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From the Archive: Chicago Author and Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow

Daniel Hautzinger
Saul Bellow in his portrait from his book 'Herzog'
The portrait of Saul Bellow from his 1964 novel 'Herzog,' which became a number one bestseller and won a National Book Award. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jeff Lowenthal. Published by Viking Press

American Masters: The Adventures of Saul Bellow premieres on WTTW Monday, December 12 at 8:00 pm and will be available to stream. 

"I am an American, Chicago born," Saul Bellow'sThe Adventures of Augie March famously begins. While Bellow himself was born in Quebec, he grew up in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, attended both the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, taught at the University of Chicago—where many of his papers now reside—and set many of his books here. Chicago "is a sort of central character in his fiction," Bellow's biographer told Chicago Tonight in 2018. Bellow even started work on a nonfiction book about Chicago before eventually using some of its material in his 1982 novel The Dean's December.

Bellow ended up only writing one long-form nonfiction book, and it wasn't about Chicago. 1976's To Jerusalem and Back was based on reporting from a sojourn in Jerusalem. He won two prestigious prizes that same year: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for Humboldt's Gift, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Coincidentally, his University of Chicago colleague and fellow influential conservative Milton Friedman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences the same year.) Soon after all those events, he appeared on WTTW's Book Beat and discussed the sudden attention forced upon him in the wake of the Nobel—attention he, as a private man with a complicated personal life (he married five times), did not welcome.