Authors: Upton Sinclair

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

American novelist, dramatist, journalist, and essayist

September 20, 1878

Baltimore, Maryland

November 25, 1968

Bound Brook, New Jersey

Biography

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 20, 1878, Upton Sinclair moved with his family to New York City in 1888 and began his career as a prodigy. He finished secondary school when he was twelve and became a student at the City College of New York at the age of fourteen. From the age of fifteen he supported himself in part by writing stories for the pulp magazines. After graduating from City College in the middle of his class, Sinclair attended Columbia University from 1897 to 1900. He had intended to become a lawyer but became interested in literature and left Columbia without a graduate degree. He married Meta Fuller in 1900 and began to write novels. His first five books, published between 1901 and 1906, gave him little encouragement, for they produced together less than a thousand dollars.

Before leaving college Sinclair had become a socialist, and his political views influenced his writing. His first fame came in 1906 with the publication of The Jungle, a fictionalized exposé of the Chicago stockyards. Originally serialized in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, The Jungle attracted immediate worldwide attention and is said to have hastened the passing of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. With his profits from the book, Sinclair founded Helicon Hall, a cooperative community near Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; it burned down in March, 1907.

Upton Sinclair

ext-link-type="db-image"

xlink:href="ph_0111206440-Sinclair.jpg"/>

(Library of Congress)

Sinclair continued to write at a furious pace, also becoming a publisher during 1918-1919 with Upton Sinclair’s Magazine and the Jungle Publishing firm in Pasadena, California. Beginning with The Profits of Religion in 1918, he wrote a series of nonfictional works on the effects of capitalism in the United States from a socialist viewpoint. The series, which has the collective title The Dead Hand, reviewed such phases of American culture as schools, colleges, newspapers, publishing, art, and literature.

Sinclair had difficulties in both his private and public life. He was divorced in 1911 and remarried in 1913. In 1915 he and his second wife, poet Mary Craig Kimbrough, moved to California. In 1923 Sinclair founded the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In the 1930’s he led the movement End Poverty in California (EPIC). Several times he ran for political office, seeking seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. He also ran for the governorship of California, twice as a Socialist Party candidate and once, in 1934, as a Democratic nominee.

In his novels of the period 1917-1940, Sinclair explored many areas of contemporary life. King Coal described conditions in the Colorado coal fields. Oil! described life in the oil fields of California, with looks also at the young motion picture industry. It drew upon the true story of tycoon Edward L. Doheny and the Teapot Dome scandal. Decades after Sinclair's death, in 2007, the novel was loosely adapted into the Oscar-winning film There Will Be Blood. Boston, his fictionalized response to the Sacco-Vanzetti case, was published in 1928, a year after the men were executed. Little Steel described conditions and strikes in the steel mills during the 1930’s. Concerned with issues of poverty, pure food, population control, and prostitution, Sinclair corresponded with several influential reformers, including Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, and Theodore Dreiser.

During the years between 1940 and 1953, Sinclair labored at a series of novels relating world events from 1913 to 1950, including World War I, the peace negotiations after that war, the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the Spanish Civil War, the Munich debacle, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election and reelections, World War II, and the aftermath of World War II. The whole series is tied together picaresquely and romantically by the character of Lanny Budd, son of a wealthy munitions manufacturer. Lanny Budd, a young man with socialist leanings, travels far and wide, meets many people, and happens usually to be at the right spot at the right time (he even serves as a special agent for Roosevelt). Dragon’s Teeth, which portrayed Lanny in Germany from 1929 to 1934, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

Works published by Sinclair in the 1950’s include Another Pamela, a twentieth-century version of Samuel Richardson’s novel about virtue rewarded, and A Personal Jesus, Sinclair’s own interpretation of Jesus. The Cup of Fury, published in 1956, is an analysis of the effects of alcohol, with the conclusion that other writers, had they abstained from liquor as Sinclair did, would have been greater writers and would have written much more. The book is, in effect, an old-fashioned temperance tract, an attempt to reform.

After the death of his second wife on April 26, 1961, Sinclair married May Hard on October 15, 1961, in Milwaukee. She died in December, 1967. Sinclair died a year later on November 25, 1968, in a New Jersey nursing home; he was ninety years old.

Sinclair's legacy remained strong decades after his death. His works have been translated into dozens of languages and were often more popular abroad than in the United States because of their political content; at times Sinclair employed pseudonyms, among them Clarke Fitch, Frederick Garrison, and Arthur Stirling. In 2009, a posthumous volume of Sinclair's previously unpublished stories and essays concerning suffrage, health, and marriage was released. His passionate concern for the issues facing ordinary Americans lives on as well through the works of twenty-first-century creative nonfiction writers and filmmakers.

Author Works Long Fiction: Springtime and Harvest, 1901 Prince Hagen, 1903 The Journal of Arthur Stirling, 1903 Manassas, 1904 (revised as Theirs Be the Guilt, 1959) The Jungle, 1906 A Captain of Industry, 1906 The Overman, 1907 The Metropolis, 1908 The Moneychangers, 1908 Samuel the Seeker, 1910 Love’s Pilgrimage, 1911 Sylvia, 1913 Sylvia’s Marriage, 1914 King Coal, 1917 Jimmie Higgins, 1919 100%, 1920 They Call Me Carpenter, 1922 Oil! A Novel, 1927 Boston, 1928 Mountain City, 1930 Roman Holiday, 1931 The Wet Parade, 1931 Co-op, 1936 The Flivver King, 1937 No Pasaran! , 1937 Little Steel, 1938 Our Lady, 1938 World’s End, 1940 Between Two Worlds, 1941 Dragon’s Teeth, 1942 Wide Is the Gate, 1943 Presidential Agent, 1944 Dragon Harvest, 1945 A World to Win, 1946 Presidential Mission, 1947 One Clear Call, 1948 O Shepherd, Speak!, 1949 Another Pamela: Or, Virtue Still Rewarded, 1950 The Return of Lanny Budd, 1953 What Didymus Did, 1954 It Happened to Didymus, 1958 Affectionately Eve, 1961 Drama: Plays of Protest, pb. 1912 Hell: A Verse Drama and Photo-Play, pb. 1923 The Millennium, pb. 1924 The Pot Boiler, pb. 1924 Singing Jailbirds, pb. 1924 Bill Porter, pb. 1925 Wally for Queen!, pb. 1936 Marie Antoinette, pb. 1939 A Giant’s Strength, pr., pb. 1948 Nonfiction: Our Bourgeois Literature, 1904 The Industrial Republic, 1907 The Fasting Cure, 1911 The Profits of Religion, 1918 The Brass Check: A Study in American Journalism, 1919 The Book of Life, Mind, and Body, 1921 The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education, 1923 The Goslings: A Study of the American Schools, 1924 Mammonart, 1925 Letters to Judd, 1925 Money Writes!, 1927 Mental Radio, 1930 American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences, 1932 I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty, 1933 The Way Out—What Lies Ahead for America?, 1933 The EPIC Plan for California, 1934 What God Means to Me, 1936 Terror in Russia: Two Views, 1938 Expect No Peace!, 1939 A Personal Jesus, 1952 The Cup of Fury, 1956 My Lifetime in Letters, 1960 The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair, 1962 Children’s/Young Adult Literature: The Gnomobile: A Gnice Gnew Gnarrative with Gnonsense, but Gnothing Gnaughty, 1936 Miscellaneous: Unseen Upton Sinclair: Nine Unpublished Stories, Essays and Other Works, 2009 (Ruth Clifford Engs, editor) Bibliography Arthur, Anthony. Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair. New York: Random House, 2006. A well-researched, balanced and thorough portrait of Sinclair that tracks the ups and downs of his career and personal life. Includes 16 pages of black and white photos. Bloodworth, William A. Upton Sinclair. Boston: Twayne, 1977. This short, sympathetic, yet balanced literary biography examines Sinclair’s place in American literary radicalism and the writer as social activist. Includes a bibliography. Colburn, David R., and George E. Pozzetta, eds. Reform and Reformers in the Progressive Era. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983. Examines Sinclair’s position as a muckraker and his role in inspiring Progressive reforms. Unlike other journalistic writers, Sinclair was personally and ideologically committed. Dell, Floyd. Upton Sinclair: A Study in Social Protest. New York: AMS Press, 1970. Dell’s treatment of Sinclair’s career analyzes the apparent discrepancy between his literary position in the United States and throughout the rest of the world. Personal incidents and psychological insights are intertwined with evaluations and interpretations of specific works. Contains a bibliography of out-of-print books and an index. Harris, Leon. Upton Sinclair: American Rebel. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975. Traces Sinclair’s rise from obscurity to fame, with his subsequent decline in popularity. The text provides interesting information regarding source materials for some of his novels. A section of photographs, extensive notes, a list of Sinclair’s books, and an index complete the book. Herms, Dieter, ed. Upton Sinclair: Literature and Social Reform. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. This is a collection of papers from the Upton Sinclair World Conference of July, 1988, at the University of Bremen. Includes bibliographical references. Mitchell, Greg. The Campaign of the Century. New York: Random House, 1992. At 665 pages, this excellently researched book details Sinclair’s 1934 gubernatorial campaign from August to November, stressing the media’s key role in defeating Sinclair and ushering in a new era of media politics. Includes notes. Mookerjee, R. N. Art for Social Justice: The Major Novels of Upton Sinclair. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1988. Mookerjee, a critic of writers of the 1930’s, provides a reevaluation of The Jungle, King Coal, Oil! A Novel, Boston, and the Lanny Budd series. This slender volume is a reminder of the pioneering role of Sinclair in the “documentary novel.” Contains a selected bibliography. Olsson, Karen. "Welcome to the Jungle." Slate, 10 July 2006, www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2006/07/welcome_to_the_jungle.html. Accessed 23 May 2017. Reflects on the intention behind and literary and societal legacies of The Jungle, Sinclair's signature work. Scott, Ivan. Upton Sinclair: The Forgotten Socialist. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. See especially chapters 1 and 2, “The Formation of Genius” and “The Jungle.” In his introduction, Scott makes a good case for Sinclair’s importance. A sound scholarly biography, drawing extensively on the Sinclair collection at Lilly Library, the University of Indiana. Yoder, Jon A. Upton Sinclair. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. Like some other critics, Yoder attributes Sinclair’s “meager reputation” in part to his socialistic views. Five chapters in this volume examine various facets of the novelist’s life and career. Includes a chronology, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Categories: Authors