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October 2004

JAMES T. FARRELL: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG (AND OLD) MAN

By Richard Frisbie
        At the Oct. 12 meeting of the Society in the Chicago Athletic Association, it seemed that half the people in the room had a personal connection to the creator of Studs Lonigan.
        On the panel that conducted the "James T. Farrell Conversation" were William Lederer, whose uncle, Studs Cunningham, inspired Farrell's famous trilogy; Bette Howland, who was scheduled to lunch with Farrell on the day he died, Aug. 22, 1979, and Ron Offen, who interviewed Farrell for a magazine article.
        To set the tone for the evening, SMA president S. Craig Sautter, read a passage from Young Lonigan, in which Farrell's protagonist was "sitting on a fireplug, looking tough" and spitting tobacco on the sidewalk.
        "My uncle was like that, posing for the neighborhood," said Lederer, a playwright, novelist and actor. What's more, Farrell put Lederer's mother, father and aunt in the book as well as his uncle, not even bothering to change their first names.
        Howland, an award-winning author of short fiction, praised Farrell's work for its naturalism, which has preserved the "lost Chicago" of the 1930s, in which people thought and spoke differently than now.
        Farrell's work was peppered with references to Blacks and Jews that people today would find most politically incorrect. That was not because Farrell himself was a bigot (he was the opposite), but because he was basing his writing on what he saw and heard.
        Ellen Skerrett, a historian, rose from the audience to comment that documents of the time confirm his "remarkable fidelity to time and place," recording "voices you don't hear anymore."
        She recalled meeting Farrell when she was a young reporter for the Southtown Economist and accompanying him to a baseball game.
        Referring to Farrell's use of the N-word and the K-word, Offen said: "We can't go on (into the future) without knowing where we were."
        Offen, publisher, poet and author, is chairman of the James T. Farrell Centennial Committee, which is trying to persuade Chicago city officials to do something to honor the centennial.
        Lederer said that Farrell started out as an outsider himself, a poor "shanty Irish child" who moved up to "steam-heat Irish" when his struggling parents sent him to live with his grandparents.
        Despite his poor vision, Farrell starred in sports at St. Cyril's (now Mt. Carmel) High School, winning letters in football, baseball, basketball and track.
        He went from there to the University of Chicago, a personal step up that figured in his five Danny O'Neill novels.
        Although Farrell wrote of an South Side Chicago Irish neighborhood, it seemed recognizable to Howland, who grew up in a "tough Jewish neighborhood" a generation later.
        She said Farrell's critical reputation suffered in his later years, which apparently embittered him, because realism went out of fashion and he inundated the literary public with a flood of more than 50 books, including 25 novels.
        Offen said that when he interviewed Farrell in the 1960s, he seemed a tragic figure – untidy and reduced to scrawling one huge word to a page so he could read it.

OTHER MEMBER NEWS        

"Genius"-- We Saw Him First
        Aleksandar Hemon, winner of the 2002 SMA fiction award for his novel, Nowhere Man, has been awarded a $500,000 "genius grant" by the MacArthur Foundation.
        Hemon, a Bosnian journalist, was in the United States on a student visa when the Bosnian War prevented him from returning home to Sarajevo.
        While here, he created an acclaimed collection of short stories in English, a language he had hardly written in before 1992, and his novel, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle fiction award.
        With the grant, Hemon told the press, ''I can take my time writing a book exactly the way I want to. Shape it to the smallest detail. ... I can organize my life around writing and finishing the book, not about earning a living.''

Chapels and Cathedrals
        Marilyn Chiat had her second book published this summer: North American Churches: From Chapels to Cathedrals (Publications International, Ltd., Lincolnwood, Ill.)
        It's described as a "coffee-table style book: beautiful photos of buildings accompanied by readable and interesting text...a lovely holiday gift."
        Her other book, The Spiritual Traveler: Chicago and Illinois (HiddenSpring/Paulist Press) is being featured in Chicago Barnes and Noble stores.

Pushcart Prize
        Patricia Monaghan writes: "I am always so eager to read the news of other SMA authors in Literary License. I'm usually teaching evenings so don't get to come to meetings often – but maybe this year I'll make one or two!"
        Her essay, "Physics and Grief," has won a 2004 Pushcart Prize; it was also included in Best American Spiritual Writing.
        She's currently working on a book on physics and poetry for an academic press

More Prosecution Complex
        Northwestern University Press will publish Victims of Justice - Revisited early in 2005. The book is an expanded and updated edition of the book about the notorious Nicarico case by Thomas Frisbie and Randy Garrett originally published in 1998 by Avon
        In describing the problem of wrongful death-penalty prosecutions and the "prosecution complex," Florida free-lance writer David Brothers wrote in the Oct. 10, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times: "The bottom line for every citizen of every state: Read Victims of Justice."

Courage on Stage
        Joanne Koch's latest play, Courage Like a Wild Horse, was performed Oct. 11 in the Theatre Building Chicago. The premiere production was a benefit for the Chicago Writers' Bloc.
        It was adapted for the stage from a book by the artist Sharon Okee Schee Skolnick, Where Courage is Like a Wild Horse, which tells the "moving true story of a young woman coming of age in an Oklahoma American Indian orphanage.:
        Koch, who is director of the graduate writing program at National-Lewis University, is author or co-author of 14 plays and musicals.


RECENT NEW MEMBERS
                
By Tom FRisbie
John T. Price writes creative nonfiction and holds a Ph.D. in English and an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. He is the author of Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey Into the American Grasslands" (University of Nebraska, 2004).
        His personal essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Orion, In Brief, Organization and Environment, North Dakota Quarterly, Echoes, The Florida Review, The Christian Science Monitor and Best American Spiritual Writing 2000.
        He was awarded a 2004-2005 fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts and was nominated in 1998 for the Pushcart Prize. Associate professor of English and creative writing at the University of Nebraska - Omaha, he lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Barth Landor, author of A Week in Winter (Permanent, 2004), lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters. He spent a number of years in Great Britain, where he studied language and literature.
        Of A Week in Winter, Publishers Weekly wrote: "This modern version of Gogol's The Inspector General, planted in a contemporary office, reveals the weaknesses inherent in human communities everywhere. This is a noteworthy fable for our times."

Rachel B. Shteir,
head of dramaturgy at the DePaul University Theatre School, is author of Grit, Glamour and the Grind: A History of Striptease (Oxford University, 2003).
        Before joining the Theatre School, she taught at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theater at Columbia University, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Yale College, the National Theatre Institute and many other colleges and universities.
        She is also a widely published writer whose reviews and essays appear in numerous journals, newspapers and magazines including The Nation, American Theatre and The New York Times.
        She has received several Yaddo and McDowell fellowships for her writing. As a dramaturg, Shteir has worked nationally including spending two years as head dramaturg at the Gertrude Stein Repertory Theater, where her work with new media and avant-garde texts helped the theater obtain a Rockefeller Grant. Other theaters she has done dramaturgical work for currently include the Steppenwolf Theater and Target Margin Theater.

Dr. John Raffensperger is the author of The Old Lady on Harrison Street: Cook County Hospital, 1833-1995 (Peter Lang, 1997).
        Kenan Heise, Chicago journalist and author, wrote: "At last Chicagoans get to learn the story of 'Old Lady of Harrison Street,' the incomparable Cook County Hospital. And what a tale, full of humans caring for humans amid politics, and squalor and more hope and daring than any TV hospital show could ever think of dreaming up."
        Raffensperger, a surgeon, also wrote Ward 41: Tales of a County Intern, (Discovery, 2004), which offers a glance back at the hospital in the 1950s.

Beth Staas is the author of An Audience of One (Denlinger's, 2001) and The Two Percent Miracle (Denlinger's, 1999). A freelance writer located in Chicago, she has been published in more than two dozen periodicals with national circulation.
        Currently, she teaches writing at a community college in Aurora. An Audience of One won an award from the Associated Authors of Children's Literature

Sandy Dickson, of Zion, Ill., is the author of Kindred Threads and Loving Relationships (Accolade, 1998) and a book in rhyming humorous verse.
        Besides writing poetry and fiction, she is a songwriter. As a poet, her categories include "humor, sacred, ponderables, time and childhood, and life."

Patricia Dragisic is author of How to Write a Letter (Scholastic, 1998). Of the book, the School Library Journal said: "There is a definite need for this book in most collections."
        She works in publications at the American Medical Association.

Cynthia J. Olson has a B.A. in art and psychology and an M.S. in computer science.
        She is author of Tawana Underground (2003). She currently teaches students with special needs and lives with her husband, Richard, and son, Devin, in Joliet, Ill.

Darwin McBeth Walton is the author of Dance, Kayla! and more than 30 other books. She started writing seriously while she was teaching.
        "Dance Kayla!" she states, "is a little bit autobiographical. I took a bit about myself, my life, stretched it out and made it exciting."
        She grew up in Charlotte, S.C., and studied music and dance at J. C. Smith and Howard Universities before moving to Chicago.
        She graduated from the Chicago Conservatory of Music and, after a short career in music performance, started teaching.
        In addition to writing, she supervises student teachers at National -Lewis University. She resides in Lombard, Ill., with her husband, Claude.


FINAL CHAPTERS

        Jerome Brooks, author of six highly praised novels and a member of the Society of Midland Authors since the mid-1970s, died May 28 of pancreatic cancer. He had been in poor health for several years. In recent years, three of his novels, originally marketed to young adults, were re-issued in adult format.
         Make Me a Hero was a serious contender for the Newbery award in 1980. Others are The Testing of Charlie Hammelman and Naked in Winter, which was published by the prestigious French house, L'ecole de Loisirs, in both hardback and paperback, the latter for a national French book club.
        Brooks used to tell students that "a writer must not write down to his reader, as a parent must not speak down to a child. In both instances, that sort of evolutionary debasement leads to the increase in the rise of the mediocrity we can now
feel all around us."
        He led fiction-writing workshops at the University of Chicago and inspired throngs of people from around the country who participated in his America Online Bulletin Board, Art, Integrity and Fiction.
        
He also taught English at Chicago City Colleges.

        Tom Buck, 87, died Oct.12 of pulmonary hypertension after a long and distinguished career as a Chicago newspaperman, which was recounted in his 2003 memoir, Buck, Buck, What's Up?: Tales from 60 Years in Journalism.
        Although in diminishing health he attended the SMA banquet in June in good spirits.
        At the Chicago Tribune, he once wrote six stories in one edition including three on the front page. One of his major scoops was breaking the story of corrupt meat inspectors who were allowing horse meat to be sold as beef to restaurants.


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