Stories of Sinclair Lewis
From the Sauk Centre Herald
1) Lewis and Bryant Library
2) Cast gets into Sinclair Lewis' skin
3) Bookseller remembers afternoon with Lewis
4) Is Lewis relavent?
5) Carol Kennicott returns to Main Street
6) Lewis scholars celebrate 75th anniversary of Babbitt
7) Enlightened on Lewis
8) The German side of Sinclair Lewis
9) The athletic side of Sinclair Lewis
Lewis and Bryant Library
by Dave Simpkins
If you like Sinclair Lewis, you would have loved the Sinclair Lewis Conference held in conjunction with Sauk Centre's Sinclair Lewis Days.
About 40 Lewis enthusiasts professors and writers came to this academic conference to read scholarly papers and share their interest in America's first Nobel prize winning author.
"Oh this is just wonderful," said Sally E. Parry Executive Director of the Sinclair Lewis Society located at Illinois State University.
Parry and her husband Robert McLaughlin teach English Literature at Illinois State and hosted the conference.
"It is just wonderful to see so much enthusiasm and respect for Lewis from younger people here.
The event came to Sauk Centre to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publishing of Babbitt and the 50th anniversary of Kingsblood Royal.
The presenters agreed Lewis was the leading chronicler the jazz age and the social change that was occurring during the roaring twenties.
"I use the books Babbitt and Elmer Gantry to jazz up my history classes," said Dr. Jane Lamm Carroll a history professor from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul.
"Students will remember George Babbitt and Elmer Gantry long after they put the text books away. Fiction connects students emotionally to another time.
" Lewis gave us a compelling window on his time. These two books tell the story of social change in America when business became a religion and religion became a business. "There also many other important themes such as consumerism, feminism, race, advertising, the automobile, credit and mass merchandising.
"Lewis' us of the language of the time is also rich and informative for modern readers," added Carroll.
The conference was attended by two Lewis authors, Jim Hutchisson an English professor at the Citadel and biographer Richard Lengeman a senior editor of the Nation.
"The popularity of this conference is a testimony to the renewed interest in Lewis," said Hutchinsson.
"We are moving away from this greedy days of the Reagan-Bush years into a more reflective age where social critics like Lewis are regaining popularity.
"I'm sure this conference will stimulate a new batch of good, solid critical work on Lewis, the themes he talked about and how relevant they still are," said Hutchinsson.
Hutchinsson is the president of the Society and has edited a collection of essays on Lewis and a book entitled, The Rise of Sinclair Lewis which outlines the craftsmanship of Lewis books written in he 1920s.
Lingeman is currently working on a new biography of Lewis which scholars are hoping will replace the Mark Schorer book.
While Schorer's book was very detailed it was also very critical of Lewis.
"It is time for a new perspective on Lewis," said Lingeman at his Thursday night Keynote address.
"I don't believe I need to defend Lewis against the attacks of the Schorer book. I'd rather document the growing new attitude and information that points to the fine quality of his work.
Lingeman pointed out Lewis' Italian death certificate noted he died of a "paralysis of the heart."
"Here we have a man with a wonderful career and lost much of what was important to him to alcohol. He was a social prophet and an astute commentator on the American way of life yet he had such sadness," said Lingemann.
While Lewis is often presented as a sad and lonely figure several of the presenters told many stories of Lewis humor and satire.
Roger Forseth of the University of Wisconsin, Superior revealed the contents of Lewis FBI file. Apparently, Lewis and Marcella Powers received a grand tour of the FBI offices in 1939 shortly before his divorce to Dorothy Thompson was final. He was doing research for a possible crime fighting novel.
When the day was ending he suggested to the Assistant Director that his wife Dorothy might be interested in a tour and they should give her a call.
Parry and Hutchinsson agreed having the conference in Sauk Centre gave them a greater appreciation for Lewis and how Sauk Centre impacted his writing style.
"Coming to Sauk Centre makes the stories, people and places in Lewis' books jump out of the page. This is truly small town America.
The Sinclair Lewis Foundation cooperated in the event. Roberta Olson agreed it was beneficial to local Lewis enthusiasts to hear so many informative lecturers.
"This was really great to meet so many people so knowledgible about Lewis and his writing," said Olson