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Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize laureate

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In 1976, Saul Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Foundation called "the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work." In 2001, at the age of 85, Saul Bellow sits down with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel for this 40-minute interview to talk about childhood memories and impressions, language, character names, being Jewish and more.
• Though Bellow spent most of his life in America, he was born on June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Que., and spent his early childhood in suburban Montreal. He left for Chicago with his family when he was nine years old, and became an American citizen 17 years later, in 1941.

• English writer James Wood described Bellow's prose as "intensely lyrical and musical, its rhythms a pressing mingle of Yiddish, American, English, and Hebrew ... but it was also grounded in speech, and seemed incapable of preciousness; ... it was witty, metaphysical, sensuous, playful. Above all, Bellow saw the world anew."

• Bellow is best known for his novels The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day, Herzog, and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner Humboldt's Gift.

• Saul Bellow's writing drew freely and openly on his own experiences as well as those of his friends and acquaintances. After the death of his friend, philosopher and writer Allan Bloom, Bellow wrote a tender farewell in the form of the novel Ravelstein. The novel revealed that Bloom was gay and had died of AIDS, facts which Bloom had kept private.

• According to Globe and Mail writer Robert Fulford, winning the Nobel Prize was sometimes considered a bad omen for American writers, signalling the beginning of the end of their careers. Steinbeck and Hemmingway are cited as examples. However, in Bellow's case, it only marked the halfway point in a long, prolific career.

• In 2007 the first PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction was awarded to Bellow's friend and one-time student Philip Roth.

• When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976, Bellow made a pithy speech at the banquet. Among other things, he said, "the civilized community agrees that there is no higher distinction than the Nobel Prize but it agrees on little else, so I need not fear that the doom of universal approval is hanging over me."

Medium: Radio
Program: Writers & Company
Broadcast Date: March 4, 2001
Guest(s): Saul Bellow
Host: Eleanor Wachtel
Duration: 39:23

Last updated: June 11, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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