award. Also that year, Grace and Lewis were divorced, and three years later he married journalist Dorothy Thompson. Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, Lewis continued to write novels as well as articles for magazines.

Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930 with special attention paid to his novel Babbitt. He published nine more books after winning his Nobel Prize. In 1942, at the age of 54, he met young actress Marcella Powers and fell in love with her. His marriage to Dorothy Thompson ended the same year. He died on January 10, 1951, and his last novel, World So Wide, was published posthumously.

For more information on Lewis's life, read Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street by Richard Lingeman (2002). For a complete bibliography of Lewis's writings, refer to Sinclair Lewis: a Descriptive Biography, by Stephen Pastore.