FOR WRITERS, CAHOKIA IS CLOSER IN SPIRIT THAN WE THOUGHT
By Richard Frisbie
Living under the spacious Midwestern sky, authors of the "midland" are linked to the Native Americans of the Mississippi Valley a thousand years ago.
This insight was explained at the SMA meeting April 8 in the Chicago Athletic Assn. by Sally A. Kitt Chappell, a charming and articulate art historian one wishes one could have had as a professor in college.
"They influenced the land and the land influenced them," she said.
She's retired now from DePaul University and writing travel articles for The New York Times, plus a new book, Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos (University of Chicago Press).
Just as the founders of SMA detected a specifically literary sensibility growing out of the Midwestern experience, she sees that an astonishing ancient civilization was shaped by the environment of the Mississippi Valley.
Cahokia, near the Mississippi River just outside St. Louis, in the year 1050 was a city larger than London. For festivals, as many as 30,000 people could gather in the main plaza, which was five times the size of St. Peter's Square in Rome.
A large earthen mound covering 14 acres on the site turns out to have been a terraced pyramid with four tiers. At 100 feet it was the tallest structure in North America until as recently as 1867.
Cahokia is the only site in the Midwest to qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which puts it in the company of Independence Hall and the Statue of Liberty.
Wearing a heavy necklace of turquoise and silver, she said modern Native Americans from many tribes make pilgrimages there to gather a sense of their past.
"Mirror of the Cosmos" is part of the title because the Mississippians who built Cahokia were astronomers as well as engineers. As the archaeologists continue to dig, they are discovering that everything was oriented to the cardinal directions or to astronomical events such as the spring equinox.
Wooden posts functioned as an observatory like the monoliths at Stonehenge in England.
They were also geographers. Cahokia is sited where the eastern woodland and its resources for building merges with prairie containing some of the richest soil on earth. It was far enough from the river to avoid floods, yet close enough for convenient water-bourne transportation.
As traders they acquired sea shells from the Gulf of Mexico and copper ornaments from far north.
Chappell said that the experts she knows consider the visitors' center museum at Cahokia State Park one of the world's best.
Responding to her enthusiasm, had there been a chartered bus waiting outside, much of the audience would have climbed aboard right then to be whisked away to Cahokia. .
As it was, they bought all of the copies of her book that bookseller Adam Brent had brought to sell in the back of the room.
SMA is updating our archives at the UIC Library. Thanks to Steve Burgauer, Eric McKean, Jim Merriner, Kate Noble, Elinor Porter Swinger and Craig Sautter for sending their books for inclusion in the archives.
To include your books in the SMA Archives at UIC, send them to: R. Craig Sautter, 7658 N. Rogers Avenue, Chicago, IL 60626.
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OTHER MEMBER NEWS
Explaining the Amish
Susan Rensberger has a new book coming out in May, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding the Amish, published by Alpha Books.
It's part of the well-known series that explains everything from Buddhism to baby showers for a general audience.
She says, "My book examines the history and religious beliefs of the Amish, as well as related Anabaptist groups, and how Amish culture expresses those beliefs.
"It also delves into controversies among the Amish, including issues of abuse and why leaving the group can be very difficult.
"The final chapters explain more about the many denominations of Mennonites, the religious group most closely associated and often confused with the Amish."
Brandon Marie Miller, who writes nonfiction for children, has three new books to brag about. Growing Up in a New World, 1607-1775 and Growing Up in Revolution and the New Nation, 1775-1800 were published last fall by Carolrhoda.
New Nation has been named a Notable Children's Book by the National Council of the Social Studies and the Children's Book Council.
This spring Miller's new title, Good Women of a Well-Blessed Land, Women's Lives in Colonial America, has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection for June.
Miller writes: "I've also been busy speaking at the North Dakota Reading Association about history and writing for children, and at an Ohio regional International Reading Association conference.
"I also presented at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Cleveland, and have rounded out my speaking engagements with school presentations. No wonder I can't get my next book researched and written!"
Baseball season brings two new books by members, George Castle and Mark Jacob.
Castle's new book, due out in May, is Throwbacks, about major leaguers who are throwbacks to the old school of baseball figures that made the game so appealing to generations of fans.
It includes profiles of 12 players, including the Cubs' Kerry Wood and the White Sox's Jose Valentin, and one manager who possessed those old-school traits.
Published by Washington, D.C.-based Brassey's, Inc., Throwbacks is Castle's fifth book since the spring of 1998.
About Mark Jacob's book, the Daily Herald sports section said "if you're looking for a good baseball book, check out Wrigley Field: a Celebration of the Friendly Confines."
A collaboration with the Cubs' team photographer published by McGraw-Hill, "it contains text and photos -- many of them stunningly beautiful -- celebrating the Cubs home ballpark."
Importance of Innocence
Desert Winter: a Claire Gray Mystery (St. Martin's Minotaur) is the newest book from Michael Craft, who also writes the Mark Manning mystery series.
A Broadway theater director turns detective to solve a murder when a friend comes under suspicion.
"In the end, Craft shows that proving one's innocence can be as important as finding the guilty," said Publishers Weekly.
Michael Allen Dymmoch sets her mysteries in Chicago. Now comes The Feline Friendship: Thinnes and Caleb Together Again (St. Martin's Minotaur), which sprawls from Chicago's Lincoln Park north along the lake shore to Waukegan, Ill.
The case involves a brutal rape and police internal relationships.
Dymmoch has been praised for "a firm grip on police method, character and plot."
MORE FUND DONORS
The Society thanks Eugene Kennedy for an early contribution to the Awards fund. Members are urged to add a contribution when they write their checks for their annual banquet tickets.
We never review books, for lack of time as well as space, but we thought we should mention one new book that Publishers Weekly called "easily the most incisive and expert guide to book publicity ever."
It's Publicize Your Book!: An Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book the Attention It Deserves by Jacqueline Deval (Perigee, $15.95, paper).
She's truly an insider as publisher of Hearst Books and former publicity director for William Morrow, Doubleday, Villard and Book-of-the-Month Club.
"There's not a publishing professional who won't learn something new and useful," said PW.
She told a PW interviewer she knows it's a challenge for authors, who are creatives, to think like a marketer, but it has to be done.
"You may have written a great novel or an amazing piece of work, but it's a product," she said, and there are 50,000 other book out there on the shelves competing with yours.
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