Along with literature, I have always had a passion for history. I think it comes from my parents and grandparents trying to impress upon me at a young age the importance of my roots. They always taught us that we build upon the foundation of those who came before us.
When I learned about the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, I saw it as an opportunity to honor my literary ancestors: historic Chicago writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, and Saul Bellow; as well as important living writers, such as Ray Bradbury, Stuart Dybek, and Gene Wolfe. Stuart, in particular, is near and dear to my heart, not only because he is an excellent writer, storyteller, and craftsman, but also because he indirectly set me on the path I follow today.
Back in 1996, I was a student at the School of the Art Institute in the inaugural class of their MFA in Writing Program. I had just decided to switch from Law School to Writing, and art school seemed the perfect place for me.
I had been mostly writing nonfiction and some poetry, and the themes that kept emerging in my work were ideas of identity, mythology, roots, and displacement. Then one day in the Fall, I was sitting in a guest lecture by Stuart Dybek. He read from The Coast of Chicago and talked about his process, and something inside me of me clicked and came alive.
As I listened to him, I realized that I had been trying to intellectualize what I really needed to tell as a story. I went home and wrote the first three chapters of what became The Silence of Trees. Stuart’s writing and his talk that day, reinforced the idea that fiction doesn’t have to be about lofty ideas and monumental characters–it could be about ethnic, familiar characters found in the neighborhoods of Chicago, it could combine realism with the fantastic, it could put two seemingly opposite things together to show something in a new light.
After that, I thought a lot about Chicago writers–the stories they choose to tell, the characters they capture and bring to life. When I first read about Donald Evans’ idea to start a Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, I felt a similar kind of click inside, not unlike Mircea Eliade’s hierophany. It was a moment of destiny and purpose–I wanted to be a part of this.
I was (and continue to be) inspired by the thought of creating a lasting tribute to great Chicago writers. I agree very much with Isaac Newton when he wrote, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” In Chicago, we have some fantastic literary Giants to honor.
So the event is now three days away, and it has evolved into something special:
LITERARY EVENT OF THE SEASON
INAUGURAL INDUCTION CEREMONY
CHICAGO LITERARY HALL OF FAME
Saturday, November 20, 2010
3701 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, IL
Parking Lot F
Emcee: Rick Kogan
Complimentary appetizers, desserts and drinks, including beer and wine
Ticket Price: $45
Chicago Writers Association Members/Students $35
Tickets Available at http://clhofinduction.eventbrite.com
or call 773.414.2603
At 7 p.m., the ceremony begins with Chicago journalist and radio legend Rick Kogan taking the stage to emcee an evening artfully orchestrated by Marc Smith, founder of the poetry slam movement. Among those accepting the posthumous honors of their famous writer relatives are Greg Bellow, Nora Brooks Blakely, Dan Terkell, Dana Smith (grandniece of Richard Wright) and Taye Hansberry (grandniece of Lorraine). Photographer Art Shay will accept for Algren. Complementing those most honored guests are a diverse collection of Chicago’s artistic community, all of whom have come together to join in this celebration. Representatives of the artistic community will be authors Audrey Niffenegger, Stuart Dybek, Haki Madhubuti, and Sara Paretsky; actors Gary Houston and Jackie Taylor; and the Nelson Algren Committee. Attendees will be entertained with vocal performances, as well as by local literary and theatrical groups.
· 6-7 p.m. Pre-ceremony reception (drinks and hors d’oeuvres)
· 7-9 p.m. Ceremony
· 9-10 p.m. Post-ceremony reception (drinks and desserts)
Parking: Free Dress: Business Casual
I can’t believe that the Induction Ceremony is this coming weekend. It’s been a long road, and now it’s nearly here.
Along the way, I have learned a great deal and met amazing people. Truth be told, that’s my favorite part of this process—the people I’ve met from all areas of Chicago’s Arts communities: writers, musicians, sculptors, performers, journalists. I’m a firm believer in the magic that can happen when people from different perspectives and disciplines collaborate. The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is an example of that collaboration.
I hope that you can join us this Saturday, November 20, at Northeastern Illinois University, to experience some of that magic for yourself.