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February 2004

        May 11 is the date for the SMA's 89th Annual Banquet and Awards Presentation. The best adult fiction, adult nonfiction, biography, children's fiction, children's nonfiction and poetry books of 2003 will be recognized with plaques and cash awards. There'll also be an award for literary criticism.
        Instead of the Cliff Dwellers Club, as previously announced, the dinner will be held at the Chicago Athletic Assn., where our monthly meetings are usually scheduled.
        The April meeting at the C.A.A. will feature authors of books on Chicago politics, including Ray Hanania, Claude Walker, Barbara Schaaf and Dick Simpson.


By Richard Frisbie
        While researching his monumental book, A Natural History of the Chicago Region, Joel Greenberg came across many vivid descriptions of the land and its teeming wildlife before settlement. He shared some of them with the audience at the Feb. 10 SMA meeting in the Chicago Athletic Assn.
        R. Craig Sautter, SMA president, set the tone by reading a passage from A Son of the Middle Border by Hamlin Garland, one of the founders of SMA.
        Garland, recalling his boyhood on the farm, spoke of myriad ducks rising from the prairie in waves with their wings beating like "rumbling thunder."
        Greenberg cited a journal from 1763 describing numerous buffalo, deer and bear near the mouth of the Chicago River. Another document from 1833 mentioned "the soothing songs of birds" that could be heard accompanying the rhythmical hiss of the waves as one walked through the lakefront dunes just north of the Chicago River.
        He said that the mouth of the Chicago River must have been much like Illinois Beach State Park (one of his favorite places), where the Dead River flows into Lake Michigan. Wave action piles up sand at the mouth of the small stream, damming its flow temporarily. After a while the stream breaks through with a rush, and the cycle begins again.
        Greenberg explained that because Illinois was settled from the "bottom up," natural lands in Illinois survived longer than elsewhere, particularly in Cook, Lake and McHenry counties. There was still a bear to be hunted down as recently as 1869 in Chicago near the Rock Island railroad station.
        Of the natural lands that survive, "everything that's left has been preserved," usually after a big political fight, he said, between environmentalists and developers.
        He mentioned the comeback of species like the majestic sandhill crane. Once considered endangered, these huge birds, with seven-foot wing spans, now gather in flocks of thousands during migration at places like the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana.
        Greenberg found no paintings and few old photographs depicting the unspoiled prairie, but many "stunning" accounts of the prairie in spring when one could see a "rippling sea of lavender," or during a fire, when the flames would roar for hundreds of miles leaving a carpet of red embers in all directions under the "sun shining through a blood-red haze."

printable reservation form

        SMA will again have a table at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Book Fair, billed as the largest free literary event in the Midwest. The event this year is scheduled for Saturday, June 5, and Sunday, June 6. SMA authors will be able to showcase and sell their books.
        SMA members can reserve space for $25 to help defray the costs. The exact times and location will be forthcoming, but in the past the time blocks per author have been in two hour increments. Reservations are being accepted now for space on a first-come, first-served basis. Authors will be responsible for bringing their own books, selling them, collecting the money and taking away any unsold copies afterwards. Participants must remain in the booth for the duration of their assigned times.
        SMA will schedule times based on the number of responses received.
        Please click here for a printable reservation form.
By Barbara Schaaf
The Buzz
        Margaret McMullan's new novel, In My Mother's House (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press) is"exquisite and elegant," writes Shirley Ann Grau."McMullan is the next gifted writer to watch."
        And that's only the beginning of the word of mouth According to Sena Jeter Naslund (Ahab's Wife) McMullan has written a "fascinating account of the complexity of survival" that "will haunt and strengthen its readers."
        Robert Olen Butler (A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain) chimes in that "McMullan is a splendid new voice among us."

First Person Plural
        With the help of a grant from Northwestern University, Paul McComas has turned the best efforts of his advanced fiction writing workshop into First Person Imperfect (iUniverse), a collection of 19 stories told in the first person.
        Advance readers call it "a big-hearted book...a varied and wonderful collection of new voices...a charming and diverse collection of original, emotional stories sung with passion..."
        Contributors, in addition to McComas (author of Unplugged and Twenty Questions) will read from their work at a reception in Northwestern's Norris Center Bookstore at noon on Saturday, Feb. 21.
        A portion of the proceeds will go to Boys Hope/Girls Hope, a not-for-profit network of group homes for high risk youth.

For the Love of Language
        Jan Spivey Gilchrist is credited with taking a new approach to illustration "that incorporates sewn fabric collage" in her new book, In the Land of Words: New and Selected Poems (with Eloise Greenfield; published by HarperCollins).
        The "snappy mix of new and old poems that collectively sing the praises of the written word" is aimed at new readers, aged four to eight years.

Makes It Seem Like Yesterday
        According to Publishers Weekly, Martin Marty's new book, Martin Luther (Viking/Lipper), "excels in distilling debates that were matters of life and death 500 years ago but seem obscure to Christians today...This is the best brief biography of Luther ever penned."
        In an accompanying interview, the obviously amazed PW reporter, observes, "You've written more than 50 books in your career, and you're at work on several more. Um, do you ever sleep?
        SuperMarty's reply; "I don't need a lot of sleep. I get up at 4:44 in the morning...I have my morning wife comes down at six and we read four newspapers together.
        "By 7:30 to 8, I come over to the studio. I take two little seven or ten minute naps every day, and go to bed around ll p.m. But I'm not compulsive. I lead a good life, going out to dinner with friends...I don't think people have ever caught me saying the words 'I'm busy.' I'm scheduled, and I can't be in two places at the same time but I'm not too busy. It's a good life."


The Spook Is Back
        The movie version of Sam Greenlee's novel, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, had people lined up around the block to see it when it came out in 1973.
        But after three weeks it suddenly wasn't showing anywhere, and hasn't been seen since. Greenlee and the director blamed FBI pressure on the distributor.
        The plot apparently made the government nervous. The CIA is forced to recruit a black man to answer charges of racism. He later resigns, becomes a social worker and starts secretly training a black street gang in guerilla tactics to liberate black America.
        Now, after 30 years, it's suddenly available on DVD, complete with an interview with Greenlee, who also co-wrote the film script.

Literary Executor Sought
        SMA has been contacted by the editor of an anthology who wishes to republish a poem by the late Gail Brook Burket, a long-time SMA member who died at 91 in 1997.
        The editor, June Cotner, asks that anyone who can put her in touch with an appropriate relative, contact her at
Burket, a resident of Evanston, Ill., wrote six volumes of poetry, a book on how to write poetry and two best-selling books on manners. She was also a leader in a number of civic organizations.

Woolson on the Internet

        Eric Woolson (author of Grassley: Senator from Iowa) is writing a twice-monthly column for, a subscriber Internet news service. Woolson also recently completed his involvement in the New Hampshire Public Radio/KUNI Public Radio Primary Election 2004 Pen Pals Project.
        Woolson owns The Concept Works, a public and government relations firm in West Des Moines, Iowa. He has begun to write about the Amway Murders, the true story of the eerie twists of fate that led to the slayings of an Iowa couple, and the unusual coincidences that resulted in the conviction of their killer.

Sacred Space                        
        Marilyn Chiat's book, The Spiritual Traveler: Chicago and Illinois, triggered a whole page in the Chicago Sun-Times by the paper's religion columnist.
        The book, relying on Chiat's background as a Minneapolis-based religious art and architecture specialist, describes hundreds of interesting religious buildings and sites that qualify as "sacred space."

        Publishers Weekly reports that Gator Gumbo, Candace Fleming's new book for ages four to eight, uses "Cajun-flavored language" to tell the humorous story of Mademoiselle Possum, Monsieur Otter and Madame Skunk. They taunt Monsieur Gator until they wind up in the soup.

Mystery Guides Back Afoot
Alzina Stone Dale and Barbara Sloan Hendershott report that all five of their Mystery Reader's Walking Guides, covering England, London, New York, Chicago and Washington D.C.,are now available through the Authors Guild at

By Tom Frisbie
        Children's author Debbi Chocolate was born in Chicago in 1954. She earned a B.A. at Spelman in 1976 and an M.A. from Brown in 1978. Her books include My First Kwanzaa Book; Kente Colors (Walker & Co., 1997); Imani in the Belly (Troll, 1996); Piano Man; Neate to the Rescue (1999); Elizabeth's Wish (2001); A Very Special Kwanza (Little Apple, 1996); Spider in the Sky: An Akan Legend (Troll, 1992); Pigs Can Fly: The Adventures of Harriet Pig and Friends; Talk, Talk: An Ashanti Legend and others. She lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two sons.

        Diane Tarshis grew up in New York and Ohio. After graduating from Wharton, she worked in investment banking, operations and finance management for finance and manufacturing firms. Now she runs a Chicago business-plan writing firm and lives in Chicago with her husband, two boys and a dog.
        She co-authored her book, Mothers-In-Law Do Everything Wrong (M.I.L.D.E.W. ) (Andrews McMeel, 2004) under the pen name Renee Plastique.

        Mary Swander, an associate professor at Iowa State University, is an author of nonfiction, memoir and poetry books. Her latest book, The Desert Pilgrim (Viking, 2003), describes her journey to New Mexico in search of traditional Hispanic and Latin American faith healers who could help her deal with the devastating physical effects of a car accident.
        Her previous volumes include Out of This World (Viking, 1996) and Heaven-and-Earth House (Knopf, 1995). She also is the author of two earlier books of poems, Succession (1979) and Driving the Body Back (1986), and has been published in such magazines as The Nation, The New Yorker and Poetry. She was born in 1950 in Carroll, Iowa, and grew up in Manning and Davenport. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa. Her hobbies include photography and playing the banjo.

        Biographer Alice Zeman was searching through old trunks and attics looking for old clothes for a Centennial style show when she found some old clippings and "Mary Lewis" mementos that her grandmother had saved.
        That incident was the seed that began her research for Mary Lewis, The Golden Haired Beauty With The Golden Voice. She also wrote Wabansi, Fiend or Friend and Chief.
        The Illinois State Historical Society said: "Zeman's work is an accurate, thought-provoking biography of Wabansi, the Potawotomi leader who played an important role in early Illinois."
        She's a farm homemaker, part-time church secretary, newspaper correspondent.

        Nancy S. Wikarski writes historical mysteries. She's a Chicago native who has lived in most neighborhoods stretching from the Wisconsin border to Indiana and from the lakefront to the far western suburbs.
        She received a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Chicago, and worked in the city's financial district for many years before becoming an independent computer consultant.
        Her book Fall of the White City was set in 1890s Chicago and after.

        Katherine Shonk's book of short stories, The Red Passport (Farrar, Strauss, 2003), grew out of a year she spent in Moscow. She also studied with Fred Shafer at Northwestern's School of Continuing Education, and was an Illinois Arts Council fellowship prose recipient.

        What Are You So Grumpy About?
{Little, Brown) the latest children's book from author and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld of Geneva, Ill., has been named one of the Best Children's Books of 2003 by Child magazine.
        The award will be presented at a book signing event in New York City in February, which will also honor Maurice Sendak with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
        Lichtenheld's previous books, both from Simon & Schuster, are Everything I Know About Pirates and Everything I Know About Monsters.

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