Society of Midland Authors Logo
Home SMA Events Members' New Books Publicity Tips for Authors Speakers Bureau Notices & Member Events Donors & Grant Makers Contact Information Search this Site Join E-mail List
 Awards Contest:
About Winners
 Literary License:
Latest Issue Newsletter Index
Officers and Board Author Members Associate Members
Literary License Newsletter heading

December 1999

If you had a book published during 1999, you are eligible to enter it in the annual SMA contest. You'll have to have your publisher send a copy before March 1 to each of the three judges in the ap- propriate category. Or do it yourself. For judges' addresses, instructions and entry forms, see our web site at or contact the awards chairman, Carol Jean Carlson, 1420 W. Farragut, Chicago, IL 60640. Phone: 773/506-7578. E-mail:

The SMA website has a new "listserv" feature that enables members to communicate with each other more conveniently. All you have to do is go to the website and register. Then you can send an E-mail message that will be received simultaneously by each of the other members who have signed up for this service. You in turn will automatically receive a copy of every message sent by the others. It's a great way to carry on a literary discussion.

By Richard Lindberg
In this, our 85th anniversary year, it comes as no surprise that this generation of Midland Authors should be curious about the circumstances leading up to the formation of this venerable society. A few months ago, the Chicago Sun-Times launched a day-by-day historic walk-through of the major events of 20th century Chicago, focusing on a defining event from each year.

Writing about the year 1914, our friend and colleague Frank Sullivan described a "...March the private Cliff Dweller"s club, then atop Orchestra Hall, (when) Harriet Monroe brought together a group that felt the way she did about poetry." Chicago in 1914, as Frank reminds us, "was a magnet, attracting crafters of words throughout the mid-continent." It was the year Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology was published, and Carl Sandburg"s famous poem "Chicago" debuted in Harriet Monroe"s magazine. The world was on the brink of a World War that would permanently sever the fragile bonds linking late Victorian society to the 20th century, but the creative spirit surged through Chicago, and John M. Stahl, a wealthy businessman and the author of "six forgettable books" (according to the acerbic opinion of Fanny Butcher, reflecting on the founding of SMA years later) put up the seed money for a great gathering of Midwestern authors.

Stahl envisioned the creation of a society of peers not unlike the literary clubs he admired during his visits to New York and Boston during his travels. Stahl conferred with Mason Warner and Douglas Malloch, laying before them his plan for a fraternal society of authors, poets, and playwrights. "We agreed that the first thing to do was form an organization of the authors of Illinois," wrote Stahl in his published memoir, Growing Up With the West, "in which should predominate those authors who stood for decency and, of course, only those whose work had been recognized as highly meritorious; and, even more important, keep out those who had created ill feeling toward and contempt of Chicago."

Invitations were sent to Midwestern authors to come to Chicago for the purpose of breaking bread and uniting in the spirit of friendship and common bond. Some of them might have even met Stahl"s rigid criteria for "literary decency" and unabashed civic boosterism.

The Society is attempting to reconstruct a list of award winners from past years. Our archives at the University of Illinois Chicago are incomplete. If you have saved old awards-dinner programs, please photocopy them and send them to Rich Lindberg, 5915 N. Navarre Ave., Chicago, IL 60631. The missing years are 1964, 1969 through 1985 and anything before 1956.

Those who didn"t were welcomed all the same, and the great banquet, held at the Auditorium Theater and Hotel on Nov. 21, 1914, was adjudged a rousing success. "That someone should actually feed authors, free, was so remarkable," continued Stahl, "that Wallace Rice arose and announced that he had not believed it until that moment, but he had eaten a good dinner and had not received a slip inviting payment, and now his soul was ready to depart in peace, or words to that effect."

An organizing committee was appointed, and Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, a Chicago author of modest repute, was elected president. Chatfield-Taylor disliked the name "Society of Midwestern Authors," and supported a motion put forth by Hamlin Garland that the organization should be called the Soci- ety of Midland Authors, because that word had been a "useful and honorable member of the English vocabulary for centuries."

Chatfield-Taylor"s second book, An American Peeress, had been published in the U.S. and England in 1893 to critical acclaim, and undoubtedly he found the attention of the British press flattering.

Emerson Hough, the author of The Covered Wagon and 24 other books dealing with the old west and outdoor themes, strongly objected to the Anglo-sounding name. Born in Virginia, but rooted in Chicago since 1889, Hough said the word "midland" was too English for his frontier tastes, and that the Society deserved a more original designation.

Perhaps it was the esteemed William Dean Howell who finally resolved the contentious naming controversy, when he wrote to Stahl: "I greet the Society of Midland Authors very heartily, and wish them all success in getting the life of Illinois more and more into letters."

Laying further disagreements aside, the Society of Midland Authors drafted a set of by-laws and welcomed into membership the first charter members, among them, George Ade, Clarence Darrow, Zona Gale, Vachel Lindsay, Edna Ferber, James Whitcomb Riley; then later Ring Lardner, Jane Ad- dams, Brand Whitlock, Lorado Taft, and John T. McCutcheon. It was an all-star assembly of authors that grew and prospered in the decades to come. Mr. Stahl, with customary eloquence, described the Society of Midland Authors as a "vigorous organization of gratifying usefulness."

By Richard Lindberg
Reflecting on the joys, heartaches, setbacks, and triumphs of his 25 years at Victory Gardens Theater, Dennis Zacek said half-seriously that whenever problems arise, it is the artistic director who owns the theater, all other times the theater is a cherished institution belonging to the City of Chicago.

Zacek revels in his work. He has three pages of director's credits to his name and was at the vanguard of the city"s burgeoning theater movement, which took root in the early 1970s, bringing to the fore Steppenwolf Theater, Victory Gardens, and Northlight, and introducing the creative vision of the city"s most talented but unheralded actors, directors and writers, including Martha Lavey, and B.J. Jones, who shared the dais with Zacek at the October meeting of the Society of Midland Authors.

The Board Room of the 410 Club was filled with members and guests who came to hear these three dynamic artistic directors eagerly share their knowledge of Chicago theater, and provide help and encouragement for the next generation of playwrights and producers hoping to catch a break in an admittedly overheated field, where the best and brightest are often relegated to selling shoes or waiting on tables in order to survive

. B.J. Jones, a two-time Jeff Award winner who guided Northlight to its most successful season in its entire 25-year run, reads a new play every two to three days and regularly conducts Internet research to see who's doing what. He receives much of his creative input from Gavin Witt of the University of Chicago, who came on board recently. Witt screens much of the original work coming in from local playwrights showing promise.

Martha Lavey, a veteran of many Steppenwolf productions has served as its artistic director since 1993. Lavey is an advocate of the workshop culture. The famous theater on Halsted she now guides started in a basement in Highland Park 25 years ago. Steppenwolf catapulted Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney, and John Malkovich to fame on the stage and screen.

Nowadays, Lavey is trying to build a literary department in order to make contact with writers and agents. She is less optimistic about the available opportunities and admits that there is a standing policy against accepting material from unpublished playwrights. Regrettably, there is a whole stratum of authors out there who fail to get past that workshop culture. "Three of us are always reading plays," she concedes, "but the playwright needs to sell the thing, soup to nuts."

Dennis Zacek produces five shows a year at Victory Gardens, which started on Clark St. a quarter- century ago. He praised Chicago as a warm and open place, and not a "cutthroat town. "There is a free-flow of information among theater mavens," but he cautioned his audience that there are no easy answers for unknown playwrights seeking to get their new plays read. Zacek relies on a stable of a dozen proven playwrights ranging in age from 30 to 70, and he says that he will do his best to produce most of their work. "We"re not a closed shop, but we"re a busy shop," he added.

By Richard Frisbie
Regardless of all the political posturing about the subject, the U.S. education system is going to be modernized to meet needs of the new century. That's the conclusion Edward E. Gordon offered at the SMA's Nov. 9 meeting in the Cliff Dwellers Club. It's also the message of his current book, Skill Wars: Winning the Battle for Productivity and Profit (Butterworth-Heinemann).

Gordon, who holds doctorates in both psychology and history, teaches at Northwestern University besides running a management consulting firm. His clients, who include Fortune 500 companies, tell him they can't find enough employees who can write clearly, solve problems, conduct meetings and otherwise display the fruits of a liberal education.

Corporate America, he said, is going to insist that the country do whatever is necessary to overhaul a system that worked well years ago but no longer prepares students for an economy that's high tech and global. Gordon launched his career as an author of business books with his doctoral dissertation on the history of tutoring.

By Barbara Schaaf
2000 or not 2000
We literate types know that the millennium actually begins in 2001 (read the book, saw the movie), but it is difficult to argue with the hype. The Chicago Sun-Times isn't trying, and has enlisted the aid of SMA members for a series on 20th century Chicago.

These writers for the millennium include (published so far): Dempsey Travis explored 1919 in "Shame and Scandal Hit the City" (Oct. 11, 1999), with emphasis on the Black Sox and the July race riots.

William Helmer tackled 1924 in "Crime and Compulsion" (Oct. 16, 1999), featuring Leopold and Loeb, Big Bill Thompson, Dion O'Banion, Big Jim Colosimo, Johnnie Torrio and Al Capone. Helmer's a busy lad; see below. Irving Cutler reported on 1927 in "Jews Make Chicago Home" (Oct. 18, 1999). In that year, Chicago had the third largest Jewish population in the world, according to Cutler. He also recalled the Dempsey-Tunney fight, the founding of the Harlem Globetrotters, the opening of Municipal (later Midway) Airport, the dedication of Buckingham Fountain, and the opening of the Hilton Towers, nee the Stevens Hotel.

Gwendolyn Brooks, the Illinois Poet Laureate, reprinted one of the poems that helped win her the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Other members on the list to contribute pages include Tom Frisbie, Martin E. Marty, Sara Paretsky and Scott Turow. The entire collection will be published Dec. 22 in book form under the title 20th Century Chicago: 100 Years, 100 Voices.

Food for Thought
You never know where an SMA member's work will bear fruit. The Oct. 3, 1999 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story about the rebirth of the South Loop, entitled "The Wabash Cannonball." It focussed on restaurant owner Jerry Kleiner, who credited SMA President Richard Lindberg's book, Chicago by Gaslight: A History of Chicago's Netherworld 1880-1920, as Kleiner's source for the history of the area.

Perhaps there is such a thing as a free lunch, Rich; Gioco (the game) is located at 1312 S. Wabash. Let us know. It's a Crime...

And Bill Helmer's glad as long as it's history. He has two true crime projects under way. With Art Bilek, former chief of the Cook County Sheriff's Police, he is wrapping up a volume on the St. Valentine's Day Massacre; with Wisconsin writer Steve Nichels, he is writing the biography of Baby Face Nelson. As an expert on what he terms the "Public Enemy Era," he is frequently asked by colleagues in the same field for referrals to "first rate agents both competent and interested in such subjects." Bill wel- comes suggestions at 773/472-5021.

New and Notable
New SMA members include Deborah Rosen, editor of Rhino, poetry journal, and Enid Baron, who published a memoir in the summer issue of Doubletake.

Also Bob Skilnik, author of History of Beer and Brewing in Chicago, 1833 - 1978 (Pogo Press), and Georg Nikolic, author of Key to Dreams According to Diordje, (El Penor Books). More to come in the new year!

Address Corrections
Barbara Gregorich has moved to 400 N. Clinton St., Chicago, IL 60610.
Merv Block's fax number in the 1999 Yearbook is incorrect. It should be 212/501-9715.

Marquette Honors Alumna
Her alma mater, Marquette University, has named Dorothy Haas, Arts "55, as recipient of the Don T. McNeill Award, in recognition of her professional success.

Don McNeill was a 1929 journalism graduate who went on to host The Breakfast Club, the longest running network radio show.

Haas has enjoyed dual careers as an editor and author of books for children. While working as an editor at Whitman Publishing and as a senior editor for Rand McNally, she was responsible for the publication of more than 600 books. As a writer, she has published more than 50 books, including The Bears Upstairs, The Secret Life of Dilly McBean, Burton and the Giggle Machine and Not Starring Jilly.

Dorothy has been the recipient also of the Society of Midland Authors Lifetime Literary Achievement Award and a Children"s Reading Round Table Award for distinguished service in children"s literature.

Too Much Poetry?
Allison Funk, poet and faculty member at Southern Illinois University, was one of the panelists for a discussion of "Rhyme and Reason: Poetry Online " Access or Excess?" The occasion was the Missouri Center for the Book "Third Celebration of the Book." It was held in Columbia, Mo., at Stephens College and the University of Missouri.

V.I. Warshawsky Returns
Sara Paretsky was the subject of the lead interview in the Oct. 25 issue of Publishers Weekly. It focused on Hard Times (Delacorte), her first novel in five years about V. I. Warshawski, the hardboiled female private eye she created in 1982. Many critics consider her new work the best yet, PW said. "Hard Times, like all of Paretsky's books grew out of a deeply felt anger at social injustice. In this case, Paretsky's rage was ignited by the privatization of America's prisons and the potential this new system creates for abuse and exploitation."

Puppet Helps Promote Book
Diana F. Johnson signed her children's book, Princesa and Friskie, in October and November at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Crystal Lake, Ill. She uses a puppet doll based on her character, "Princesa," to help dramatize the book.

Different Books, Same Year
Wendell Mayo, a new member of SMA who teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Bowling Green State University, has brought out two very different story collections this year. The first, In Lithuanian Wood (White Pine Press, 1999), stories set in the post-Soviet Baltics, appeals to a general readership but should be particularly interesting for Chicago's sizable Lithuanian-American community.

The Los Angeles Times praised Mayo's "eye for the small details, the ironies of custom and tradition. Such richly diverse stories suggest a powerful merging of history and folklore with everyday life. In Lithuanian Wood contains many striking, poetic moments."

Horror and Other Stories (Livingston Press, 1999) is Mayo's "darkly humorous" collection about contemporary America. Publishers Weekly said Mayo's "gnomic parables showcase his facility for reading deeper meanings in the banal moments of ordinary life and the disposable artifacts of popular culture." (They) "shine with the professional polish of subtly wrought revelation." From Kirkus Reviews: "This is grand writing conveyed in the simplest words without the faintest hint of pulp fiction, although much of the subject matter comes from popular culture. Do not pass this by."

"Unforgettable Read"
The Folk Keeper (Atheneum), Franny Billingsley's latest book for ages 10-14, was highlighted by Publishers Weekly as a "fascinating" and "poetically wrought" story with a strong feminist theme. "The author's ear for language, her use of classic motifs and her stalwart heroine make this novel an evocative, unforgettable read."

Interviewed on Cable
Glennette Tilley Turner is one of the writers interviewed on Written in Illinois, a television produc- tion by the Illinois State for viewing on regional cable networks.

Poets Aid Guild Complex
Gwendolyn Brooks and Reginald Gibbons were among the poets who offered readings at a benefit reception Nov. 16 in the Chicago Historical Society to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Guild Complex. Besides publishing poetry through the Tia Chucha Press, the Guild Complex presents more than 130 literary events each year.

Plays on Tour
Joanne Koch"s comedy, written with Sarah Cohen, about a fictional meeting in the afterlives of Sophie Tucker, Totie Fields and Belle Barth is selling out at The Drama Center in Boca Raton, Fla., where it just received a great review with the headline: "An R-rated Act Made in Heaven." The play, which has had successful productions in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Miami, will run in Boca Raton through December and then move to the Wilton Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale for January and February.

Here in Chicago special performances of Soul Sisters by Koch and Cohen and Safe Harbor by Koch will run in November and December at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, produced by Red Hen Productions. For information call Elayne LeTraunik at 773/935-8950. Soul Sisters will have its 25th university performance in February at Bradley University in Peoria, after playing at Indiana, Missouri, Marquette, Boston U., Clark, Syracuse, Michigan State, National-Louis, SUNY-Albany, Franklin and Marshall College, Hamilton College and many other campuses.

Kindness Has Long Life
An act of kindness by long-time SMA member Phyllis Whitney, still sheds its light after more than half a century. When the Daily Herald interviewed the staff of the newsletter at the retirement home in Arlington Heights, Ill., the reporter stumbled on a better story than she expected.

One of the writers, Catherine Stahlman, 85, turned out to be the author of Bunny Blue and other children's books. Stahlman recalled that before she submitted Bunny Blue to a publisher, Whitney had made one crucial suggestion that seemed to make a big difference. Originally, the story involved a stuffed bunny's search for a missing ear. Whitney, already an established author, said a missing body part might disturb some children. So Stahlman made the object of the search a pink satin bow. Published by Rand McNally in 1946, Bunny Blue became the most popular of all Rand McNally's children's books

. Whitney, onetime Chicago journalist, was honored by SMA in 1996 with a Lifetime Achievement Award.She has published more than 80 novels with worldwide sales of more than 40 million copies. Although Whitney resides in Virginia, she maintains her SMA contacts partly because, she says, the society helped encourage her when she was getting started as an author.

Sociologists Honor Greeley
Father Andrew Greeley, who is a prominent sociologist as well as a successful novelist, was honored recently by the American Sociological Association and the Association for the Sociology of Religion. A photo in the Chicago Sun-Times showed him being warmly congratulated by Cardinal Francis George.

Prepares 10th Edition
Zena Sutherland writes that she is working on the 10th edition of her textbook, Children and Books, and serving as a judge for the National Book Award. "The rest is time-consuming and tedious to tell."

Job for Author/Teacher
Joanne Koch tells us that the National-Louis University English department, where she is a full- time faculty member, is looking for writers who can teach. "We need writers of children"s books who are knowledgeable about the field of children"s literature to teach courses in children"s literature and in the writing of children"s books. For our graduate program in writing, we are interested in talking to writers who have specialties in various areas: nonfiction, journalism, features, novels, the short story, desktop publishing and writing for the internet. We have campuses in Evanston, Chicago and Wheaton, but we"re particularly in need of instructors on the Wheaton campus. A Master"s Degree in English or a related field is helpful, but your publishing record may compensate for that requirement."
Please contact Joanne at 847/864-5357 or via E-mail at or by fax at 847/864- 2312.

Another Authors' Web Page
The Illinois State Library has added an Illinois author site to its Web page. So far, about 150 authors have been listed, along with their book titles and brief biographical data. Web address: (removed because page cannot be displayed) For more information, contact Jennifer Cowsert at 217/785-5600.

newsletter index
top of page
Copyright 2000 Society of Midland Authors. All rights reserved