Please Consider Taking a Course with Me

I want to update you on the status of the upcoming courses that I plan to teach:

The seminar on Ben Hecht’s “1001 Afternoons in Chicago,” at the Newberry Library, that was to have started last week, has been postponed until the planned Newberry reopening in July. No definite date yet for the seminar.
The seminar on “A Taste of Faulkner” at the Newberry, which I’m teaching with Bob Boone, was to have started in June, but will now have to wait until the Newberry reopens. No definite date as yet for the seminar.
The course on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “A Crown of Feathers” is scheduled to begin June 18 at the Oakton Community College’s Emeritus program. Registration is open for it at www.
I will be teaching a course on James Joyce’s “Ulysses” at Oakton starting in October. More information on this will be made available soon.

Some of My Favorite Ben Hecht Quotes

“ I have lived in a dozen worlds, as few writers do, and I have been different people in these worlds. I have enjoyed them as if I were a denizen and not a visiting exile.”
Preface to A Treasury of Ben Hecht (1945)
“ I have lived in other cities but been inside only one. I knew Chicago’s thirty-two feet of intestines. Only newspapermen ever achieve this bug-in-a-rug citizenship.”
A Child of the Century (1954)
“ I once wore all the windows of Chicago and all its doorways on a key ring. Saloons, mansions, alleys, courtrooms, depots, factories, hotels, police cells, the lake front, the roof tops and the sidewalks were my haberdashery.”
A Child of the Century (1954)

Rabbi Mendel


CS_coverRabbi Mendel, a man in his mid-forties with unforgettable cerulean blue eyes, opened the small black trunk and took out the three stick puppets. There was the evil Haman wearing a tiny felt three-cornered hat affixed to his head. Brave Mordecai looked august in a diminutive robe made from corduroy. Beautiful Queen Esther looked stunning with orange hair made from knitting yarn topped by a cardboard diadem.

Our Hebrew class Purim party was about to begin. Rabbi Mendel skillfully manipulated the stick puppets as he related to us the Purim story in his heavily Yiddish-inflected English. We all cheered and rattled our groggers in glee when Mordecai knocked down Haman and dragged him across Rabbi Mendel’s desk to the toy gallows to be hanged. Good was once again triumphing over evil in a story told by Jews for over two thousand years.

Rabbi Mendel stared evil straight in the eye…

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Stephen Joyce, Last Living Descendant of James Joyce, Dies.

Stephen Joyce, the last living descendant of the great Irish author James Joyce, passed away in France two weeks ago at age 87. He is seen in the photo with his wife Solange. The couple had no children. He was the son of the author’s only son Giorgio.
Stephen was the fierce gatekeeper of the James Joyce literary legacy until Joyce’s copyright expired in most places at the end of 2011. Joycean scholars had fits with him. Hans Walter Gabler, who edited a popular critical edition of “Ulysses” in 1984, said of the grandson that “with refusals of permission and /or exorbitant fee requests, he terrorized scholars and critics as well as publishers into passivity and non-action in an attitude of ‘anticipatory obedience.’ ” President Michael D. Higgins of Ireland was kinder in his public statement after the death of Mr. Joyce, stating that he had been “deeply committed to what he saw was the special duty to defend the legacy of the Joyce family in literary and personal terms” although admitting that it was “not a task carried out in harmonious circumstances at all times.”

Talking Hot Stove League on a Cold Winter’s Night

There was quite a buzz at Max and Benny’s last evening. Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes and the Score AM 670 radio baseball maven Bruce Levine were there to talk about the White Sox and Cubs. Back in the day this was called talking the Hot Stove League. The Iowa caucus fiasco happened the night before, and this was the evening of the State of the Union speech, but the 160 people who assembled at Max and Benny’s just wanted to talk baseball.
Will the Cubs really trade Kris Bryant? Will the Sox Luis Robert become the next Rickey Henderson? These were some of the burning questions that the Hot Stovers asked Pat and Bruce. I ran around the room with my mic chasing down the questions. I made sure that there was a nice balance of Sox and Cubs questions, as some of the Sox fans worried that Pat’s presence might result in a more favored status for the North Siders.
Although most of attendees, like myself, were from the Ernie Banks and Nellie Fox era, there were a couple of youngsters present who tossed out great questions. A young man answered a Cubs trivia question and won a pair of Cubs game tickets.
The ninety-minute program went by in a flash. Pat and Bruce, pros as they are, provided cogent insights and an impressive knowledge of the game. Nobody seemed to be rushing out early to see the end of the State of the Union speech.
All of us who were there last night left with the feeling that we experienced something very special. We walked out of the restaurant into the mid-winter cold heading to our cars with contented smiles, knowing that April is just around the corner.

Ducks, Newburyport: A Challenging, Yet Rewarding Book to Read

Lucy Ellmann’s 2019 Booker-shortlisted novel Ducks, Newburyport reads like Molly Bloom’s soliloquy on steroids. This book is nearly one thousand pages, with more than nine hundred pages as the interior monologue of an unnamed middle-aged Ohio housewife. The interior monologue runs as one sentence.
Despite the daunting challenge of reading the book, I found it to be a literary masterpiece. Jane Austen wrote that that ”memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—–at others, so bewildered and so weak—–at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control….”All these descriptive adjectives of memory are found in the outpouring of words of this Ohio housewife.
She is obsessed with life in what she perceives as a dystopic America. She is outraged with Trump, America’s history of Native American genocide, slavery and lynching of African Americans, American gun culture and the resultant mass killings. And those are just a few of her peeves.
She is the mother of four children; three from her present husband, whom she loves dearly. She is a competent baker who provides her pies and tarts to the stores in town. On the surface, her life seems normal, yet her thoughts drive her to the brink of terror with fear and anxiety.
Despite its dark side, there is much humor in the novel, especially in the wordplay. The author has an incredible knack of juxtaposing horrific and comedic images that create surreal landscapes throughout the book.
Lucy Ellmann spent much of her youth living in Evanston, where her father Richard Ellmann (the biographer of Joyce, Wilde and Yeats) taught at Northwestern. There are a few references to Evanston and the nearby Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie in the book, which especially piqued my interest since I live in Skokie. The author has been  living the life of an American expatriate in the United Kingdom for nearly forty years. She currently lives in Scotland.
There is a second story in the book, interspersed alongside the interior monologue, told by a third-person narrator. It’s the story of a mountain lioness, who prowls the central Ohio countryside and suburbs searching for her lost cubs. This narration is written in a traditional structure of sentences and paragraphs. It is the protectiveness of these two mothers (human and animal) for their offspring that provides a unifying theme to the novel.
I believe that the adventurous and curious reader should give it a shot and read this most incredible literary achievement.

Chicago Writers Association Awards Ceremony is January 18th.

The Chicago Writers Association’s Book of the Year awards ceremony is always a highlight on the Chicago literary community calendar. It is coming up next Saturday evening, January 18 at the Book Cellar, located at 4736-38 N. Lincoln Avenue. I was delighted to see my friend Devin Murphy among the winners. The festivities for this free event starts at 7:00, but seating is very limited. I would suggest getting there at least a half hour early to secure a seat. The winners are:
Traditional Fiction: Tiny Americans by Devin Murphy
Indie Fiction: A Dangerous Identity by Russell Fee
Traditional Nonfiction: In Deep by Angalia Bianca, with Linda Beckstrom
Indie Nonfiction: The Buddha at My Table by Tammy Letherer