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.