Saul Bellow, a giant among post-World War II American novelists, whose body of work won him the Pulitzer Prize, three National Book Awards, and the Nobel Prize for Literature, died Tuesday at his home in the Boston suburb of Brookline, his lawyer announced. The author of such landmarks as Humboldt’s Gift, Seize the Day, and Herzog was 89 and succumbed to natural causes.
Bellow was born in Montreal but grew up and went to college in Chicago, which became his literary home and the setting of many of his novels. His heroes were often raffish Chicago types based on his friends (or himself), brash men who wrestled with big ideas and big issues. His prose style was a jazzy, dazzling, seemingly improvisational performance, mixing high and low culture, the intellectual and the sexual, the university and the street.
After 1950s novels like The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day, and Henderson the Rain King put Bellow on the literary map, critics tended to link him with other pace-setting Jewish-American novelists (Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer, and later, Philip Roth), though he resented being ghettoized. The success of 1975’s Humboldt’s Gift seemed to take care of that; a year later, he won the Pulitzer for that book and the Nobel Prize, which put him in the rarefied company of Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Faulkner.
Bellow was productive through his last years, in more ways than one. He published his last novel, Ravelstein, in 2000, followed by Collected Stories in 2001. He taught at the University of Chicago and, after he moved to Brookline in 1993, at Boston University. In 1999, when he was 84, he fathered a daughter, Naomi, by his fifth wife, Janis Freedman. Upon his death, Roth paid him tribute, saying in a statement, ”The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists: William Faulkner and Saul Bellow. Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century.”