My friend Don Evans, the founder and Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, is a master of producing great celebratory events honoring Chicago writers, past and present. Don runs his organization on a shoestring budget, yet his productions are always at beautiful venues, free to the public, and features some of the best of Chicago’s creative community as participants.
Last evening’s induction of Roger Ebert into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, held at the new American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue, was one such event. The emcee was Rick Kogan, the fabled Tribune features writer and radio interviewer. Rick told the story about how impressed his father, Herman Kogan, the editor of Panorama, the literary supplement of the Daily News, was when Ebert submitted a short piece to him on Brendan Behan, shortly after the Irish writer’s death in 1964. Panorama published the piece, introducing Ebert to Chicago’s newspaper audience.
A few years later, in 1967, at the age of 25, Ebert was hired by the Sun-Times, as its film critic. His career with the newspaper was enduring and prolific, lasting to his death in 2013. No American newspaper film critic was better than Ebert, who became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.
However it was the medium of television that catapulted Ebert to fame, partnering in movie review shows first with Gene Siskel, and later with Richard Roeper. Last evening Roeper shared some wonderful personal memories about his late friend and colleague. Ebert’s editor for nearly twenty years at the Sun-Tmes, Laura Emerick, reminisced about the brilliance of his writing.
Ebert’s wife, Chaz, was the last and most powerful speaker at the ceremony. Like others she spoke of his writing genius, but she emphasized the greatness of his humanity and his passion for social justice, i.e. Ebert, the man, as a model for all of us to emulate.
A few days ago, as part of the Evanston Literary Festival, Don Evans, the Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, put together a panel of literary folks at the Bookends & Beginnings book store to discuss Chicago’s great books. Author Toni Nealie was the panelist who discussed Chicago’s canon of nonfiction. She brought a list of her top picks and shared it with the audience. It’s a fairly comprehensive and spot on list, but I would have added two masterful collection of essays——Sydney J. Harris’ Strictly Personal and Joseph Epstein’s Snobbery. Peruse the list and let me know if you think others should be added.
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.
The launch of the Saul Bellow Centenary celebration will take place with a dinner program at the Cliff Dwellers, 200 South Michigan Avenue, on Friday evening, February 27, beginning at 5:30 pm. I will moderate a panel discussing Bellow’s life and work that includes the writers Don Evans and Dina Elenbogen. There will be some readings from Bellow’s work, as well as an open forum for audience members to share their Bellow stories. The culminating event for the Bellow Centenary will be on the author’s 100th birthday on the evening of June 10, at the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium of the Harold Washington Library, and author Scott Turow will be the featured speaker.
If you are interested in attending the February 27 event, please make your reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost of the event, which includes the program, light appetizers and dinner, is $40 per person.