John Berryman Leapt Here

Mapping the literary landmarks of the Twin Cities

The first of Minnesota's literary titans, Sauk Centre's SINCLAIR LEWIS, made his first trip to the Twin Cities to take his college entrance exams in 1901. While here Lewis stayed at the CLARENDON HOTEL on FIFTH AND WABASHA (SINCE RAZED) IN DOWNTOWN ST. PAUL, and struck up a relationship with poet ARTHUR WHEELOCK UPSON, who became a mentor to the younger writer. Upson was the author of volumes of verse with such titles as Octaves in an Oxford Garden and West Wind Songs, and Lewis visited him in his home at 1217 FIRST AVE. S. in Minneapolis . When Upson drowned in Lake Bemidji in 1908, Lewis was reportedly grief-stricken and wrote "Adonais is dead" in his notebook.

Like a lot of other literary figures associated with Minnesota and the Twin Cities, Lewis came and went throughout his career, retreating back to his home state when he was down on his luck or in need of a quiet place to work. After graduating from Yale and traveling and working in New York for a number of years, Lewis returned to St. Paul with his wife and infant child in 1917, where he rented a house at 516 SUMMIT AVE. S. that he called "The Lemon Meringue Pie." Lewis collaborated with Danny Reed of the LITTLE THEATER ASSOCIATION (RAMSEY AND PLEASANT, ST. PAUL) on the play Hobohemia. The next winter Lewis took up residence across the river, taking a house at 1801 JAMES AVE. S., where he worked at his novel Free Air and continued to talk about and outline Main Street. By the spring of 1919 he was gone again, and with the publication of Main Street in 1920 he would begin his string of commercially and critically successful satires of Mid-American hypocrisy, conformity, and failed ambition that would bring him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930.

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 planning in a public mind--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.

John Vogt

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."

« Previous Page
Next Page »