John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

By 1942 Lewis's career was on a downward slide, and he once more returned to the Twin Cities to take a teaching job at the University of Minnesota and an office (301 FOLWELL HALL, 9 PLEASANT ST. SE) on campus. Writing in his diary shortly after his return, Lewis noted, "At first sight, Minneapolis is so ugly...no planning in a public mind--no soul...no style." Lewis was a wealthy man by this time, and he moved into a large house at 1500 MOUNT CURVE AVE. atop Lowry Hill, where every Sunday evening from five until the wee hours his students were invited to stop by to discuss their work.

Mark Schorer's 1961 biography of Lewis includes this merciless entry from the diary of Eva Holmquist, one of the humbled Nobel laureate's students at the time: "He is a most astonishing man, extremely ugly, with his very high and broad forehead tapering down to a narrow face to a sharp chin--red scarred complexion--ugly buck teeth, many filled and missing--ugly eyes peering out from over the top of his glasses."

THE UNIVERSITY'S ENGLISH DEPARTMENT, under the direction of JOSEPH WARREN BEACH, was in its heyday at this time, and the Twin Cities literary scene was as lively as it had ever been, invigorated by the socialist politics of the period and a confluence of colorful characters.

ROBERT PENN WARREN had come aboard in the department at about the same time as Sinclair Lewis, and had moved into an apartment (NUMBER 405) AT 3124 W. CALHOUN BLVD.. Lewis and Penn Warren, who was then a rising star, apparently regarded each other warily, and they seldom socialized. The much younger Penn Warren would publish All the King's Men (and win the Pulitzer Prize) during his time at the university. Another Nobel laureate, SAUL BELLOW, would teach in the English department at the tail end of Penn Warren's stay; Bellow was an assistant professor from 1948 to 1949, and an associate professor from 1954 to 1959.

The home of BEACH, the longtime English-department head, at 1801 UNIVERSITY AVE. SE, was a lively focal point of the local literary scene during his many years at the university, and the site of countless parties with colorful guests and plentiful liquor.

St. Paul's most celebrated literary export, F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, left a trail of landmarks all over the capital city, beginning with the three-story brick apartment building at 481 LAUREL AVE. where he was born on September 24, 1896. Fitzgerald attended ST. PAUL ACADEMY (1712 RANDOLPH AVE.),where he was a debate star and published his first story, "The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage" in Now and Then, the school paper. He was generally described as an indifferent student, and his small stature thwarted his athletic aspirations.

During Fitzgerald's school years, his family seemed to be constantly on the move, shuttling around to various apartments and houses in the same basic neighborhood. From September 1909 through September 1911, the family lived at three different addresses on the same street--499, 509, AND 514 HOLLY AVE.. Fitzgerald took dancing classes at RAMALEY HALL (664-668 GRAND AVE.), and he wrote four plays for schoolmate Elizabeth Magoffin's Elizabethan Dramatic Club, including "The Captured Shadow," which was produced at MRS. BACKUS'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS (580-90 HOLLY AVE.). The "Basil Duke Lee" stories were inspired by Fitzgerald's adolescence and the family's social circle among St. Paul's Summit Avenue community. He also attended frequent sledding parties and other social events at the TOWN AND COUNTRY CLUB (2279 MARSHALL AVE.), where in 1915 he met Ginerva King, the first love of his life. Fitzgerald kept every letter King ever wrote him, and he had them typed and bound. According to John Koblas in F. Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, "until the end of his days the thought of her could bring tears to his eyes."

In 1919, after Zelda broke off their engagement, Fitzgerald retreated to his parents' home at 599 SUMMIT AVE., where he finished his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which was accepted by Maxwell Perkins at Scribner's in September 1919. Fitzgerald's St. Paul social life revolved around W. A. FROST'S PHARMACY at 374 SELBY AVE., where he would retreat for cigarettes and caffeine, and KILMARNOCK BOOKS at 84 E. FOURTH ST.. Kilmarnock was owned by writers THOMAS AND PEGGY BOYD. Thomas Boyd, a World War I veteran, was the author of Through the Wheat, which Fitzgerald called the "best war book since Red Badge of Courage." Boyd was also the literary editor at the St. Paul Daily News, and his downtown bookstore was the longtime meeting place for local and visiting literary figures, including Sinclair Lewis.

MARY MCCARTHY spent many of her formative years in Minneapolis, and they were largely unhappy ones. In 1918, days after the family's arrival by train from Seattle, both of McCarthy's parents died of Spanish influenza, leaving behind four young children. Mary was six at the time, and the oldest child, and she recounts the horrors of those years in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. After the death of her parents, McCarthy and her siblings were packed off to live with her grandmother's sister, Margaret Shriver, and her abusive husband Myers. The family lived at 2427 BLAISDELL AVE. S. and Mary found refuge at ST. STEPHEN'S CHURCH AND SCHOOL (22ND STREET AND CLINTON AVENUE SOUTH), where she won first prize in a statewide contest for her essay "The Irish in American History." Six years later McCarthy's three brothers were sent away to boarding school and Mary went to Seattle to live with her maternal grandparents. She went on to become a prolific and influential novelist (The Group), critic, and literary celebrity (she was married for a time to writer and critic Edmund Wilson).

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