Thursday, February 17, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis, Nobel laureate in Literature 1930Image via Wikipedia
SINCLAIR LEWIS (1885-1951), the novelist, playwright, and social critic hailed from the heartland of America: Minnesota. In 1914 Lewis married Grace Livingston Hegger, an editor at Vogue. Their son, Wells, was named after the famous British author H.G. Wells, whom Lewis admired, and whose social criticism he mimicked in his own works.

In 1902, Sinclair attended Oberlin College in Ohio and received his bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1908. Holding odd jobs and traveling around the country and abroad gave Lewis a first-hand experience and material for his fiction."Becoming a writer" was the only occupation he ever wanted to practice.

What established his reputation as a first rate novelist was his novel Main Street (1920), a dramatization of realism and idealism in a provincial small middle-America town, where one can find the same pattern of cheap shops, ugly public buildings, shabby services, and feeble citizens behaving by the same rigid social conventions. Through Carol Carol Kennicott —the protagonist and emancipated woman— Lewis portrays the suffocating activities that compel an independent-minded woman to rebel and defy the norms that enchain her. In this novel one can see an incipient flourishing of the theme — “The problem that has no name”— that Betty Friedan would later develop in her The Feminine Mystique.

With his next novel, Babbitt (1922), Lewis started a series of novels of the same theme: pettiness, mindless middle class conformity, and moral cowardice. The novel is a scathing criticism of a Midwestern businessmen —George Babbitt— who is at the top of his form at forty-six years of age, and who sees life through the rosy tinted glasses of business.

In addition to Babbitt, what survives of all his novels are Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), and Dodsworth (1929).

Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, the first ever awarded to an American writer. Prolific in different genres, he produced 22 novels, three plays, and many articles. Much like Balzac in France, his complete works show a tendency to benign social criticism.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
Becoming a writer is easy with enough practice and with the two books recommended above.
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