Saul Bellow Archives Reveal ‘Softer Side’ of Nobel Laureate

Nobel laureate Saul Bellow's papers are now available at the University of Chicago's library. (Courtesy of University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center)Nobel laureate Saul Bellow's papers are now available at the University of Chicago's library. (Courtesy of University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center)

The newly opened archives of the late University of Chicago professor Saul Bellow highlight the prolific author’s philosophy on the arts, and his approach to personal relationships and the creative process.

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Along with notebooks filled to the spine and drafts of Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work are personal correspondence between the author and his family, colleagues and former roommates, including novelist Ralph Ellison.

According to Ashley Gosselar, who spent a full year organizing and summarizing the contents of the archive, the correspondence between Bellow and Ellison covers “the mundane to the profound.”

“Ralph writes pages and pages about his philosophy on art and writing, and concludes with, ‘Oh by the way I bought a rake for housework,’” Gosselar said with a laugh.

The archive also portrays a side of Bellow that was often not depicted through his work, or in interviews and lectures.

“The correspondence is a window into a softer side of Bellow. They really exemplify how close a lot of his friendships were,” Gosselar said.

Bellow’s archives, which comprise more than 250 boxes and span 141 linear feet, are among 124 collections on literature and poetry housed in the University of Chicago Library.

Though news of the collection has so far been met with interest from researchers, professors and faculty, Gosselar believes the general public could also glean insight from perusing the collection.

“Bellow wrote about and lectured on the role of the artist in American culture and felt that art had the power to transcend the present and speak to universal truths,” Gosselar said. “The time is ripe to revisit his work.”

Others appear to agree. In a New York Times interview published in January, then-President Barack Obama cited Bellow’s work as being “steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn, a visiting fellow at the University of Chicago, is currently working on a stage adaptation of Bellow’s award-winning 1953 novel “The Adventures of Augie March.” The production is set to open next summer at the Court Theatre in Hyde Park.  

While elements of Bellow’s legacy continue to be re-examined, the archive provides the public with a more complete view of the Canadian-born author.

“That really is the beautiful thing about archives, they document the arch of a life,” Gosselar said. 

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