My connection with Chicago’s Polish community began thirty years ago when I became the Executive Director of the then Polish Welfare Association, which changed its name a few years later to the Polish American Association. During my two-year tenure there, the agency and our amazing staff did some incredible accomplishments such as legalizing 5500 people under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, resettling hundreds of refugees fleeing the repressive martial law in Poland at that time, and creating and expanding programs in ESL, job training, domestic violence prevention and alcohol abuse.
I made many lasting friendships with staff members like Margaret Wieczorek and Joanna Borowiec who introduced me to the remarkable cultural and literary life of the community. I attended fantastic jazz concerts from visiting musicians from Poland, made the Polish art gallery tour in Chicago, and even sat in some Polish language theater performances and Polish author readings, though my knowledge of the language was barely minimal.
Later on through my friendships with Arthur Eldar, Elzbieta Zaworski and Grazyna Zajaczkowska I continued to be exposed to the exploding cultural scene in Poland after the Iron Curtain was lifted. Contemporary Polish writers are not only reaching new literary heights in Europe, but throughout the world.
So when Caro Llewellyn and Jill Brack, the creative forces of the New York-based firm, 20 Square Feet Productions, contacted me and informed me that they are working with the Polish Institute and Book Expo America (coming to Chicago in May) to showcase ten authors from Poland (the BEA’s Country of Honor in 2016) at free public programs across Chicago, I was more than glad to help them out in finding local resources and coordinating some of the logistics.
I will be posting on some of the upcoming events on the blog. You can also follow the event schedule at http://www.booksfrompoland.org.
Meyer Levin had an amazing career as a journalist, novelist and documentary film maker. He covered the Leopold-Loeb murder trial, the opening of the Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew University, and the Spanish Civil War as a reporter. Levin was the first film critic for Esquire Magazine. His novel, The Old Bunch, is viewed as a classic of American naturalism, compared favorably with his friend James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan Trilogy. Compulsion, a docu-novel about Leopold and Loeb is considered the template for Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Levin made two remarkable documentary films, one about the plight of the Jews in European refugee camps after the Holocaust, and the other about the courageous effort of Jews to resettle in British-controlled Palestine.
Yet, thirty-five years after his death, Levin’s legacy remains relatively obscure. His fervent Zionism was not appreciated by the Literary Left. Levin’s personal behavior was often viewed as abrasive and unyielding. Ultimately it was his thirty year litigation with Otto Frank and the producers of the The Diary of Anne Frank that finally turned the creative community firmly against him. Self-admittedly, Levin was obsessed with The Diary, and he truly felt that Otto Frank reneged with a verbal agreement that he had with him on the adapting of the book to the stage.
I will be presenting on the life and times of Meyer Levin at the Chicago Jewish Authors Literary Series at Max and Benny’s Restaurant, 461 Waukegan Road, in Northbrook, on Monday evening, April 11, starting at 7:00 pm. If you plan to attend email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can get an accurate count of the room.
Driving down from Amelia Island, it took us two hours to reach our destination, Cross Creek, the home of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, most famous for her Pulitzer-winning novel, The Yearling, published in 1939. It was a truly magical place, an old farmhouse where the author lived, nestled in a verdant surrounding of orange groves and an endless variety of flora and fauna. Chickens roamed the grounds, adroitly escaping the advances of the tourists.
When Rawlings and her husband left the North to come to this rustic Florida enclave in 1928, she was already an experienced newspaper journalist, but it wasn’t until she settled into Cross Creek that her imagination came alive and her creative writing began. Her new home allowed her to “discover the mystic loveliness of childhood again,” after suffering through “long years of spiritual homelessness.”
Rawlings basically created a new regional genre capturing the lives and voices of backwoods Floridians, her neighbors in the Cross Creek area. She always remained respectful of her subjects, never looking down on them, as she depicted their lives and environment in captivating language that made her fiction so significant to the American literary community.
Many distinguished literary guests visited Rawlings at Cross Creek. They included Margaret Mitchell, Sherwood Anderson, Maxwell Perkins and Zora Neale Hurston, the latter being received graciously despite the context of the Jim Crow South. Gregory Peck was a house guest when the film version of The Yearling was being shot on the premises.
Rawlings passed away in 1953, and the property is now owned and lovingly maintained by the state of Florida. If you are ever in the area “leave the impersonal highway, to stop inside the rusty gate and close it behind,” and enter Cross Creek, a place of beauty, wonder and fascination.
Although he lived in Chicago for just five years, from 1908-13, Floyd Dell had a major role in the emergence of the Chicago Literary Renaissance, especially in his role as editor of the Friday Weekly Review. He was a colleague and advocate for Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson and Margaret Anderson, just to mention a few of the literati in Chicago during his time in the city. My friend, Craig Sautter, who compiled a wonderful collection of Dell’s essays in the Friday Weekly Review states that he was “one of the most flamboyant, versatile and influential American Men of Letters of the first third of the 20th Century.”
Please join Craig, Don Evans, and Ian Morris on April 21 at 6:00 pm for a panel discussion moderated by Liesl Olson on Dell’s Chicago years at the Newberry Library. There will also be readings by Vitalist Theater actors. This is a free event co-sponsored by the Newberry, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and the Vitalist Theater.