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Saul Bellow

Series: Literary Arts

First Day of Issue Date: February 6, 2024

First Day of Issue Location: Chicago, IL

About This Stamp

With this 34th stamp in the Literary Arts series, the U.S. Postal Service honors novelist Saul Bellow (1915–2005). The recipient of three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize, Bellow is widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. In his novels, he took on large themes, including the pressures of modern material culture, the role of the artist in modern society, and the nature of American identity. The stamp art features a portrait of Saul Bellow with a Chicago street scene in the background. Bellow wears a fedora, white turtleneck, and dark jacket. Behind him are skyscrapers, with the “L‘‘ train running between the buildings. The portrait of Bellow was based on photographs from 1982.

With his subtle analysis of modern culture and the immigrant experience, Bellow considered himself a historian of the American identity. Many of his main characters were based on friends and family and indeed on himself and events in his own life. His novels feature bookish intellectuals and dreamers in search of meaning in a materialistic, sometimes disorienting world, rendered with comic gusto as well as fierce criticism.

In 1954 Bellow received a National Book Award for his third novel, The Adventures of Augie March (1953). Unlike the more controlled and conventionally literary style of his first two novels, Augie March is written in a freewheeling comic vernacular, mixing high and low culture, that is exemplified in the book’s famous opening line: “I am an American, Chicago born Chicago, that somber city and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.” Bellow would be associated with this style, which many regarded as groundbreaking, throughout his career.

Bellow was honored with two more National Book Awards — for Herzog (1964) and for Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970). In 1976 he received a Pulitzer Prize for Humboldt’s Gift (1975) as well as the Nobel Prize in Literature “for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work.“ The National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States government, was bestowed on him in 1988. In 1990, he was awarded the National Book Foundation's Lifetime Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Established in 2009 in memory of the author, the PEN/Saul Bellow Award was given biennially through 2018 to a living American author whose career achievements in fiction put him or her into the highest rank of American literature.

Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamp with original art by Joe Ciardiello.

The words “THREE OUNCE“ on this stamp indicate its usage value. Like a Forever® stamp, this stamp will always be valid for the rate printed on it.

Stamp Art Director, Stamp Designer

Ethel Kessler

Ethel Kessler is an award-winning designer and art director who has worked with corporations, museums, public and private institutions, professional service organizations, and now, the United States Postal Service.  

After earning a B.F.A. in visual communications from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Kessler worked as a graphic designer and project manager for the exhibits division of the United States Information Agency. Her work was distributed internationally on subjects such as Immigration, Entrepreneurship, Renovation of American Cities, and the Bicentennial of 1976. She was also responsible for exhibits in Morocco, Botswana, and El Salvador. 

In 1981, she established Kessler Design, Inc., for which she is creative director and designer. Clients have included the Clinton Government reorganization, the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic Television, the National Park Service, and the American Institute of Architects.

She has been an art director for the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp development program for more than 25 years. As an art director for USPS, Kessler has been responsible for creating more than 500 stamp designs, including the Breast Cancer Research stamp illustrated by Whitney Sherman. Issued in 1998, the stamp is still on sale and has raised more $98 million for breast cancer research. Other Kessler projects include the popular and highly regarded Nature of America 120 stamp series, a collaboration with nationally acclaimed nature illustrator John Dawson, the 12-year Lunar New Year series with Kam Mak, the American Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes 10 stamps issued in 2003, a 2016 pane of stamps celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and the 2023 stamp honoring Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And many, many others. 

Stamp Illustrator

Joe Ciardiello

A freelance illustrator since 1974, Joe Ciardiello has worked for most major magazines and newspapers as well as for corporate and advertising clients, book publishers, and record companies.

Clients have included Alta Journal, American Express, Barnes & Noble, Capitol Records, The NationThe New York Times Book ReviewThe New Yorker, Penguin/Random House, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone, and Time.

Among Ciardiello’s awards is the prestigious Hamilton King Award from the Society of Illustrators. His book, A Fistful of Drawings, was published by Fantagraphics in 2019.

A former New Yorker, Joe has lived in western New Jersey for the past 21 years. The Saul Bellow stamp is his first project for the U.S. Postal Service.

First Day of Issue Ceremony

First Day of Issue Date: February 6, 2024
First Day of Issue Location: Chicago, IL

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