Willard Motley


Willard Motley will be inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame on December 6, 2014. Motley’s first novel, Knock on Any Door, is on the short list of the greatest Chicago novels ever written. This African-American writer brilliantly creates the story of Italian- American Nick Romano, a street thug who eventually murders. This book also has the best fictional account of life and death in Chicago’s Depression-Era Skid Row.

Motley began his career writing the Bud Billiken column for the Chicago Defender newspaper for eighteen months in the early 1920s. In the 1930s, he co-founded Hull House Magazine. From 1940-43 he worked for the WPA Federal Writers Project, where he gathered much of his material for Knock on Any Door, which was published in 1947 and achieved instant success. Although his subsequent literary achievements never measured up to his first novel, Motley remains a legendary Chicago writer.motley

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The Cliff Dwellers Book Club

We have completed an extremely successful inaugural year of the Cliff Dwellers Book Club. Our participants are truly committed to the art of lively conversation, and we had eleven engaging and memorable sessions. We begin at 11:00 am, once a month, usually on the fourth Saturday of the month. Many of us continue the conversation over lunch at the club. The selection of our books is a mix of Chicago authors, past and present. This year five of the authors joined us for the discussions.The 2015 reading list is listed below. If you want more information about the book club, please feel free to email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com.

January 24- The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow

February 28- 47th Street Black, Bayo Ojikutu

March 28 – Never Come Morning, Nelson Algren

April 25—Trumbull Park, Frank London Brown

May 30– Shall We Not Revenge, D.M. Pirrone

June 27-Years of Grace, Margaret Ayers Barnes

July 25—O, Democracy, Kathleen Rooney

August 22-Knock on Any Door, Willard Motley

September 26-Death at Pullman, Frances McNamara

October 24-The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

November 21, Young Lonigan, James T. Farrell


The Chicago Literary Renaissance

At the onset of the 20th century, Chicago had become the nation’s Second City, a Midwest Leviathan, a center of commerce and industry. The poet Carl Sandburg, born in downstate Galesburg, arrives in Chicago in 1912. He describes Chicago as “Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler, / Stormy, husky, brawling/City of the Big Shoulders.”

Unbounded energies are released in Chicago in many different directions. One of which is the creative energies that result in the Chicago Literary Renaissance during the first quarter of the new century. The city’s Literary Renaissance is primarily fueled by two women publishers, Harriet Monroe and Margaret Anderson. A native Chicagoan, and a writer herself, Ms. Monroe established Poetry, a magazine totally dedicated to that particular literary form of expression, in 1912. Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay were frequent contributors, as well as countless others. Today, Poetry, in its 103th year, is going strong as ever.

Margaret Anderson, also a writer, leaves Indianapolis to come to the creative hub of Chicago. In 1914, she establishes a literary journal called The Little Review. Soon The Little Review publishes the early works of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Later on, excerpts from James Joyce’s Ulysses are published, for the first time in America, in the journal.

Chicago becomes a magnet drawing in creative geniuses to its bosom. Ben Hecht leaves his home in Racine, Wisconsin, and comes to town in 1910. Although making a living as a newspaper writer, Hecht begins his work as a playwright, teaming with Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, in several one-act plays performed at Jane Addams’ Hull House. Years later, Hecht and Charles MacArthur write what I believe to be the most entertaining of Chicago plays,The Front Page. While living in Chicago, Hecht wrote several novels and numerous short stories, but his greatest writing, by far, were the 500 fictive pieces that appeared every day on the back page of the Daily News, which he called 1001 Afternoons in Chicago.

Edna Ferber leaves her newspaper job in Appleton, Wisconsin, and arrives in Chicago in 1909, eventually settling in the Windermere Apartments in Hyde Park. From this base in Chicago, she writes novels of the like of So Big (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1924), Cimarron, and Show Boat that make her the most prominent woman novelist of her time.

Sherwood Anderson comes to Chicago in 1912, after failing horribly in business back in his home state of Ohio. Deserting his wife and children, Anderson’s creative juices are unleashed in our “stormy, brawling and husky” city, and eventually he completes Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of interrelated fiction vignettes that is considered one of the masterpieces of American writing.

The Chicago Literary Renaissance eventually fades away as both Andersons, Hecht, Ferber, Sandburg and Hecht leave the city in the mid to late1920s. Harriet Monroe remains and continues publishing Poetry here in Chicago.




David Hernandez

I first met David Hernandez at La Gente, a storefront community organization in Lakeview on Halsted Avenue in 1974. I was taking a Spanish conversation course there on Saturday mornings, taught by my friend Jerry Schenwar. I was hanging around after class talking to Jerry, when David walked in. He was going to be doing a poetry reading that evening at La Gente, so he invited us to attend.

Jerry didn’t make it that night, but I did. I was blown away by the power of David’s words, capturing the rhythms and cadences of those mean streets that he called home in Chicago’s Puerto Rican barrio. David, who was a year or two younger than me, in his mid-twenties, truly was a poet, and I envied him for his achievements at such a young age.  That night I bought his book “Despertando.”

Over the years, I bumped into David a few times at both political and cultural events. He read poems at Mayor Harold Washington’s inaugurations and funeral. He had good street cred, and was admired greatly both in his own community and citywide. He died last year at the age of 66. This year, on December 6, David will be inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. For more information on the induction ceremony go to www.chicagoliteraryhof.org

David Hernandez