Finding ‘Augie March’ in Saul Bellow’s Chicago

September 21, 2011

In Saul Bellow’s Chicago of the 1930s and ‘40s there were millinery factories in the Loop and Humboldt Park was more Polish than Puerto Rican.

At age 9, the Nobel laureate immigrated to Chicago from Canada and grew up on the near West Side in a two-flat on Augusta Boulevard. His childhood in the city was fodder for many of his later novels, including Humboldt’s Gift and The Adventures of Augie March, which was recently selected by Chicago Public Library as this fall’s choice for One Book, One Chicago.

Like Bellow, street-smart Augie grows up in Humboldt Park during the Great Depression. As he ages he engages in various business endeavors: stealing books from Carson’s to sell to unsuspecting college students, for example, or smuggling immigrants into the U.S. from Canada. Chicago is a backdrop throughout, and at times, almost a character in the book.

For all the changes the city has seen, many landmarks from Bellow’s Chicago childhood are still recognizable, if not iconic. Jason Lesniewicz, a tour guide for Chicago Neighborhood Tours helped us seek out some sites beloved to Augie, and to Bellow, that still capture the city’s distinctive sense of place. Photos of many locations on the tour along with Lesniewicz's explanations follow.

Saul Bellow's childhood home




Marshall Field's





Palmer House


Reynolds Club


Humboldt Park Lagoon

WBEZ is a media sponsor of One Book, One Chicago. You can see a full listing of related events here.