Thursday, February 7, 2019

Sinclair Lewis at 134

Writer Sinclair Lewis was born on February 7, 1885.  Lewis was the author of “Main Street,” “Babbitt,” “Arrowsmith,” and “Elmer Gantry,” among many other works.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.  Lewis was one of three deceased laureates honored with after-dinner presentations at the dinner President and Mrs. Kennedy held for Nobel Prize winners in April 1962.

Lewis has enjoyed somewhat of a Renaissance with readers rediscovering his chilling novel “It Can’t Happen Here” about a rise of a demagogue as president and the authoritarianism that follows.  Published in 1935 during the Great Depression and the advent of Hitler, the book provides a cautionary tale about politicians promising seeming easy solutions during difficult times.

Lewis died in 1951.  Despite being highlighted at the Nobel dinner, no family member represented him.  Overall, forty-nine Nobel laureates were honored at the White House.  Lewis had refused the award of a Pulitzer Prize for “Arrowsmith” in 1926.  He said, “All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous.  The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards: they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee.” 

Still, he did not decline the Nobel Prize for which he was selected four years later; he was the first American writer given the prestigious award for literature.

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