Inducting Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe accepting the Fuller Award, 2012. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

In 2012, it was my privilege to help develop a new award for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, the Henry Blake Fuller Award, honoring a living author for their outstanding lifetime contribution to literature. We honored Gene Wolfe with the first Fuller at a beautiful ceremony at Sanfilippo Estate in Barrington Hills on March 17, 2012. My account of the evening is here on my blog. It was magic.

It has been almost a decade, and Gene is no longer with us. Tomorrow, on Sunday, September 19, 2021, we will induct him into the Hall of Fame proper, along with Carlos Cortéz, Jeannette Howard Foster, and Frank London Brown, in a ceremony at the City Lit Theater in Edgewater.

I will be presenting Gene’s award to his daughter, Therese Wolfe-Goulding. Kathie Bergquist will be our emcee, and there will be speeches by the other presenters, Tracy Baim, Carlos Cumpián, Kathleen Rooney, and those accepting the awards on behalf of the other inductees. While it won’t be broadcast live, there will be a recording of the event that will be up on the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame website later.

My tribute to Gene, along with rest of the program, will also be available on the website after tomorrow. (I’ll add it to the post here.)

It was challenging to find the words… actually, it was challenging not to go over the word limit for what we had the space for in the program… to celebrate this wonderful writer who contributed so much to literature and whom I was honored to call my friend.

I miss him, his anecdotes and unusual facts; his stories about growing up, writing, and convention adventures; his kindness, his smile, and his sense of humor. I treasure those conversations, and I will be so happy to present the award to Teri.

I hold onto the fact that I have those memories, and we have his wordshis stories and novels, his letters and interviews. It makes me happy to know that he will be joining the ranks of other important writers who have called Chicago home, and who have previously been inducted in the Hall of Fame, including Studs Terkel, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nelson Algren, Lorraine Hansberry, Richard Wright, L. Frank Baum, Saul Bellow, Roger Ebert, and Mike Royko. The full list, along with biographies, is on the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame website.

One of my favorite photos of Gene with his daughter, Teri at the Fuller Award Ceremony. (Photo by Carl Hertz)

I’m going to share a video that I stumbled upon when I was doing a little research. In 1982, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, and Isaac Asimov appeared on a show called “Nightcap:  Conversations on the Arts and Letters” hosted by Studs Terkel and Calvin Trillin.

At the time Gene was 51, only a few years older than I am today. It was interesting to see this younger Gene, just over a decade into his career, and yet he’s much the same Gene I got to know at 80. 

 

We don’t often to get to know and love our literary heroes. It’s definitely a gift when we do, and I think it changes us for the better, but the rest of that I’m saving for my speech tomorrow night.

xxo

 

Remembering Eleanor (1944-2021)

Eleanor Lupescu was one of the few people I knew who had proper recipes, the kind that were written down and repeated and shared.  My mother cooked delicious meals, but most of it is in her head from decades of practice and improvisation. The same for my grandmothers—except for the cases when someone captured the ingredients and instructions for them (which a few of my aunts thankfully did).

Now, more than twenty years later, when I meet others who painstakingly print their signature dishes or scribble their measurements and notes, I understand that food is one of their love languages. Food was one of Eleanor’s love languages. 

When we had a family dinner at the Lupescu house, I often saw Eleanor’s careful shopping list beside her handwritten menu of what would be served. Don was her partner in hosting and meals, and he would greet guests, make sure everyone had a beverage and was comfortably seated, and he stood by to help Eleanor with serving and clean-up. (Mark absolutely learned from his parents how to be a good cook and host.) When Eleanor’s Parkinson’s began to rob her of her dexterity, Don became her hands in so many ways. They worked together with Eleanor overseeing. He was her partner and best friend, their love was real and multifaceted and true. 

When I was a young mom visiting their home, I watched with awe as Eleanor always seemed so calm and collected as she sifted any lumps from her gravy and put the finishing touches on her dishes. Dressed beautifully, her hair carefully curled, I can see her so clearly in the kitchen of their house in Darien, eyes bright, an easy smile for her guests, and the kind of bubbly laughter that’s infectious. Eleanor was beautiful inside and out.

For my bridal shower, Eleanor gave me a recipe book with a few of her favorite handwritten recipes, among them: Strawberry Ice Cream Jello Mold, Kolachke, Skewered Steak and Mushrooms, M&M cookies. If you knew Eleanor, you have very likely enjoyed at least one of these. Written in her pretty, leaning handwriting, those recipe cards are such a treasure,

I have slowly added cards of my own to it over the years, and those cards from Eleanor are always a touchstone among the others. It makes me happy to see them when I leaf through looking for something. They are a reminder of her love and care. They will always be a reminder. There is an intimacy to a handwritten recipe card that I really appreciate. It tells you a lot about the type of person Eleanor was. Thoughtful and generous, Eleanor treasured her family and friends. She and Don were at the heart of so many parties and gatherings and reunions, bringing the people they loved together. 

There’s much that can be said about the life Eleanor lived and the things she loved. She was well-respected and well-loved. Eleanor was strong and protective, elegant and creative, curious and kind. A supportive mother and aunt, a devoted sister, an enthusiastic grandmother, a trusted friend, Eleanor was one of the most beautiful women I have known, and every moment shared with her—all the beautiful memories with her family and her grandchildren—are such a blessing.

Eleanor loved the choir at church, often choosing the Mass time according to which one had the choir. She also loved Don’s singing. I remember one day when we were all in the kitchen, and I had only known them a short while. Eleanor turned to me and said, “Don has such a nice voice, I love listening to him sing.” Then she turned to Don and asked him to sing something, and he did! His voice was indeed beautiful, but what struck me was the way she looked at him then, with so much love in her eyes. There was always such a bright, burning love in her eyes.

Eleanor passed away on Friday, July 23, 2021. There are no words to describe the loss in our lives, the hole she leaves behind in our hearts, but it is a comfort to think of Don and Eleanor together again. I like to think Eleanor heard a choir of angels when she crossed over. I like to think of Don singing to her in his beautiful voice, Eleanor laughing that joyful, infectious laugh of hers. Vichnaya Pamyat. What is remembered, lives.

https://www.conboywestchesterfh.com/obituary/eleanor-lupescu

Visitation
Sunday, August 01, 2021
2:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Conboy-Westchester Funeral Home
10501 W. Cermak
Westchester, Illinois 60154

Funeral Mass
Monday, August 02, 2021
10:00 AM

Divine Providence Church
2550 S. Mayfair Avenue
Westchester, IL 60154

Reflections

Sometime last month, as the weather started warming up and the days began to get longer, I realized that I was breathing deeper, feeling hopeful, and closer to “normal” than I had in a long while. It made me aware of just how tense I had been this past year: shoulders tight, jaw tight, brow furrowed. All the time.

Like many of you, I have spent much of the last year tight with fear and anxiety, worrying about how to keep my loved ones safe, how to help the kids get through this, how to create positive memories in the midst of it all, how to practice gratitude, how to try and support those who need help and those who are working to make things better, how to be a friend without the luxury of shared time and space, how to prioritize, self-care, and keep connections.

My friend Nancy Hightower is a college professor and writer living in New York City. She spent much of the last year of quarantine alone in a city that is well-known for bringing people together.

Nancy, like many people, moved to NYC to be with people. What happens when all those New Yorkers, who usually breathe life into the public spaces that are the nervous systems of that vibrant city, are forced to disengage and isolate themselves?

Nancy would mask up and go on walks every day in her neighborhood, and she started taking photographs of what she encountered.

Nancy reflected in a mirror with trash on the streets of NYC.
Nancy reflected, from her Patreon post, “The Shadow Pandemic.”

What Nancy photographed over the last year is the subject of her Patreon (and for those who don’t know what that is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables supporters/patrons to pay and support artists for their work). She shared a lot of her photos with me over the changing seasons, and they were rich food for my imagination. I think it’s a similar reason that so many people took refuge in Animal Crossing, Instagram, and TikTok. We needed windows into worlds outside our own.

Nancy’s photos capture relics of this moment; they are tiny portals into people’s lives left on doorsteps and balanced on mailboxes, draped over fences and hung from lamp posts. It was as if New Yorkers, forced into their apartments and unable to inhabit their museums, cafes, restaurants, galleries, bars, and parks, started leaking bits of their lives and themselves onto the streets. Here was a cookie jar beside a pair of vintage cowboy boots filled with plastic flowers, there was a lamp and a typewriter and a bag of rice. Sometimes it felt like poetry, other times like an art installation, or a Rorschach test for the state of mind of a city mourning and struggling.

Nancy has started sharing those photos with accompanying essays on her Patreon. The most recent one about how we have been changed by the pandemic struck a chord with me, and I wanted to share it. She’s made it public, so you can follow the link to see all the photos. You can join her Patreon if you’d like to read/see more.

Nancy writes: “This Spring you might find yourself being simultaneously hopeful and exhausted. You might not know who you are anymore–alone, or with other people. I’ve had sporadic dinners with pod friends over the past year, but nothing close to real, sustainable community, no touch longer than quick hug. I wonder what I’ll look like by the time I can be in a group, maskless and yet changed, a time traveler finally trapped by time.”

We have all been changed by the events of the past year, for better and for worse—as a nation, as cities, as neighborhoods, families, and individuals. We won’t be able to see just how far those changes go for a a while, but I think they will go deep.

Pandemic self-portrait post-vaccination.

We are still in a pandemic. The numbers are rising even as more people are getting vaccinated. There is hope, but there is also a need to remain disciplined. I feel like when I look into the mirror, I’m more than a year older. I think about my grandparents and their parents before them, who lived through war and famine and so much death and sacrifice. They were changed by those events too. Some of them shared their stories, and I am grateful.

It’s going to be important to remember, to document this time, to share our stories, to listen to one another when we finally come together, to really see ourselves and our neighbors  as we emerge from this—inevitably changed.