In Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood Saul Bellow wrote, taught and experienced the vicissitudes of life for many decades. Eventually Hyde Park took an emotional toll on him, as he wrote, at age eighty-two, “the things that bugged me, grieved me, about living in Hyde Park was to pass the houses where my late friends once lived, and even the windows from which I myself used to look out more than fifty years ago. The daily melancholy of passing these places was among the things that drove me East.”
Now fourteen years after his death, Hyde Park is finally paying homage to Bellow. Playing at the Court Theater and ending this week after a run of a month, is a fine dramatic adaptation of Bellow’s third novel, The Adventures of Augie March. There is also a fascinating special exhibit focusing on Bellow and Augie at the Regenstein Library on the University of Chicago campus, where Bellow’s archives are stored. Included in this exhibit are also interesting personal memorabilia such as Saul’s naturalization papers and passport. It runs through June 15.
Bellow is the only American writer to have won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and three National Book Awards. Yet, over the years, he has become somewhat of a literary persona non grata due to a new generation of academics and critics who perceive his writing and personal life as reactionary and misogynistic. He has been taken off most university undergraduate and graduate American literature curricula. He has fallen victim to the very political correctness that he abhorred.
But like him or not, Bellow’s true genius rang true that night in Hyde Park as we listened to his words orated by the actors in Augie. Hyde Park’s prodigal son returned home, at least for a little while.
We all seem to have various special and unique book collections tucked away on our bookshelves. Among my collections are the biographies and memoirs of American Presidents. I also have some nice collections of Chicago authors such as Saul Bellow and Studs Terkel. How about you? I would love you to share your special collection (s) with us. Maybe even include a photo or two.
Last week was a real pleasure visiting the old Jewish neighborhood of Montreal known as Mile End with our friends, Joanne Burgess and Martin Freeman, two exceptionally knowledgeable people who seem to know every nook and cranny of the neighborhood. These were the streets where Saul Bellow spent some of his early childhood, and where Leonard Cohen wrote some of his poetry and music and where Mordecai Richler found the inspiration in the writing of many of his novels and short stories. Joanne and Martin made sure we saw the new mural honoring Richler that was made public earlier that week. The text on the mural is in French, which is a bit ironic since Richler wrote in English and was often critical of a number of issues pertaining to the Quebecois community.
My fourth and final Saul Bellow Centenary lecture will be at the Vernon Area Public Library, 300 Olde Half Day Road, in Lincolnshire on Thursday evening, October 15; at 7:00 p.m. Registration for the event is required. Call the library at 224-543-1485 or go online at calendar.vapld.info to register. I hope to see you there.
I will be playing the role of Chicago neighborhood historian in two public appearances during the upcoming months. I delve into Saul Bellow’s Chicago’s Jewish roots in the Humboldt Park neighborhood as the featured speaker at the Chicago Jewish Historical Society meeting on June 7 at Temple Beth Israel, 3601 West Dempster in Skokie. The presentation is at 2:00 p.m. Two months later, on August 12, I discuss the history of the Jewish community in Rogers Park at the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society meeting on August 12. That presentation begins at 6:30 at the Rogers Park Library, 6907 N. Clark.
The lineup is all set for the next four presentations at the Chicago Jewish Authors Literary Series at Max and Benny’s Restaurant and Deli . Now in its fourth year, the Series has been well received in the community. I hope that you will be able attend at least one of these. The lineup is:
March 23—I will be presenting on the life and work of Saul Bellow. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Bellow’s birth.
April 20—Lisa Barr will discuss her thriller of a novel, Fugitive Colors, set in the art world of France and Germany during the dark years preceding the Second World War.
May 18—Charlene Wexler will be discussing her novel Lori, an emotional journey of a woman, which spans thirty years and two continents.
June 22—Jami Attenberg, of The Middlesteins fame, will be returning to the Chicago area to introduce us to her new novel, Saint Mazie.
If anybody has any questions on these events, or wishes to rsvp for any of them, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com. The cost of the event, which includes the program, light appetizers and dinner, is $40 per person.