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 email@example.com.
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.
At the onset of the 20th century, Chicago had become the nation’s Second City, a Midwest Leviathan, a center of commerce and industry. The poet Carl Sandburg, born in downstate Galesburg, arrives in Chicago in 1912. He describes Chicago as “Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler, / Stormy, husky, brawling/City of the Big Shoulders.”
Unbounded energies are released in Chicago in many different directions. One of which is the creative energies that result in the Chicago Literary Renaissance during the first quarter of the new century. The city’s Literary Renaissance is primarily fueled by two women publishers, Harriet Monroe and Margaret Anderson. A native Chicagoan, and a writer herself, Ms. Monroe established Poetry, a magazine totally dedicated to that particular literary form of expression, in 1912. Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay were frequent contributors, as well as countless others. Today, Poetry, in its 103th year, is going strong as ever.
Margaret Anderson, also a writer, leaves Indianapolis to come to the creative hub of Chicago. In 1914, she establishes a literary journal called The Little Review. Soon The Little Review publishes the early works of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Later on, excerpts from James Joyce’s Ulysses are published, for the first time in America, in the journal.
Chicago becomes a magnet drawing in creative geniuses to its bosom. Ben Hecht leaves his home in Racine, Wisconsin, and comes to town in 1910. Although making a living as a newspaper writer, Hecht begins his work as a playwright, teaming with Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, in several one-act plays performed at Jane Addams’ Hull House. Years later, Hecht and Charles MacArthur write what I believe to be the most entertaining of Chicago plays,The Front Page. While living in Chicago, Hecht wrote several novels and numerous short stories, but his greatest writing, by far, were the 500 fictive pieces that appeared every day on the back page of the Daily News, which he called 1001 Afternoons in Chicago.
Edna Ferber leaves her newspaper job in Appleton, Wisconsin, and arrives in Chicago in 1909, eventually settling in the Windermere Apartments in Hyde Park. From this base in Chicago, she writes novels of the like of So Big (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1924), Cimarron, and Show Boat that make her the most prominent woman novelist of her time.
Sherwood Anderson comes to Chicago in 1912, after failing horribly in business back in his home state of Ohio. Deserting his wife and children, Anderson’s creative juices are unleashed in our “stormy, brawling and husky” city, and eventually he completes Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of interrelated fiction vignettes that is considered one of the masterpieces of American writing.
The Chicago Literary Renaissance eventually fades away as both Andersons, Hecht, Ferber, Sandburg and Hecht leave the city in the mid to late1920s. Harriet Monroe remains and continues publishing Poetry here in Chicago.
This weekend there is a celebration of the life and legacy of Studs Terkel at the University of Chicago. The schedule of events can be found on studs.uchicago.edu. Personally, I didn’t know Studs very well. I don’t think he knew my name. He acknowledged me at political events, concerts and plays that we both attended, and every now and then we would engage in some light conversation of never more than a minute or two.
I thought that Studs was the best radio interviewer that I ever listened to. His encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of subject matter never failed to astound me. He seemed equally versed on jazz, blues, musical theater and opera. Despite occasional outrageous remarks by interviewees, he never seemed fazed, always maintaining a calm demeanor.
I wonder if Saul Bellow’s criticism of Studs might surface during this coming adulatory weekend. Bellow, in a letter to the journalist Herbert Mitgang in 1996 writes “Stud’s Chicago certainly was not mine. His Chicago was mythical. His myth was common.” Bellow goes on to say that both Studs and Carl Sandburg had a stylized image of Chicago. “It was the People, Yes! Populism was the source of their mythology. It was not necessary for them to wonder how to describe any phenomenon because they had ideological ready-mades, cutouts, stereotypes, etc. Poets and street-corner orators can make use of slogans, but slogans will not do for writers.”
I’m sure that the Studs who so loved the cantankerous banter of Bughouse Square in its heyday, would appreciate some stimulating debate about his work, rather than accept unanimous appreciation by admirers.
On Sunday evening, June 9, after the hustle and bustle of the Printers Row Lit Fest, enjoy a relaxing and fun event as Greg Bellow will read and discuss his new memoir, Saul Bellow’s Heart at the Haymarket Pub and Brewery, 737 W. Randolph. As part of the evening’s program, I will be discussing Saul Bellow’s importance in Chicago literary history. Also Steve Mosqueda and Sean Benjamin, of the Neo-Futurists, will stage a Bellow-themed dramatic reading. The program begins at 8:00 pm, although we will be gathering at the pub at 7:00 pm and staying awhile after the program. This free event is co-sponsored by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and the Friends of the Blackstone Library.