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.

The Cliff Dwellers Book Club

We have completed an extremely successful inaugural year of the Cliff Dwellers Book Club. Our participants are truly committed to the art of lively conversation, and we had eleven engaging and memorable sessions. We begin at 11:00 am, once a month, usually on the fourth Saturday of the month. Many of us continue the conversation over lunch at the club. The selection of our books is a mix of Chicago authors, past and present. This year five of the authors joined us for the discussions.The 2015 reading list is listed below. If you want more information about the book club, please feel free to email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com.

January 24- The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow

February 28- 47th Street Black, Bayo Ojikutu

March 28 – Never Come Morning, Nelson Algren

April 25—Trumbull Park, Frank London Brown

May 30– Shall We Not Revenge, D.M. Pirrone

June 27-Years of Grace, Margaret Ayers Barnes

July 25—O, Democracy, Kathleen Rooney

August 22-Knock on Any Door, Willard Motley

September 26-Death at Pullman, Frances McNamara

October 24-The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

November 21, Young Lonigan, James T. Farrell


The Pitcher is a Winner



No sport is more uniquely American than baseball. After all it is called our national pastime. William Hazelgrove’s recent novel, The Pitcher, relates a marvelous story of the fulfillment of the American dream amidst the balls, bats and bases found on the baseball diamond. I was somewhat hesitant, I must admit, to begin reading another “baseball as a metaphor for life” novel, but somehow The Pitcher grabbed my interest immediately and held my steadfast attention until the end.

Hazelgrove writes a truly “feel good” story about Ricky Hernandez, a Latino teenage boy transplanted from Chicago to Florida. His single mother, Maria, is working hard to make ends meet after divorcing from an abusive husband, who still lurks terrifyingly in the background. Maria knows that Ricky has natural talent to be a successful pitcher, yet he needs intensive coaching to assure he hone his raw hurling skills.

And who better to learn the craft of pitching from than Jack Langford, the former World Series pitching hero who just happens to live on the same block as Ricky and Maria?  We see how the reclusive and alcoholic Jack, who had been knocked down in the game of life through personal loss, picks himself up from the mat as he is transformed into a caring and loving human being by his evolving relationships with Ricky and Maria.

Although some might question that there is a little too much predictability in the story line, The Pitcher makes for a wonderful read with a true storybook ending where you feel the goose bumps and shed a few tears of joy.     

Note: William Hazelgrove is the featured author at the Cliff Dwellers Book Club on Saturday, May 31 where he will discuss The Pitcher. The discussion begins at 11:00 am. All are welcome. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 S. Michigan, across the street from the Art Institute.




Cliff Dwellers Book Club Update

The Cliff Dwellers has been hosting thought provoking literary events since the club’s inception in 1907. Such literary giants as William Butler Yeats and Vachel Lindsay graced its rooms in the early years. Cognizant of this great tradition, we were somewhat wary launching the new Cliff Dwellers book club this past January. Yet after three stimulating and informative sessions, the book club has been a smashing success. We are indeed fortunate in having the authors participate in the next two scheduled sessions. On Saturday, April 26, Christine Sneed will discuss her novel “Little Known Facts,” while William Hazelgrove’s novel “The Pitcher” is up for discussion on Saturday, May 31. The book club sessions start at 11:00 am and end about 12:30 pm. Often discussions continue over lunch at the club. If you plan on attending as well as staying for lunch, please make a reservation at cliffdwellers@cliff-chicago.org. The club is located at 200 South Michigan, directly across the street from the Art Institute.

“The Temple of Air” is the next Cliff Dwellers Book Club Selection

The February 22 Cliff Dwellers Book Club will discuss Patricia McNair’s prize-winning collection of stories The Temple of Air. The author, a professor in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College, will be attending the discussion. The Temple of Air was called “violently creative” by the Chicago Sun-Times and “plainspoken yet imaginative, complexly unnerving” by Booklist.

The historic Cliff Dwellers Club is located at 200 S. Michigan Avenue, directly across the street from the Art Institute. The book club is open to club members, friends and all those who love to read and discuss books. The discussion begins at 11:00 am and ends at about 12:30 pm. Afterwards, all are encouraged to stay for lunch and continue the lively discussion. Advanced reservations may be made by email to reservations@cliff-chicago.org.    

Cliff Dweller Book Club

The Cliff Dweller Book Club will hold its first meeting at the Club (200 S. Michigan) from 11am to 2pm (with a break for lunch) on Saturday, January 25, 2014.
The Book Club is open to members, friends and all those who love to read and discuss books. I will be the discussion moderator for this and future meetings.
Since we are, after all, “The Cliff Dwellers Club,” our first book selection is Henry Blake Fuller’s novel “The Cliff Dwellers,” first published in 1893. Advance reservations may be made by email to reservations@cliff-chicago.org or you may email me at richardreeder34@gmail.com for more information.