Saul Bellow biographer makes room for baby

James Atlas postpones publication again.

Published January 20, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

The Saul Bellow-watchers who await James Atlas' biography of the author of "Herzog" will have to wait a little longer. The Random House title, more than 10 years in the making, has been pushed back from April to the fall.

Atlas said the delay has nothing to do with the recent birth of a daughter to the 84-year-old Nobel Prize-winning novelist. "I'm having my own growing pains," Atlas said. "If you've spent 10 years on a book, you can easily get mired in footnotes at the end." As for the news about Bellow's baby, Atlas said that he had "heard about it through the grapevine," and he will incorporate the birth into the biography.

Atlas' book could have followed on the heels of the February release of "Ravelstein," the forthcoming Bellow novel that Atlas says is based on the life of the late Allan Bloom, Bellow's friend and the author of "The Closing of the American Mind."

In terms of contemporary biographical labors of love, Atlas' Bellow book still ranks below Jean Strouse's 15-year work-in-progress, "Morgan: American Financier," and Edmund Morris' dozen-year effort, "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan," but with this new delay Atlas now has a few months on Judith Thurman, who took 10 years to write "Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette." Atlas still has a way to go if he wants to outdo the heavyweights from earlier in the 20th century: Henry James biographer Leon Edel took 20 years. James Joyce biographer Richard Ellman took 17.

In Slate last August, Atlas announced that he had finished the bio. "The book is done," he wrote in a four-word opening paragraph. "From the beginning, the issue of duration loomed. When my agent asked me how long I thought it would take to write the book  I answered cheerfully, '10 years.'"

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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