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FAQ

3. Why did Sinclair Lewis win the Nobel Prize?

Lewis was very honored to be the first American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy awarded it to him in 1930, because of the five great novels he wrote in the 1920s, Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and Dodsworth. King Gustav gave the prize to Lewis in Stockholm, Sweden, and his second wife, Dorothy Thompson, went with him. Erik Karlfeldt, a poet and secretary of the Academy, introduced Lewis during the prize presentation in a lengthy survey of his five major novels. Karlfeldt applauded Lewis for, among many things, his criticism of American institutions and industry, his satire, and of course, his writing style. Karlfeldt noted Lewis's mastery of language in the character development of Babbitt.

Lewis delivered his famous Nobel Lecture to the Academy on December 12, one day after receiving the Prize. His speech, entitled "The American Fear of Literature," was reprinted widely and caused an enormous uproar in the United States. In it, Lewis criticized the literary standards and limited nature of acclaimed literature in America. He also generously acknowledged other authors including Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Eugene O'Neill, and Ernest Hemingway.

After receiving the Prize, Lewis was asked two major questions: what was he going to do with the money and why would he accept the Nobel Prize, but not the Pulitzer. He told the media that he was going to use the money to support a young American author and his family (a private joke: he was referring to himself). Lewis gave two reasons as to why he accepted the Nobel Prize: the Nobel Prize had fewer commercial strings attached and the award was based on a career, not one novel.

Sinclair Lewis and the The Nobel Prize in Literature