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
Enlightened on Lewis
If you've ever wondered why we have a Sinclair Lewis Avenue, celebrate Sinclair Lewis Days and cheer the Mainstreeters, you will want to read the new biography, Sinclair Lewis, Rebel From Mainstreet by Richard Lingeman.
Lingeman does a better job than any biographer before him in describing one very complicated person. I learned more of the significance of Lewis as a Nobel Prize winning author and national commentator as well as more than I'd really care to know about a lonely, cynical man from this small town on the prairies.
Lingeman is sensitive and honest in her easy to read chronology of Lewis incredible life.
Reading Lingeman, it sounds like Lewis was born on the wrong side of the bed. He was awkward, unappealing and cynical from the start. His father was fond of asking him, "Why can't you be like the other boys."
He lost his mother at an early age and suffered under his fathers well-meaning but oppressive encouragement to settle in his hometown, live an upstanding life of a businessman or doctor. Instead he withdrew into books and a career writing satirical books about his hometown, business, medicine and religion.
The awkward, gangling, red-haired teenager knew he was going to be a writer. He sent off poems and story ideas to publishers while in high school under the name H. Sinclayre Lewis. One summer he went around town interviewing people with the idea of writing a book. It is believed he sold story ideas to Jack London.
We're proud to say Lewis was first published in the Sauk Centre Herald reporting on commencement ceremonies. The summer before he left for college, he went around town interviewing locals. He used his newspaper job to gather notes and character sketches for future novels.
Never left town
Lewis never really left Sauk Centre and Sauk Centre never really left him. It has been 100 years since he left town at the age of 17 and people are still linking him with his hometown.
While hobnobbing with the cads at Yale or the high society of New York's publishing circles and Hollywood's acting world he still came off as a small town guy. H. L. Mencken said he was a hick and a genius, never really leaving his rural roots even though he partied with the likes of Lord and Lady Astor.
"I have heard them for 17 years and love themThey make me feel that the world and its riches are not worth a sliver of home and its surroundings," wrote Lewis in his diary about the church bells he would miss once he left home.
After Yale, Lewis bounced around working for newspapers and publishing houses learning just what kind of stories sell. He teamed up with a young publisher named Alf Harcourt. Lewis would become an early investor in Harcourt and Brace, which became one of the largest publishing houses in the nation.
Lewis' imagination was legendary. He could spin out story lines like the Beatles spun songs. He began writing short fiction for the Saturday Evening Post. This was the popular magazine with all those beautiful Normal Rockwell paintings on the cover. These stories gave him celebrity status and enough money to live well in rented mansions and travel often with his first wife Gracie.
He had some real foresight into what would become the movie industry because he told Harcourt to give him the movie rights to his books rather than an advance. There would be 88 movies made from his 23 novels of which he made the royalties.
Lewis didn't want to write sweet little magazine articles all this life. He wanted to make a statement and that he did with three controversial novels, Main Street, Babbett and Elmer Gantry. While all his books had important things to say to the people of the roaring twenties they also sold like hot cakes. Main Street was the biggest selling book of its time.