Sinclair Lewis Becomes the First American to be Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature

In 1930, Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer from the United States to receive the award.

In the Swedish Academy's presentation speech, special attention was paid to Babbitt. In his Nobel Lecture, Lewis praised Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and other contemporaries, but also lamented that "in America most of us — not readers alone, but even writers — are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues," and that America is "the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today." He also offered a profound criticism of the American literary establishment: "Our American professors like their literature clear and cold and pure and very dead."

In 1925 Lewis divorced from his first wife and married three years later Dorothy Thompson, a newspaper correspondent, with whom he traveled to London, Berlin, Vienna, and Moscow. At that time Lewis was drinking heavily, and managed to offend most of his friends. Theodore Dreiser, the other American finalist for the Nobel Prize, was bitterly disappointed, when Lewis won the award. Hwmingway said that the prize should have gone to Ezra Pound or James Joyce.

On the morning of November 5, 1930, Sinclair Lewis got up very late, and he was wandering about his rented Westport house when the telephone rang and an excited voice with a Swedish accent announced to him that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. The voice was that of a Swedish newspaper correspondent in New York who had managed to track down Lewis for the Swedish Embassy, but Lewis thought that it was the voice of his friend Ferd Reyher, who liked to do imitations and play jokes. “Oh, yeah?” he replied. “You don’t say! Listen, Ferd, I can say that better than you. Your Swedish accent’s no good. I’ll repeat it to you.” And he repeated it, “You haf de Nobel Brize,” and more. The bewildered Swede protested in vain and finally called an American to the telephone to confirm the news. Lewis fell into a chair.