As I was walking the streets of the Pilsen neighborhood yesterday with my good friends Jerry Schenwar and Ron Swartz, we discovered a recently opened independent bookstore called Pilsen Community Books at 1102 W.18th Street. We were impressed with the quality of both fiction and non-fiction on the shelves. The owners are Mary and Aaron who stressed the importance of “community” in the bookstore’s name. After all, books lead to conversations and dialogues, that allow people to open their minds and share ideas that better the communities they live in. All purchases support a book giveaway program called Pilsen Reads. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello to Mary and Aaron, browse around, and maybe buy a book or two.
I first met David Hernandez at La Gente, a storefront community organization in Lakeview on Halsted Avenue in 1974. I was taking a Spanish conversation course there on Saturday mornings, taught by my friend Jerry Schenwar. I was hanging around after class talking to Jerry, when David walked in. He was going to be doing a poetry reading that evening at La Gente, so he invited us to attend.
Jerry didn’t make it that night, but I did. I was blown away by the power of David’s words, capturing the rhythms and cadences of those mean streets that he called home in Chicago’s Puerto Rican barrio. David, who was a year or two younger than me, in his mid-twenties, truly was a poet, and I envied him for his achievements at such a young age. That night I bought his book “Despertando.”
Over the years, I bumped into David a few times at both political and cultural events. He read poems at Mayor Harold Washington’s inaugurations and funeral. He had good street cred, and was admired greatly both in his own community and citywide. He died last year at the age of 66. This year, on December 6, David will be inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. For more information on the induction ceremony go to www.chicagoliteraryhof.org
Many thanks to the Chicago Tribune for selecting me as its first Chicagoland Book Club Reader of the Week. I am honored. I have been in a continuous book club since 1977, and it has been a great educational as well as social experience for me. Originally the book club included just three of us, Jerry Schenwar, Art Fried and myself. Art eventually moved out East, and the current book club consists of Jerry and his wife Clara Sheffer, Judy and Howard Cohen, Beth and Andy Isaacs, and my wife, Anne O’Malley. Although some our selections have not been great over the years, what has been consistently great is the bond of friendship and mutual support among us.