Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Fourth Annual Induction Ceremony

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The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is approaching, and the program lineup is outstanding. Thomas Dyja, the author of The Third Coast will be presenting for Ben Hecht. There will will be a rendition of one of his 1001 Afternoons in Chicago performed by Strawdog Theater and Contemporary Music.

Sculptor Richard Hunt will be presenting for Leon Forrest and Marco the Poet will be performing from Forrest’s novel, Divine Days. Author Rosellen Brown presents for Edna Ferber, while diva Lynne Jordan performs a song from Showboat. Ms. Jordan will also perform for honoree John H. Johnson.

Young adult author Blue Balliett is presenting for L. Frank Baum, while actor David Eigenberg from the TV show, Chicago Fire, does a reading from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Bob Baum will accept for his great grandfather. Penelope Niven presents Thornton Wilder, while Joe Meno does a reading from Wilder. Wilder’s nephew, Tappan Wilder will accept for his uncle.

The ceremony will be at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall (7th Floor), 430 S. Michigan, at 7:00 pm on Saturday evening, December 7. Tickets for the event are free, available through the CLHOF website, http://www.chicagoliteraryhof.org

 

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Farewell Ms. Lessing

Yesterday, I was greatly saddened learning about the death of author Doris Lessing. Ms. Lessing, along with Iris Murdoch and Nadine Gordimer represented a trio of brilliant British and colonial women authors who were born in the aftermath of the First World War and came into young adulthood at the onset of the Second World War. Now only Ms. Gordimer, the South African, is still with us.

All three of these women were proudly independent in a male-dominated world, and all three became actively engaged in leftist politics, with Lessing and Murdoch actually joining the Communist Party. Lessing and Gordimer won Nobel Prizes in Literature, and Gordimer and Murdoch won Booker Prizes.  If the Booker Prize were around in 1962, I am sure Ms. Lessing would have won it for The Golden Notebook.

Although she was a Londoner for more than sixty years, Doris Lessing never felt completely at home in England. She always claimed that the British never accepted her as one of their own. Her nearly thirty years living in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) shaped her personality and allowed her, like Gordimer, to identify with the Black African majority in her country.

Farewell Ms. Lessing. You were truly one of the great literary grande dames of our times.

I’m Teaching Two New Classes

I will be teaching two new classes in the upcoming 2014 Spring Session (although it really isn’t Spring) at the Oakton Community College’s noncredit Emeritus Program “for the student who wasn’t born yesterday.” The first class is “Midnight’s Children: A Closer Look” and will explore, in six Tuesday morning sessions (10-11:30 am), Salman Rushdie’s masterpiece that has been selected twice as “best of the Booker Prize winners.” The class begins on January 21 and ends on February 25. The other class offering is “Chicago in the 1950s” which delves into the significant cultural, political and social changes of the Second City in that mid-century decade. This class, also in six early afternoon sessions (12-1:30 pm) also begins on January 21 and ends on February 25. For full class descriptions and to register online (beginning Monday, November 18) go to http://www.oakton.edu/conted.

THE LUMINARIES

This week I finished reading Eleanor Catton’s 2013 Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Luminaries. For the most part, I liked it very much. However it took awhile for me to get into the 830 page book. I found the first two hundred pages to be somewhat lumbering and confusing, as Catton introduced a dozen or so principal characters into the narrative at a rapid pace. It takes a bit to sort everything out, but half way through the book I truly became involved as the plot developed nicely through the various intricate interconnections among the characters.

Set in the rough and tumble of the campsites and boom towns of the New Zealand Gold Rush of 1865-1866, The Luminaries is Catton’s homage to the great period novels of Charles Dickens. The characters are cast in a Victorian aura, seemingly lurking in the shadows of the day and night. Catton’s italicized brief summaries before the narrative of each chapter is also a nice Dickensian literary device.

I especially liked the author’s empathetic treatment of the two Chinese and the one Maori among the principal characters. She avoids stereotyping, and the individuality and humanity of each of them were strongly evidenced as the story unfolds.

At its heart, the book is a basically an astrologically fated match between two unlikely lovers interwoven into a complex solving of a murder mystery. Catton’s writing is beautifully stylistic and so incredibly imitative in cadence and tone to fine writing a century and half ago. Such a talent deserves the highest recognition, and this year the Man Booker Committee judged Eleanor Catton to be the recipient of its Prize.