It’s the birthday of novelist Saul Bellow (books by this author), born in Lachine, Quebec (1913). His parents were Russian immigrants. His father worked in a bakery; he delivered coal; and he was a bootlegger, smuggling alcohol across the border during Prohibition. When Saul was nine years old, the family moved to Chicago, the city that would become the setting of many of Bellow’s novels.
Bellow studied anthropology and sociology at Northwestern Univeristy. In 1938, a year after he graduated, Bellow went to work for the Chicago branch of the WPA Writers’ Project.
He was working on a novel, Ruben Whitfield, but he ended up abandoning it. In 1942, his second novel, The Very Dark Trees was going to be published until the editor got drafted. Bellows burned the manuscript. He was working part-time for the Encyclopedia Britannica when his first novel, Dangling Man,(1944), was published to success. He got some good reviews, went off and served in the Marines, then moved to Paris and began writing the book that would make him famous: The Adventures of Augie March (1953). Bellows worked on The Adventures of Augie March in Paris, New York, Italy, Austria, and New Jersey—never in Chicago. But, he said, “It was Chicago before the Depression that moved my imagination as I went to my room in the morning, not misty Paris with its cold statues and its streams of water running along the curbstones.” Augie March begins: “I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city — 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; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.”