Sinclair Lewis (February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) was an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. In 1930, he became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American society and capitalist values, as well as their strong characterizations of modern working women.
Born Harry Sinclair Lewis in the village of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, he began reading books at a young age and kept a diary. He had two siblings, Fred (born 1875) and Claude (born 1878). His father, Edwin J. Lewis, was a physician and, at home, a stern disciplinarian who had difficulty relating to his sensitive, unathletic third son. Lewis's mother, Emma Kermott Lewis, died in 1891. The following year, Edwin Lewis married Isabel Warner, whose company young Lewis apparently enjoyed. Throughout his lonely boyhood, the ungainly Lewis — tall, extremely thin, stricken with acne and somewhat popeyed — had trouble gaining friends and pined after various local girls. At the age of 13, he unsuccessfully ran away from home, wanting to become a drummer boy in the Spanish-American War.
In late 1902, Lewis left home for a year at Oberlin Academy (the then-preparatory department of Oberlin College) to qualify for acceptance by Yale University. While at Oberlin, he developed a religious enthusiasm that waxed and waned for much of his remaining teenage years. He entered Yale in 1903 but did not receive his bachelor's degree until 1908, having taken time off to work at Helicon Home Colony, Upton Sinclair's cooperative-living colony in Englewood, New Jersey, and to travel to Panama. Lewis's unprepossessing looks, "fresh" country manners, and seemingly self-important loquacity did not make it any easier for him to win and keep friends at Oberlin or Yale than in Sauk Centre. Some of his crueler Yale classmates joked "that he was the only man in New Haven who could fart out of his face". Nevertheless, he did manage to initiate a few relatively long-lived friendships among students and professors, some of whom recognized his promise as a writer.