The Cliff Dwellers and Chicago Literary History

Liesl Olson (second from the right in the photo), the director of Chicago studies at the Newberry Library, joined us at the Cliff Dwellers book club on October 26, for the discussion of her book Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis. As the discussion ensued in the Sullivan Room, we were reminded by Ms. Olson of the significance of the Cliff Dwellers in the context of Chicago’s rich literary history.

In fact, her book concludes with the great literary gathering held at the Cliff Dwellers on March 1, 1914, sponsored by the guarantors of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry Magazine. Among the literati in attendance was the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, who spoke and encouraged Chicago poets “to strive to become very simple, very humble.” Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay performed his dramatic, and controversial, poem “Congo” that evening. He recalled this event at the Cliff Dwellers “the literary transformation scene of my life.”

Harriet Monroe also experienced the power of that evening. She wrote in her autobiography that the evening was “one of my great days……. which comes to us as atonement for long periods of drab disappointment or dark despair.” Among the other literary notables at the Cliff Dwellers that evening were Henry Blake Fuller, Carl Sandburg and Maxwell Bodenheim.

The Cliff Dwellers remains literary active as we continue to host events and presentations of The Chicago Literary Club, Society of Midland Authors, and the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, as well as having an occasional literary salon of our own.

Since 2014, the Cliff Dwellers has had a book club that reads and discusses Chicago-themed classics as well as the works of contemporary Chicago writers such as Ms. Olson. In all, twenty-six writers have been our guests at the book club, which meets at the Cliff Dwellers usually on the fourth Saturday of the month at 11:00 a.m.(excluding December). The discussion ends about noon and is often continued over lunch at the club. Although the core of the group consists of Cliff Dwellers members, we encourage all who have interest about the book and/or author to attend. The 2020 reading list will be coming out soon.

Floyd Dell’s Chicago Years Discussed at the Newberry Library

ffloyd dell

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.