I have only one gripe about Chicago’s otherwise meritorious city-wide literary program, “One Book, One Chicago.” It is that not enough of Chicago’s great authors, with their Chicago-based settings are selected. Of the twenty selections thus far over the last ten years, only four have been written by Chicago authors, and only two, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and the current pick, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March happen to be novels.
Missing is an American classic such as Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, depicting a young woman’s loss of innocence in late nineteenth century Chicago. What about the scathing muckraking novels of Upton Sinclair and Frank Norris? Sinclair’s The Jungle is internationally acclaimed, but still it hasn’t made it to the “One Book, One Chicago” selection list.
Who better depicts, in fictive form, the rampant raciam tearing Chicago asunder in the Depression era than James T. Farrell and Richard Wright? The three novels in Farrell’s Studs Lonigan Trilogy comprise a panoramic tale of a young Irish Chicagoan coming of age. He leaves the narrow-minded ethnic enclave of Washington Park, and finds himself metaphorically transported to a new world, Hyde Park, diverse and open, yet only a mile long trip in distance from his boyhood home.
Richard Wright’s Native Son is a brilliant, yet agonizing portrayal of Bigger Thomas, a tormented young black man trapped in a hostile world. The story is hard hitting, resonating with the rhythms pulsating from the underbelly of Chicago’s Black Metropolis.
And finally what about Nelson Algren, the chronicler of Chicago’s down and out, whose nitty-gritty characters in such works as Neon Wilderness and The Man with the Golden Arm remain legend in Chicago’s urban literary mosaic?