Bellow Centenary Launch at Cliff Dwellers

SaulBellow, 1990

The launch of the Saul Bellow Centenary celebration will take place with a dinner program at the Cliff Dwellers, 200 South Michigan Avenue, on Friday evening, February 27, beginning at 5:30 pm. I will moderate a panel discussing Bellow’s life and work that includes the writers Don Evans and Dina Elenbogen. There will be some readings from Bellow’s work, as well as an open forum for audience members to share their Bellow stories. The culminating event for the Bellow Centenary will be on the author’s 100th birthday on the evening of June 10, at the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium of the Harold Washington Library, and author Scott Turow will be the featured speaker.

If you are interested in attending the February 27 event, please make your reservations at The cost of the event, which includes the program, light appetizers and dinner, is $40 per person.

A Literary Tour of Chicago’s Mean Streets

The “street-punk novel” is part and parcel of the Chicago literary tradition. Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning, which came out in 1941, chronicles the life and times of the Polish-American young hoodlum Bruno “Lefty” Bicek. Six years later, the African-American writer, Willard Motley, had his debut novel Knock on Any Door published, featuring the young Italian-American protagonist Nick Romano whose purpose in Motley’s words was to “live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.” Those same words could be applied to Mookie and J.C., the main characters in 47th Street Black, the 2003 debut novel of Bayo Ojikutu.

Mookie and J.C., like Bicek and Romano are killers. All are born into a tough world, where the streets are mean. Not only are all intent on mere surviving, but they all want to make something of themselves, to become “big shots” in the urban ghettos where they live. They are driven by money and status, living their own twisted version of the American dream.

The Cliff-Dwellers Book Club will be exploring the genre of the Chicago “street-punk novel” in three of our sessions this year. We begin by having Bayo Ojikutu as our guest on February 28 as he discusses 47th Street Black. Exactly a month later, on March 28 (Nelson Algren’s birthday), we will discuss Never Come Morning. On August 22, we will have a discussion of Knock on Any Door.

All these discussions are on Saturdays, beginning at 11:00 am. They take place at the Cliff Dwellers, at 200 South Michigan, directly across the street from the Art Institute. They go on for about an hour or so, often times continuing over lunch. For more information please email me at            

Andrew Patner

andrew Patner

I was shocked and terribly saddened to hear of the sudden death of Andrew Patner this morning. Andrew was indeed Chicago’s “Renaissance Man,” so imbued with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, art, literature, history and politics. His commentaries on WFMT Radio displayed his analytic and aesthetic intelligence, as well as his charm and wit.

I first met Andrew years ago when he was a young man, as he stopped by a restaurant booth downtown where I was having lunch with his father Marshall, also a highly accomplished individual in his own right. A few years later, I heard Andrew speak at the Cliff Dwellers on a new book that he had written on the journalist I.F. Stone. Over the years, I would run into him at a variety of cultural and political events, and always enjoyed chatting with him for a minute or two.

I remember him once correcting me on facebook, when I posted that the world debut of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in 1944 was at the Goodman Theater, when indeed it was at the Civic Theater. Such was the depth of his cultural knowledge! There now is an irreplaceable void in our city’s cultural landscape with Andrew’s passing.

Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish 668 small

We are thrilled and honored to have Ellen Blum Barish as the next featured speaker at the Max and Benny’s Jewish authors’ event on Monday evening, February 23; starting at 7:00 pm. Ellen is a maven in the craft of writing of the personal essay. She will share with us some of her essays from her book Views from the Home Office Window: On Motherhood, Family and Life (which is available for sale at the event). She has recently launched a marvelous online publication devoted to the personal essay: Thread

Ellen has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University where she now teaches writing. She has facilitated writing workshops at Story Studio Chicago, New Trier Extension, Off Campus Writers Workshop and Ragdale.  Ellen also works privately with people on varying writing projects.

She has presented a number of fascinating workshops on writing the Jewish journey and the ethical will at local synagogues, and she helped launch a blog at Beth Emet: the Free Synagogue titled, Torat Chayeinu: Our Stories, Our Journeys