Lewis, the son of a doctor, was born in the small Minnesota town he later reinvented in his novel MAIN STREET. He tried to enlist in the Spanish-American War when he was 13, but was brought back home by his distraught parents. He attended the local public schools, after which he went to Yale, where he never really felt accepted. He left in 1906 without a degree to work at Helicon Hall, Upton Sinclair's Utopian community, followed by an impulsive interlude when he traveled to Panama hoping (in vain) to help build the canal. He returned to Yale, however, and finally graduated in 1908. He then spent several years working at odd jobs and writing for newspapers as he traveled the U.S. He also began to write fiction, most of it negligible. In the 1920s he began to produce the handful of novels that would ensure his place in literary history, beginning with MAIN STREET (1920), which was enormously successful, selling hundreds of thousands of copies; it was followed by BABBITT (1922), ARROWSMITH (1925), ELMER GANTRY (1927), and DODSWORTH (1929), most of them satirical critiques of American middle-class complacency. All these novels were popular best-sellers, and contributed to America's postwar de-sentimentalized view of itself. After he became a literary lion, Lewis taught at Midwestern universities. He was married and divorced twice; his second wife was the well-known newspaperwoman Dorothy Thompson. When he became ill, in his mid-60s, he moved to Italy, where he died at 65 of heart disease. Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1930 "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters." Lewis famously described himself as "a dull fellow whose virtue--if there is any--is to be found in his books."