Although the author Frank Norris was Chicago born, he is not known as a Chicago writer, leaving the city at age fourteen with his family as they moved to California. Graduating from Berkeley, Norris went on to an adventurous career in journalism which included stints as a news correspondent in South Africa in 1895-96 for the San Francisco Chronicle between the time of the two Boer Wars, and as a war correspondent for McClure’s Magazine during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Norris had five novels published between 1898 and 1902. Two of them, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899) and The Octopus: A Story of California (1901) were part of a trilogy that was published before his death in 1902 at the age of thirty-two. The final novel of the trilogy, The Pit: A Story of Chicago was published posthumously in 1903.
The Pit was included in the recently published Chicago By the Book: 101 Publications that Shaped the City and Its Image. Timothy Spears, whose essay on The Pit is in the book, writes ”although literary critics have complained about the florid writing and the ill-defined relation between the novel’s love story and business plot, they have admired Norris’s fine-grained descriptions of the trading pits of the Board of Trade…………..and how his canny representations of ‘fictional’ values resembles the volatile manipulations of our own time.”
Please join us this coming Saturday morning, July 20, at 11:00 for a discussion of The Pit at the Cliff Dwellers Book Club, at 200 S. Michigan. The discussion is free and open to the public. Our guests are welcome to join us at the club for lunch afterwards.
After 18 years of sponsorship, the Man Group has withdrawn from the sponsorship of the leading literary award for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Now, in 2019, what had been the Man Booker Prize, now returns to its original name, the Booker Prize.
The Booker Prize has a new sponsor, the Crankstart Foundation and its new subsidiary the Booker Prize Foundation, founded and funded by the Silicon Valley Welsh-born billionaire Sir Michael Moritz, and his wife, Chicago-born author Harriet Heyman. The Booker Prize Foundation will also fund the International Booker Prize.
The Booker Prize longlist will be announced on July 24; the shortlist on September 3; and the winner chosen on October 14. Please sign up as a follower of this blog for these announcements, updates and reviews of the Booker Prize competition.
William Faulkner was one of the most honored American authors in the 20th century, receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction and two National Book Awards. Though with all the public conversation today of race in America, it is my impression that a Faulkner book rarely is selected for a college reading list, an adult education course or a book club. I wonder why?
Faulkner’s fiction depicts life in Mississippi during both during slavery and post-emancipation segregation. The stories are often about the cruelty of White people and the suffering of African Americans. The characters use harsh and raw language rife with the N-Word. Faulkner acknowledged the “human stain” left from the South’s brutal history. He wrote “the past is not dead, it’s not even past.” Yet Faulkner, both the writer and human being, believed that there was hope for the future as he said I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail.”
Since Faulkner has been too long neglected, Bob Boone and I decided to teach a course on his writing at the Oakton Community College Emeritus program in Skokie. We call the course “A Taste of Faulkner.” It will be offered on six Thursday mornings from 10:00 until 11:30, from September 19 through October 31. There will be no class on October 24. Registration begins July 8. You can register at http://www.oakton.edu/conted.
In Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood Saul Bellow wrote, taught and experienced the vicissitudes of life for many decades. Eventually Hyde Park took an emotional toll on him, as he wrote, at age eighty-two, “the things that bugged me, grieved me, about living in Hyde Park was to pass the houses where my late friends once lived, and even the windows from which I myself used to look out more than fifty years ago. The daily melancholy of passing these places was among the things that drove me East.”
Now fourteen years after his death, Hyde Park is finally paying homage to Bellow. Playing at the Court Theater and ending this week after a run of a month, is a fine dramatic adaptation of Bellow’s third novel, The Adventures of Augie March. There is also a fascinating special exhibit focusing on Bellow and Augie at the Regenstein Library on the University of Chicago campus, where Bellow’s archives are stored. Included in this exhibit are also interesting personal memorabilia such as Saul’s naturalization papers and passport. It runs through June 15.
Bellow is the only American writer to have won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and three National Book Awards. Yet, over the years, he has become somewhat of a literary persona non grata due to a new generation of academics and critics who perceive his writing and personal life as reactionary and misogynistic. He has been taken off most university undergraduate and graduate American literature curricula. He has fallen victim to the very political correctness that he abhorred.
But like him or not, Bellow’s true genius rang true that night in Hyde Park as we listened to his words orated by the actors in Augie. Hyde Park’s prodigal son returned home, at least for a little while.
As the 75th Anniversary of D-Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about Cornelius Ryan’s book, The Longest Day. The book was published in 1959, and I read it as a teenager. Then, I was swept away by this heroic tale of the soldiers taking part in the first day of the Allied Normandy Invasion. When I reread it as an adult many years later, I came to realize that The Longest Day was perhaps the greatest book of journalistic non-fiction that I had ever read. Mr. Ryan passed away in 1974, but each year, the journalists of the Overseas Press Club of America give “The Cornelius Ryan Award” to the journalist who has written the “best nonfiction book on international affairs.” Let us commemorate these D-Day heroes for their service and sacrifice, and do not forget Cornelius Ryan who so admirably chronicled their valor.
I was disappointed that Bill Granger’s iconic novel, Time for Frankie Coolin, did not make it into the recently published Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications that Shaped the City and Its Image. Through the fictionalized trials and tribulations of Frankie, we better understand the interpersonal dynamics of the White Flight that dramatically changed Chicago’s demographics from 1960 to 1990, when Chicago lost 1,446,795 of its white residents.
Time for Frankie Coolin was first published in 1982 under the nom de plume Bill Griffith. Griffith was Granger’s mother’s maiden name. Granger was a hard-boiled Chicago journalist who wrote for three papers in 40 years. Well into his journalistic career, he started writing novels at a frenetic pace of about one a year; 25 in total. Public Murders and The November Man are probably his best known. Yet Time for Frankie Coolin remains his great Chicago novel.
In his Foreword to a new edition of the book in 2014, Bill Savage writes “Granger’s prose is simply outstanding, with dialogue that crackles and descriptive passages of the city and its landscapes that hearken back to Bellow, Algren, Farrell, Wright, and Sinclair.” I couldn’t agree more.
I invite you to join us at the Cliff Dwellers on Saturday morning June 22nd at 11:00 as we discuss Time for Frankie Coolin. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 S. Michigan, directly across the street from the Art Institute. The discussion is free and open to the public.