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

Literary Crime and Punishment in Chicago

I will be teaching a seminar at the Newberry Library entitled “Crime and Punishment in Chicago: Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” and Meyer Levin’s “Compulsion.” Both novels have been listed among the 101 publications that most shaped Chicago’s image. Five Wednesday evening sessions from 5:45 until 7:45 will be held beginning September 25 and ending October 30. Registration is now open at or call 312-255-3700.

All Along the Watchtowers

I thought a nice cup of Intelligentsia coffee would be pleasant as I had an hour to kill downtown waiting for my next meeting to begin. But as I approached the Intelligentsia coffee shop on Randolph, just east of Wabash, the waiting line was literally out the door. Should I patiently wait the 15 minutes in line before forking over the $3.85 to the nice barista to get my small cup of the hot precious liquid that so many people were craving? Well I must admit that Intelligentsia coffee is good, but not that good, so I moved on.
In front of the Cultural Center, which I still fondly remember as the Main Library, there was a trio of Jehovah’s Witnesses, two ladies and a man. All were African American, middle-aged and nicely attired. Each had welcoming smiles as I approached them, with the neat rack of Watchtowers behind them.
Admittedly I’m usually not very friendly to the Witnesses. Occasionally they will visit our street and ring our door. When I answer, I usually have a terse remark for them like “not interested’ or “sorry, have a nice day.” But on this sunny, cloudless morning, downtown amidst the hustle and bustle of pedestrians walking quickly and drivers honking their horns noisily, I decided to get out of my bubble and interact with this dignified trio in front of me.
I approached the group and asked if sharing the Watchtower with others was part of their religious obligations? “It is indeed.” replied one of the women. “And can’t you tell by the beauty of the day that God is with us always. Would you care to take one of these?” as she started to hand me a Watchtower. I declined the offer graciously and bid farewell.
I crossed Michigan Avenue, entering Millennium Park, but I couldn’t get the lady’s “beauty of the day” remark out of my mind as I walked the path leading to the garden, basking in the sun of the divine light suffusing my soul for at least a little while.