University Communications

  • Sinclair Lewis standing in the door of his house in Duluth

University Archives and Sinclair Lewis Exhibit

University Archives assets on display with Sinclair Lewis Exhibit

The Sinclair Lewis exhibit is finally open at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul where it is on display through Dec. 31.

Sinclair Lewis: 100 Years of Main Street” was due to open in fall for the 100th anniversary of Lewis’ “Main Street”, but it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It opened this April and is engaging visitors as one of three featured exhibits. 

Amid the many artifacts on display are images, letters and signed editions of books from the Sinclair Lewis collection at the University Archives, including a telegram from Rome to his brother Claude in St. Cloud informing of Lewis’ death.

St. Cloud State scanned many images for inclusion in the exhibit, said Tom Steman, St. Cloud State archivist.

“I know of people who wish Lewis was out there more and people knew more about him. He’s fallen out of favor a bit,” Steman said.

Sinclair Lewis is a Nobel Prize-winning Minnesota author. Lewis was born in Sauk Centre and also lived for a time in Minneapolis and Duluth. He was the first American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.

The exhibit was developed by Patrick Coleman, who made a visit to St. Cloud State University Archives to look through the Lewis collection.

“He wants people to rediscover Lewis because he is kind of forgotten,” Steman said. “He was a Minnesotan and a worthy author.”

The majority of the artifacts in the exhibit come from the Minnesota Historical Society’s own collection and the Sinclair Lewis Center in Sauk Centre, along with artifacts on loan from Yale, including Lewis’ Nobel Prize, and the University of Minnesota.

Besides the anniversary of “Main Street” Lewis’ popularity is on the rise with people seeing his continued relevancy in current events. Lewis' “It Can’t Happen Here” gained popularity during President Donald Trump’s presidency, and “Arrowsmith” is striking a cord during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To coincide with the exhibit, University Archives graduate assistant and Public History student Marissa Hendrickson developed "Sinclair Lewis in Duluth" a primary source set for the Minnesota Digital Library focusing on Lewis' time living in Duluth through images and letters.   

The artifacts included in the exhibit were gifted by Lewis to his brother, Claude, who lived in the Lewis House, which is now part of the St. Cloud State University campus and houses the University Foundation. Claude’s family donated the books, photographs, letters, papers and other archival items to St. Cloud State.

The Sinclair Lewis Collection at St. Cloud State also includes letters that Lewis sent to girlfriend Marcella Powers, letters he sent to a former student, and papers from his friend Ida Compton.

The exhibit isn’t the first time the University Archives collection has been called upon, Steman said. People have come to the collection to learn about Lewis, research for a biography, and hear recordings of his voice.