Stuart Brent

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The bookseller, Stuart Brent, had a profound influence on me in the 1950s. I watched his television show “Books and Brent” religiously on Sunday mornings. My parents didn’t have much of a library, so his show opened the doors of literature to me.
The format was simple. Mr. Brent simply talked about books and authors. Simply, though is not a good way to describe his expository skills. His presentations were elaborate, comprehensive and highly textured. He used words that I never heard before. I sat in front of the TV with a notepad writing them down. He used the word “apropos” frequently. I of course incorporated this word into my daily usage, earning strange stares from family members, teachers and classmates.
Sometimes I would accompany my mother downtown when she visited her doctor’s office on North Michigan Avenue. On the ground floor of the doctor’s building was Stuart Brent’s book store. While she was being examined, I perused the shelves and took in the sights and sounds of customers looking at and talking about books. Every now and then, I saw Mr. Brent, a short, animated man scurrying around the store, often with books in his hands.
Later on in life, I learned that Stuart Brent was Chicago’s celebrity bookseller. Anybody who was someone would stop by. Somebody once told me that Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller were seen there talking to the owner and buying a few books. But for me, Stuart Brent will most importantly be the person who ignited my lifetime passion of literature. And for that I am forever grateful to him.

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Chicago in the 1950s

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the third coast

I will be teaching a course on Chicago in the 1950s at the Oakton Community College Emeritus program in at the Skokie starting January 26. There is still time to enroll at http://www.oakton.edu/conted or you may call 847-982-9888. The 1950s was arguably the most transformative decade in the history of Chicago. Our class will delve into the significant cultural, political, economic and social changes which impacted the city at that time. Also, we will explore the breakthrough innovations emerging in the city during that decade which ultimately redefined the nation’s social fabric during the second half of the twentieth century. Thomas Dyja’s book, The Third Coast:  When Chicago Built the American  Dream, will be our major resource during this course. Classes will meet on six consecutive Tuesday mornings from 10 am until 11:30 am,  ending on March 1.

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Bob Boone

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Bob Boone is my good friend and a mentor to me in both my teaching and writing. Bob has a new book out now, a collection of stories entitled “Back to Forest High.” This month he will be having three readings and signings of the new book, and I encourage all of you to try to make one of them. Here are the dates, times, and locations:

Thursday, January 21, 7:00 pm at the Glencoe Public Library, 320 Park Avenue, Glencoe

Sunday, January 24, 2:00 pm at The Book Stall, 811 Elm Street, Winnetka

Tuesday, January 26, 4:00 pm at Open Books, 651 W. Lake Street, Chicago

The Creative Connectivity of Art

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“Tree of Life” by Harriet Winograd

My cousin, the artist Harriet Winograd, a resident of West Hartford, Connecticut, created a lovely painting/collage entitled “Tree of Life,” from a picture that she had found in a religious calendar. Harriet’s piece of art was seen by the poet laureate of West Hartford, Christine Beck, who was inspired by it to write a poem she named “The Chaos of Creation.” Harriet and Christine are two highly talented and imaginative women who demonstrate to us the connectivity of the creative process.

“The Chaos of Creation” by Christine Beck

What if what I see, a tree,
familiar as my thumb,
is not as sturdy as it seems?

Underneath the tree where the roots should be,
A creature crouches, half-crocodile, hide mottled
With the scrunch of living underground

Stretched out like a lynx, it’s crouched,
like stalking prey, open-mouthed to pounce.
When it jumps, will the tree jump too?

On the trunk are words in another language.
Is that the key to meaning in this Tree of Life?

I track down the artist, ask why she planned
uncertainty in her creation. Turns out,
she’s as enigmatic as the creature.

She has no idea what it means. She found the picture
In a religious calendar. She doesn’t know the words,
Or why the creature called to her.

She chose it based on intuition,
Something healing, something sacred,
She didn’t need to wonder why.

I go to Wikipedia, I who always wonder why.
The beast is Tiamat, a sea dragon in a creation myth
From Mesopotamia. A world born of uncertainty,
Chaos, dragons, trees with roots that feast on blood.

Lurching like the tree through bloody roots,
I’m whirling on a planet that used to feel so solid, safe,
that seemed to hold me steady as an oak.