2015 Fuller Award to honor Haki Madhubuti

Sculpture by Ron Swanson

On November 18th at the Poetry Foundation, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame will be awarding the Fuller Award for Lifetime Achievement to Haki Madhubuti.  In past years we have honored Gene Wolfe, Lisel Mueller, and Harry Mark Petrakis.

Haki Madhubuti has not just left his mark on Chicago and the nation’s literary landscape, he has helped to reshape it in such important ways. One of the architects of the Black Arts Movement, he is an award-winning poet, publisher, an educator, and the recipient of so many well-deserved honors and fellowships.

Please join us in honoring him at this free event on November 18th. I hope to see you there.


Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Fourth Annual Silent Auction

I have two longer blog posts to finish up, but I wanted to be sure to tell you about an important literary event coming up in Chicago this weekend. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve heard me mention various things about the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, an organization dear to my heart. This Sunday, August 24, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame is holding their fourth silent auction at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery from 5-8 p.m. The gracious and talented David Eigenberg is our special guest.

David Eigenberg, as Christopher Herrmann, on Chicago Fire
David Eigenberg, as Christopher Herrmann, on Chicago Fire

A Chicago-area native, David Eigenberg  graduated from Naperville Central in 1982. He was attending Washburne Trade School at 31st and Kedzie when they went on strike, an event that changed the course of his life.

“I had nothing to do,” David recalls. “Didn’t know how long the strike was going to be. A week into it, there was an audition.”

David tried out and was cast in the chorus of the play, One Shining Moment, and that put him on the path that lead from the U.S. Marine Corp Reserve, to acting school in New York, to one-off parts on shows like Homicide: Life on the StreetsERKing of QueensGhost Whisperer and NCIS, and his eventual breakthrough role of Steve Brady on the popular show Sex in the City. 

Three years ago, David was cast in the role of Christopher Herrmann on Chicago Fire, a show filmed entirely in Chicago. He returned to Chicago, and together with his wife, Chrysti, their five-year-old son Louie, and five-month old daughter Myrna,  they now call Chicago home from their Bucktown bungalow.

We are so grateful for David’s time and support of the auction.  I hope that you’ll take this opportunity to come to Haymarket and say hello, meet David, and support the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

With the money raised, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame will come closer to realizing their potential of being the primary champion of Chicago literature, finding additional ways to celebrate Chicago’s literary heritage and honor the writers who have shaped it.

Later this year, on October 4, we will present the 2014 Fuller Award to Harry Mark Petrakis at the National Hellenic Museum; and on December 6, 2014, we will hold our fifth annual induction ceremony honoring Margaret Anderson, David Hernandez, Edgar Lee Masters, Shel Silverstein, Willard Motley and Margaret Walker.

I hope to see you there this Sunday! You can buy your tickets at:




Breaking Time

I asked my friend Pat Prather, a talented photographer for 8 Eyes Photography and a brilliant artist, to create a memory board that I could mount in my kitchen. It would be a place to put precious photographs and mementos so that I could see them every day.

Pat Prather's Steampunk/Nouveau Memory Board. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)
Pat Prather’s Steampunk/Nouveau Memory Board. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

Pat created not just a work of art, but a story told through the steampunk sculpture that surrounds the handcrafted frame, a story about a fairy who breaks time so that the memories can remain alive forever. (You can read about his process here.)

Close-up of fairy. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)
Close-up of fairy. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

I’m nostalgic, increasingly so as I get older. I often think back fondly to people I’ve loved, places I’ve called home, adventures and conversations that have had an impact on me. I’m grateful for them, really grateful for these experiences. They are treasures, and even as I look forward to the future, I am gratitude for everything and everyone who has brought me to this point.

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

I wanted the memory board to be a place to mount those sentimental treasures, and they are frozen there, snapshots into important moments. I’m slowly printing out photographs to affix to the board. Some are obvious choices: the dearest of family and friends. Others inspire, challenge or remind me, like the photograph of Gene Wolfe and me that I added last week.

Close-up of Pat Prather’s Nouveau/Steampunk Memory Board

On May 7th, I met Gene for lunch to celebrate his 82nd birthday. Each time we meet, we chat about our lives and works in progress. I always enjoy Gene’s stories about writers he’s known, places he’s traveled, stories he’s read–so many memories, so much history. On the drive back to Chicago, I’m often lost in some Gene-inspired reverie or creative provocation.

This time, Gene mentioned an exercise attributed to Benjamin Franklin called “Imitating the Style of the Spectator.” The idea is that a writer should choose a piece of writing by an author he/she admires. After reading it over many times, the writer should hide the original text away and attempt to write the story from memory. Once it’s completed, the writer should refer back to the original and note the differences: the places where he or she forgot a detail, or did not capture the same mood or character, or had trouble with dialogue, and so on.

Gene did the exercise early on in his writing career with one of his favorite Lord Dunsany stories, The Assignation. He explained that there is much to be learned by studying the craft of the masters.

He’s right, of course. Gene Wolfe is a Master. This weekend,Gene Wolfe will be honored by the SFWA with the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for his contribution to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I am grateful for lessons I’ve learned not just from his writing, but from his friendship.

Just below the photo of Gene and me is a photograph taken from last year’s Fuller Awards to honor Gene Wolfe. That one has a group of people who are both dear and an inspiration. They each inspire me in their own way: to keep writing, to strive for excellence, to learn from the examples of the past, to connect with others. That night was one of those important moments in my life, a night to remember.

Unlike Pat’s fairy, we cannot break time (except in stories). Time will continue with or without us.

But I find that nostalgia can work like a touchstone. Memory and nostalgia motivate me to reach for the stars, to step into the chaos of creativity, knowing that I am grounded in the past and am part of a continuum that stretches backward and forward in time. Just like Gene’s exercise about writing from memory, there’s much to be learned from the intersection of what is and what is remembered.