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March 2000

With Harry Mark Petrakis as the featured speaker, the Society will celebrate its 85thbirthday May 9 at the Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago. The title of Petrakis banquet talk will be: "A Storyteller's Journey," describing a writer's struggle to fashion a language and vision for his work as well as to refine those elements he draws upon to create a story; then, an arduous battle to get the work into print.

As usual, awards will be presented for the best books of the preceding year in six categories: biography, poetry and adult and children's fiction and nonfiction. The dinner committee promises additional fun and flourishes in honor of the anniversary. Petrakis is noted as a warm and witty speaker, and as the author of such highly praised novels as A Dream of Kings, Ghost of the Sun, In the Land of Morning and Nick the Greek.

SMA has contracted for a table at the Printers Row Book Fair June 2 and 3 in Chicago. Members who wish to display and sell their own books at the fair are invited to do so. There will be a charge of $25 for authors who sell books, to help defray the cost of participating. For details write SMA/Book Fair, P.O. Box 10419, Chicago, IL 60610. Or ask Rich Lindberg, E-mail: The Society will use the table also to attract the attention of visiting authors who may be qualified to become members.

By Richard Lindberg
Over the past year and half, the Society has been very pleased to co-sponsor an author-signing program bringing our members and the reading public together at the Barnes & Noble Webster Place store. I am pleased to announce an expansion of the B & N program, based on the enthusiastic response at Webster Place. The cooperative venture between B&N and the Society will now be extended to the Village Crossing store at 5405 W. Touhy Ave. in Skokie, Ill.

The Board of Directors has authorized the purchase of two sets of display kiosks, which were given to Village Crossing and to Webster Place. The kiosks bear the inscription of the Society of Midland Authors, and the sub-headings: "Books by Members" or "Award Winners." In May, at the conclusion of the awards banquet, the award-winning books will be displayed at each store.

At other times during the year, Katie Schwartz at Webster Place and Bettina Moravolo at Village Crossing will alternate titles on the permanent display kiosks. If you would like to see your book displayed, or desire to schedule a time to go out to the store to do an autographing, or make a presentation, please call either Katie at Webster Place, or Bettina at Village Crossing. Children's authors, and first-time authors who would like to discuss techniques of breaking into print are always in demand at the Skokie store. Please feel free to call them to discuss your books or your ideas for a program, at your convenience.
(Bettina Moravolo, Community Relations Manager, Barnes & Noble Village Crossing, 5405 W. Touhy Ave., Skokie, IL 60077. Phone: 847-329-0412. Katie Schwartz, Community Relations Manager, Barnes & Noble Webster Place, 1400 Webster Place, Chicago, IL 60614. Phone: 773-871-3610.)

Writing on the prairie: HOW DO THE BISON STAND THE COLD?
By Richard Frisbie
The prairie, a landform that has inspired so much Midwestern writing, no longer exists, said Joan Gibb Engel at the February SMA meeting in the Cliff Dwellers Club. People everywhere, including Europe, think immediately of the prairie when "Midwest" is mentioned. They don't realize that the original prairie with its ecosystem has been almost entirely plowed under or paved over.

While abroad during a period of winter weather back home harsh enough to be newsworthy, Engel heard a Frenchman inquire, "How did the bison withstand the cold?" She evoked the memory of many Midwestern writers who have strongly communicated a sense of place and awareness of the environment in their books. Edwin Way Teale "found joy in what still existed," she said. Donald Culross Peattie "did not minimize the loss" of the original environment.

In Willa Cather's My Antonia, the Nebraska prairie was like a character in the story. One of the characters was defeated by the hardship and loneliness of the Nebraska prairie. Another exemplified the strength of character embodied in the frontier spirit, a theme that ran through many of Cather's books. It was no doubt inspired by Cather's own history of moving to Nebraska, growing up there amid the sturdy pioneers, then becoming a successful editor and novelist in the East. "Environmental writing itself is an act of renewal," Engel said. Jim Schwab said environmental issues still challenge today's authors.

Farming, which did the most to transform the prairie, also created farm families stubborn in the face of adversity, fiercely independent and committed to doing things right. What happens when such people are elbowed off the land by corporate farming? Can they switch to "cottage farming," holding other jobs and moonlighting as farmers? Schwab said people in the Midwest are beginning to take an interest not only in the development of sustainable agriculture but also the larger concept of sustainable development.

Just as Jane Addams once improved public health in Chicago by making garbage crews do their job, the quality of life in cities can be improved by attention to the urban environment. The minority populations most affected are turning to activism in behalf of their environments.

Such developments may "spawn a whole new literature," Schwab said. He himself is making notes for a new book on the relationship between spirituality and ecology in urban settings. Engel is co-author of Ecology, Justice and Christian Faith; editor of The Indiana Dunes Story, and co-editor of Ethics of Environment and Development . Her poems and essays have appeared in Orion, Terra Nova and other publications.

Schwab is author of Raising Less Corn and More Hell: Midwestern Farmers Speak Out and Deeper Shades of Green: The Rise of Blue-Collar and Minority Environmentalism in America. Jim also has written dozens of articles for national journals and magazines like The Nation, The Progressive, Country Journal, and Historic Preservation.


Eye Opener
Michele Weldon, a new member, is author of the creative nonfiction memoir, I Closed My Eyes: Revelations of a Battered Woman (Hazelden, 1999). She has been featured in Chicagomagazine, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, and scores of other newspapers locally and nationally. She has been interviewed on more than 50 radio stations across the country, including Minnesota Public Radio and will be featured in a PBS documentary for a show called Health Diary.

Nominated by her publisher for the upcoming Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, Weldon has had more than two dozen book signings and events, including ones in Sundance, Utah, and Minneapolis. In November, Weldon spoke at her alma mater, Northwestern University, where she is a senior lecturer at the Medill School of Journalism.

Poet Stops Traffic
It's not often that a poet stops traffic in a busy depot, but that was the experience of Gwendolyn Brooks on Valentine's Day in Chicago's Union Station.

The occasion was the opening of a Black History Month exhibit sponsored by Amtrak in honor of Black contributions to passenger rail service. "Brooks, 82, riveted the noontime crowd with honesty, humor and the sustained passion of her poetry in a medium that recognizes her as one of its most prolific and revered storytellers," reported the Chicago Tribune. People stood in line to get books signed while "with girlish glee she read for almost an hour." (The Pulitzer Prize winner and Illinois Poet Laureate has often said publicly that she prefers "Black" to "African-American.") "Most Influential"

A special section in the Chicago Sun-Times honoring "Chicago's Most Influential African-Americans of the 20th Century" listed two current SMA members, Gwendolyn Brooks and Glennette Tilley Turner.

Stuart Meck, SMA membership secretary, has been selected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the professional testing and credentialling affiliate of the American Planning Association. It is one of the highest honors the Institute can confer on one of its members. Meck will be inducted at a ceremony in New York City in April.

His colleague at APA, Jim Schwab, offered these additional details: Meck was honored for his "distinguished career in the planning field, which includes city management in Oxford, Ohio, serving on the staff of both the Memphis-Shelby County Planning Commission in Tennesee and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, in Dayton, Ohio, as well as his current assignment, held since 1994, as the principal investigator for APA's Growing Smart project.

"The project develops models for the modernization of state planning and zoning enabling legislation. Stu's productivity in the last six years in harnessing the ideas and contributions of dozens of planning experts and a team of APA staff members has been remarkable, and was the key factor leading to this designation. "Much of the model legislation his project has developed is being adopted by state legislatures across the country, in places as diverse as Wisconsin, Tennessee and Hawaii. His work, in short, is likely to leave a long shadow in the planning field well into the 21st century."

Adventure in Space
Steven Burgauer's new book, Treachery on the Dark Side, is science fiction, just published by zero-g press of Peoria. It's described as an adventure at the speed of light that "zooms from the Moon to Mars and back again."

Another Night, Another Opening
Joanne Koch's Sophie, Totie & Belle, a musical in which Sophie Tucker, Totie Fields and Belle Barth meet and compete in the afterlife, will open off-Broadway at Theatre Four on March 15. For tickets to what critics have called "an R-rated act made in heaven," call Telecharge: 212-239-6200. Theatre Four is at 424 W. 55th St., Chicago. This production follows a four-month sold-out run at the Wilton Theatre in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Koch andCohen's multicultural musical, Soul Sisters, just toured to Bradley University in Peoria and the Community College of Philadelphia, marking the show's 24th and 25th university and college performances. On March 30, Koch and Cohen will premiere their new play, Henrietta Szold: Woman of Valor, in Albany at a performance co-sponsored by the New York State Writers' Institute and the State University of New York at Albany.

On April 30 Koch goes to Los Angeles for performances of her play, Safe Harbor, which premiered in Chicago last spring, produced by Red Hen productions.

Sez Who?
According to the Chicago Tribune, when T. S. Eliot was asked why he gave up college boxing, he replied: "It was much easier to be a poet."

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