US novelist and the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1930).
Lewis was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and completed his education at Yale, where he first began to write. After working in publishing and journalism, he published his first book, Our Mr Wrenn, in 1914. His subsequent novels until Main Street (1920) were unremarkable, but this book brought him instant recognition and acclaim for its use of caricature and satire to attack many aspects of small-town life in the American midwest. Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927), and Dodsworth (1929) continued in a similar vein, making such institutions as the urban middle class and the church targets for his satirical prose. Lewis was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith in 1926 but refused it, claiming there were worthier contenders than himself, a self-deprecating disclaimer he repeated in his speech accepting the Nobel Prize in Stockholm in 1930. Although he was regarded by many during the 1920s as the leading US novelist, Lewis's reputation has since steadily waned. He continued to perplex many of his admirers by producing several novels that were banal and superficial interspersed with others that were satirical and provocative. He offered no explanation for this unevenness as a writer and in his later years appeared to become increasingly conservative in both his life and his work.