A Zoom Discussion with Carlo Rotella on October 3rd

Carlo Rotella will be joining the Cliff Dwellers book club for a Zoom discussion of his book The World is Always Coming to an End on Saturday, October 3, at 11:00 A.M. The discussion is open to all, and if you would like to participate Email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com and I will send you the access information. The book is part memoir, part urban sociology. It relates Rotella’s story of growing up in two homes located in Chicago’s racially changing South Shore community, which was 90% White in 1960, and by 1980 changed to 95% Black.
The book analyzes why integration failed in South Shore, despite the committed efforts of many, both Black and White people, to make it work. Today the community remains a dichotomy, being above average in Chicago for both PHDs and high school dropouts. There are many lessons to learn from this book. Essential lessons for the hope of Chicago’s distressed communities not only to survive today, but to gather strength to prosper in the future.

Bill Savage at the Cliff Dwellers Book Club on November 23rd

In his introduction to George Ade’s The Old-Time Saloon, Bill Savage begins by telling us that Ade “was once one of the most famous writers in America.” And you will see why after reading just a few pages of Ade’s 1931 polemic advocating the repeal of Prohibition. It’s incisive and informative with brilliant understated humor throughout the book.
Bill Savage will be joining us at the Cliff Dwellers book club on Saturday November 23 at 11:00 a.m. in the discussion of The Old-Time Saloon. Bill teaches Chicago literature, history and culture at Northwestern University and the Newberry Library. He will be bringing various Ade and Prohibition-era artifacts for the discussion.
Although the Cliff Dwellers is a private arts club, the Saturday morning Chicago-themed book club is open to all. The book club discussion is free, and non-member attendees are welcome to stay afterwards for lunch (credit card only). The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 S. Michigan, 22nd Floor, where the view is sensational. Guests for the book club who plan to stay for lunch should make their reservations at reservations@cliff-chicago.org.

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.

The Cliff Dwellers Book Club

I moderate the discussions of the Cliff Dwellers book club which has a focus on books that have a Chicago interest, both past and present; fiction and non-fiction. Contemporary writers frequently attend and participate in the discussion of their books. We often continue the discussion with lunch at the club afterwards. We meet in the Sullivan Room every fourth Saturday of the month (except December), at 11:00 am. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 South Michigan across from the Art Institute. Try to join us for our next discussion of Peter Orner’s Love and Shame and Love on July 29. Participation in the Cliff Dwellers book club is free and open to all, members and non-members alike. Please email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com if you are interested in coming or have any questions. Here are the remaining 2017 reading selections:

July 29-Love and Shame and Love-Peter Orner
August 26-Good Kings Bad Kings-Susan Nussbaum
September 23-Prairie Avenue-Arthur Meeker*
October 28-In the Castle of the Flynns-Michael Raleigh
November 25- The Girls-Edna Ferber
*This is offsite as we will be doing a Prairie Avenue tour that day. More information will soon be available.

Ethan Michaeli at the Cliff Dwellers Book Club


Ethan Michaeli, whose book, The Defender, brilliantly chronicles the history of the significant African American newspaper, was named one of the 100 notable books of 2016 by The New York Times. In his review of the book for The Times, Brent Staples writes that The Defender is a “deeply researched, elegant written history….It is also a towering achievement that will not be soon forgotten.”
The Cliff Dwellers monthly Saturday morning book club is honored to have Ethan Michaeli as our guest on February 25 to discuss his book. The discussion begins at 11 and is free, and Mr. Michaeli will be staying afterwards for lunch for which you will need to make a reservation at reservations@cliff-chicago.org.

A Dream of Kings is the September Cliff Dwellers Book Club Selection


I was at the ceremony nearly two years ago at the beautiful National Hellenic Museum when the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame awarded Harry Mark Petrakis the Fuller Award for making an outstanding lifetime contribution to literature. As Donald Evans, the Hall of Fame’s founder and executive director stated “Harry is surely one of the best Greek-American writers of his generation. He is one of Chicago’s all-time best writers. And, simply, he is near the top of our greatest literary writers period.”

Perhaps the most famous book of Petrakis, now 93, is A Dream of Kings, his fifth book that was on the New York Times bestseller list for three months and later on was made into a movie. This riveting novel is the Cliff Dwellers book club selection for our discussion this coming Saturday, September 24. We meet at 11:00 at the club, at 200 S. Michigan, and the discussion is free and open to the public.

The Cliff Dwellers to discuss Royko’s “Boss”

daley the boss

Mike Royko passed away nineteen years ago today. Hard to believe! My morning newspaper experience has never been the same. His column, on page two, was the first item that I turned to. Now my first read of the day tends to be either the obituaries, sports, or weather.
For thirty plus years, you would consistently find something witty, hard-hitting and satirical in a Royko column. Occasionally you would be surprised by how lyrical his words could be, revealing a softer and kinder nature, defying his gruff public image.
I believe that Royko’s Boss, an account of the life and times of Mayor Richard J. Daley, remains one of the best biographies ever written about an American politician. The Cliff Dwellers book club will be discussing Boss on Saturday May 28 beginning at 11:00 a.m. I will moderate the group. Although it is Memorial Day weekend, perhaps some of you who are in town and have some free time, would like to join in on the discussion, which promises to be lively and informative. Comment on this post or email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com if you have questions or would like to attend.

The Cliff Dwellers Book Club Welcomes Libby Fischer Hellmann on April 16.

set the night on fire

Libby Fischer Hellmann, the award-winning, highly acclaimed Chicago-based mystery writer, will be discussing her book, Set the Night on Fire, at the Cliff Dwellers Book Club this coming Saturday, April 16. The book is a thriller, set both in Chicago of today and in the politically charged years of 1968-69 with the backdrop of the Democratic Convention, Days of Rage and the SDS convention. It should be a fun discussion, especially for those of us who were politically active during that time.
Now in our third year, the Cliff Dwellers Book Club features Chicago writers, both past and present. Occasionally, like Libby on April 16, contemporary writers show up to engage in a lively dialogue with the book club. The public is invited, and the conversation begins at 11:00 a.m. There is no charge to attend the book club. Many attendees stay afterwards to continue the discussion over lunch. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 South Michigan, across the street from the Art Institute.
If you cannot make this one, consider a future book club. The remaining calendar is below.

May 28-Boss by Mike Royko
June 25-Where I Must Go by Angela Jackson
July 23-Moon-Calf by Floyd Dell
August 27-Peel My Love Like an Onion- by Ana Castillo
September 24-A Dream of Kings by Harry Mark Petrakis
October 22-The Fabulous Clipjoint by Frederick Brown
November 26-Many Lives, One Love by Fanny Butcher

A Literary Tour of Chicago’s Mean Streets

The “street-punk novel” is part and parcel of the Chicago literary tradition. Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning, which came out in 1941, chronicles the life and times of the Polish-American young hoodlum Bruno “Lefty” Bicek. Six years later, the African-American writer, Willard Motley, had his debut novel Knock on Any Door published, featuring the young Italian-American protagonist Nick Romano whose purpose in Motley’s words was to “live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.” Those same words could be applied to Mookie and J.C., the main characters in 47th Street Black, the 2003 debut novel of Bayo Ojikutu.

Mookie and J.C., like Bicek and Romano are killers. All are born into a tough world, where the streets are mean. Not only are all intent on mere surviving, but they all want to make something of themselves, to become “big shots” in the urban ghettos where they live. They are driven by money and status, living their own twisted version of the American dream.

The Cliff-Dwellers Book Club will be exploring the genre of the Chicago “street-punk novel” in three of our sessions this year. We begin by having Bayo Ojikutu as our guest on February 28 as he discusses 47th Street Black. Exactly a month later, on March 28 (Nelson Algren’s birthday), we will discuss Never Come Morning. On August 22, we will have a discussion of Knock on Any Door.

All these discussions are on Saturdays, beginning at 11:00 am. They take place at the Cliff Dwellers, at 200 South Michigan, directly across the street from the Art Institute. They go on for about an hour or so, often times continuing over lunch. For more information please email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com.            

Whirling Dervish

Whirling Dervish


Over this past year, Ruth Aizuss Migdal has been a regular participant in the Cliff Dwellers book club, which I moderate, but more importantly she has become my friend.  I so enjoy her enthusiasm and insights, and her vigorous approach to her work, at a time in life when most others have retired to more staid interests. Ruth, you see, is a sculptor, and one of the best in Chicago. She just finished a magnificent piece entitled “Whirling Dervish,” which has been recently installed near the lagoon and field house in Chicago’s Douglas Park on the West Side.

Those of you with Chicago literary interests know that Douglas Park has been featured in the stories of Meyer Levin and Stuart Dybek. In the past, one could hear the sounds of klezmer and polka in this public space, nowadays replaced by hip-hop and salsa. The park still looks good, and invites you to stroll along its paths and take in its beauty during all of Chicago’s varied seasons. Please make sure you stop by to see “Whirling Dervish,” the latest addition to the cultural landscape of Douglas Park.