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Richard Reeder is a literary enthusiast who has published his first book, "Chicago Sketches." He is an instructor in the Oakton Community College Emeritus Program, moderates the Chicago Jewish Authors series and the Cliff Dwellers book club.

Bill Savage at the Cliff Dwellers Book Club on November 23rd

In his introduction to George Ade’s The Old-Time Saloon, Bill Savage begins by telling us that Ade “was once one of the most famous writers in America.” And you will see why after reading just a few pages of Ade’s 1931 polemic advocating the repeal of Prohibition. It’s incisive and informative with brilliant understated humor throughout the book.
Bill Savage will be joining us at the Cliff Dwellers book club on Saturday November 23 at 11:00 a.m. in the discussion of The Old-Time Saloon. Bill teaches Chicago literature, history and culture at Northwestern University and the Newberry Library. He will be bringing various Ade and Prohibition-era artifacts for the discussion.
Although the Cliff Dwellers is a private arts club, the Saturday morning Chicago-themed book club is open to all. The book club discussion is free, and non-member attendees are welcome to stay afterwards for lunch (credit card only). The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 S. Michigan, 22nd Floor, where the view is sensational. Guests for the book club who plan to stay for lunch should make their reservations at reservations@cliff-chicago.org.

The Cliff Dwellers and Chicago Literary History

Liesl Olson (second from the right in the photo), the director of Chicago studies at the Newberry Library, joined us at the Cliff Dwellers book club on October 26, for the discussion of her book Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis. As the discussion ensued in the Sullivan Room, we were reminded by Ms. Olson of the significance of the Cliff Dwellers in the context of Chicago’s rich literary history.

In fact, her book concludes with the great literary gathering held at the Cliff Dwellers on March 1, 1914, sponsored by the guarantors of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry Magazine. Among the literati in attendance was the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, who spoke and encouraged Chicago poets “to strive to become very simple, very humble.” Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay performed his dramatic, and controversial, poem “Congo” that evening. He recalled this event at the Cliff Dwellers “the literary transformation scene of my life.”

Harriet Monroe also experienced the power of that evening. She wrote in her autobiography that the evening was “one of my great days……. which comes to us as atonement for long periods of drab disappointment or dark despair.” Among the other literary notables at the Cliff Dwellers that evening were Henry Blake Fuller, Carl Sandburg and Maxwell Bodenheim.

The Cliff Dwellers remains literary active as we continue to host events and presentations of The Chicago Literary Club, Society of Midland Authors, and the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, as well as having an occasional literary salon of our own.

Since 2014, the Cliff Dwellers has had a book club that reads and discusses Chicago-themed classics as well as the works of contemporary Chicago writers such as Ms. Olson. In all, twenty-six writers have been our guests at the book club, which meets at the Cliff Dwellers usually on the fourth Saturday of the month at 11:00 a.m.(excluding December). The discussion ends about noon and is often continued over lunch at the club. Although the core of the group consists of Cliff Dwellers members, we encourage all who have interest about the book and/or author to attend. The 2020 reading list will be coming out soon.

Shared Booker Winners a Cop Out


Maragaret Atwood’s “The Testaments” and Bernardine Evaristo’s “Girl, Woman, Other” are the winners of the 2019 Booker Prize. A shared prize is a clear flouting of the rules which state that you can only have one winner. This rule was implemented in 1992 when Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” shared the prize with Barry Unsworth’s “Sacred Hunger.” Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that a rule is a rule.  But this year’s Booker Prize jury clearly felt that rules are meant to be broken, and certainly seems like a cop out to me and a dereliction of their charge to find consensus around one winner. I wonder how many others who follow the Booker Prize agree with me?

Faulkner in Hollywood


Author William Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, was employed as a Hollywood screenwriter, off and on, between 1932 and 1948. He was credited on four films and uncredited on twelve others. He worked with director Howard Hawks on three of his credited films—The Road to Glory, To Have and Have Not, and The Big Sleep. Among his uncredited films were Gunga Din, Drums Along the Mohawk, and Mildred Piece. The screenwriter character W.P. Mayhew, in the Coen Brothers’ film, Barton Fink, was based on Faulkner and played by John Mahoney.

Dreiser’s “Jennie Gerhardt” to be Discussed at Cliff Dwellers

Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie, was published in 1901 and was quite successful, but it took a decade for his second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, to finally be published in 1911. Doubleday, the publisher of Sister Carrie did not want to handle a second book of Dreiser about what they called an “immoral woman.” Initially this second novel of Dreiser’s  was called “The Transgressor” and it centered around Jennie Gerhardt, a “kept woman” of first, George Brander, a United States Senator, and then after his death, a wealthy manufacturer, Lester Kane
Unlike Carrie, Jennie was a woman of substance and character. She truly cared for these two men and knew that their commitment to her would help keep her family out of poverty. She was able to probably marry Kane, but if so, his family would have disinherited him.
Jennie’s poor working class roots could never gain the acceptance of Kane’s family, and she knew that a marriage to Kane, who she truly loved, would ruin him. Dreiser’s Jennie is a woman in charge, so very different than the docile Carrie in the earlier novel.
In 1911 Dreiser and Harper Brothers reached an agreement to publish a toned-down version of Jennie Gerhardt. Dreiser, in financial straits, had no option but to accept these terms. The University of Pennsylvania Press, eighty-one years later, in 1992, finally released an unexpurgated edition which as University of Pennsylvania Professor James West writes in his introduction to this edition “Slang and profanity have been restored. Dreiser’s blunt, unadorned style has been reinstated…………..Most important, Jennie’s original role has been restored, and she now functions effectively as a counterweight to Lester.”
The Cliff Dwellers book club will be discussing “Jennie Gerhardt” on Saturday morning, September 28, at 11:00 am. The discussion goes to around noon. This presentation is free and open to the public. We welcome newcomers to join us and remain afterwards for lunch to experience the good company, excellent food, and spectacular views of the Cliff Dwellers. The Cliff Dwellers is located on the 22nd Floor of 200 South Michigan.

The Essential OED


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is an indispensable tool for any writer of historical fiction. English is an evolving language, and it is essential that the author research contemporary words and terms to see if they were in usage in the time period described. For example, I am currently writing a novella and wanted to use the word “newly-wed” (the OED uses the hyphenated version) for a couple that were married in 1866. By checking the OED, I learned that the first mention of “newly-wed” in print was in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1918 in the sentence “It seemed that a Newly-wed can live on Marmalade three months.” The OED then tells us that the first use of the word in a literary work was in 1932 in “Orators,” a poem in prose by W. H. Auden who wrote “To-day may mean division for the newly-weds.” Therefore, due to my consultation of the OED, I did not use “newly-wed,” choosing the term “recently married couple” instead.

Beth Finke Speaks at Max and Benny’s on September 16


Over the years, I had heard many wonderful things about Beth Finke. These words of praise were mostly from seniors who had taken one of memoir writing classes. And finally, at the celebration of International Women’s Day this past March at the Cliff Dwellers, I met Beth and heard her speak to a full house, that included sixty young women who were high school students in Chicago.
Beth, who is blind, is a truly outstanding inspirational speaker. She captivated the audience, students and adults alike, through a telling of powerful anecdotes relating her significant obstacles in life and how she devised strategies to overcome them. Beth is a master of interjecting humor into her stories, just at the right time, to lighten the mood for her listeners.
Two years ago, Beth wrote a book entitled Writing Out Loud. The subtitle of the book is “what a blind teacher learned from leading a memoir class for seniors.” I read the book and was blown away by the wonderful stories of these senior memoir writers.
I invited Beth to speak at an author night at Max and Benny’s. She graciously accepted and will speak there on Monday evening September 16, starting at 7:00 pm. Registration for Beth’s event is now open and can be found at “Upcoming Events” on the Max and Benny’s website http://www.maxandbennys.com.