On the 100th anniversary of Saul Bellow's birth, Vivian Gornick reminds us of the writer partially responsible for Bellow's breakthrough novel, The Adventures of Augie March:
Delmore Schwartz is to Jewish-American writing what Richard Wright is to African-American writing. He is the writer without whom, the one whose work most supremely constitutes the bridge between immigrant writing and the writing we now think of as authentically Jewish-American. As such, his work is both moving and instructive. It embodies the step inevitably taken by a marginalized people on their way to cultural equality, the one that requires them to practice imitation at the highest level at the same time that their own native material is subverting the conventional rules of the game.
An epitome of this arriviste generation of Jewish intellectuals, Schwartz was both precocious and reverential, an original and a keeper of the culture. His personality, like that of Bellow’s—shaped by an amalgam of immigrant culture, urban street smarts, and a besotted adoration of European modernism—was marked by a mesmerizing torrent of words that poured incessantly from him. At one and the same time that he was this brilliant, fast-talking New York Jew he was yet imprinted with the conviction that to serve the literary culture formed by modernism was his vocation. Talking with friends in a Greenwich Village cafe, he was where he came from; on the page, he was where he wanted to go.