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Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial

Gwendolyn Brooks

Chicago is all abuzz about the Centennial of Gwendolyn Brooks’ birthday. One of the most highly regarded, highly influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry, Brooks was a much-honored poet, even in her lifetime, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Born in Topeka Kansas in 1917, she was six weeks old when her parents moved to Chicago. She would remain here until the end of her life. She sounds like many of today’s Chicagoans when she said “I am an organic Chicagoan. Living there has given me a multiplicity of characters to aspire for. I hope to live there the rest of my days. That’s my headquarters.”

Her parents encouraged her writing skills and by the young age of 13 she had published her first poem, Eventide, in a popular children’s magazine, American Childhood. By the time she was 17, the Chicago Defender would be publishing her work regularly.

George E. Kent, critic, and Professor of English at the University of Chicago, said it best when he commented that Brooks occupied “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.”

Brooks once described her style as “folksy narrative,” but she varied her forms, using free verse, sonnets, and other models. Brooks first collection of poetry,  A Street in Bronzeville captures the  spirit and the essence of the Bronzeville neighborhood perfectly. A destination for many African-American people during the Great Migration, the neighborhood today includes the Black-Metropolis-Bronzeville District. The heart of the Chicago blues and jazz scene in the early 20th Century, this area includes many buildings included on the National Register of Historic Places, and nine buildings that appear on the Chicago Landmarks list, including the Chicago Defender Building. It is a neighborhood rich with African-American history and culture.

In 1950, Brooks received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her book Annie Allen. The poem traces the changes a young woman experiences as she moves from youthful dreams to the reality of married life. We see Annie Allen grow from childhood to womanhood in an atmosphere conditioned by poverty, racial discrimination, parental expectations, and unhappiness.

In 1953, her only novel, Maud Martha was published. It has been called a “fragmented, poetic narrative;” it again traces the life of a woman as she navigates the passage from childhood to adulthood in black Chicago neighbourhoods.

Just as her first poems reflected the mood of their era, her later works mirrored their time and the horror that racism, sexism and  indifference brought to the community. The title poem of her book,  In The Mecca is a heart-wrenching work that details a woman’s search for her lost child through Chicago’s Mecca Flats. The Mecca Flats was originally a posh hotel for visitors to the World Columbian Exposition, but by 1940 it had become a crowded and dangerous place; that many still called home. A victim of urban renewal, the building was demolished in 1952 to make way for the expansion of IIT.

In 1967, Brooks was commissioned to write a poem for the dedication of Chicago’s Picasso Sculpture, another Chicago institution that is enjoying an anniversary this year.

Brooks continued to work for the rest of her life. Her work matured in the direction of a stronger political stance. Brooks’ poems featured political subjects and figures, such as South African activist Winnie Mandela, the onetime wife of anti-apartheid leader—and later president of the country—Nelson Mandela.

Not just a poet, Brooks was an educator who took her mission seriously. She taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, City College of New York, Columbia College of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, and Elmhurst College. She was awarded over 75 honorary doctorates during her lifetime and won numerous literary awards.

At the time of her death in late 2000,  Ms. Brooks was the Distinguished Professor of English at Chicago State University and the Poet Laureate of Illinois, a position she had held since 1968.

There are many Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial events planned throughout the city this year. The Poetry Foundation has a comprehensive exhibit that includes Brooks’ scrapbooks, personal writings (she was a chronicler of her own life) as well and much correspondence from other African-American poets and publishing houses. Additional Chicago venues include the Art Institute, The Newberry Library and Harold Washington Chicago Public Library. You can learn more at Our Miss Brooks 100.

We Are ShiningOur Author’s Voice network contributed to the celebration. LadyBird & Friends featured a just released version of Brooks’ poem, We Are Shining. This powerful picture book is a celebration of the diversity of our world. Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (our guest on the program, below), this life-affirming poem reminds all of us that “Life is for us, and it is shining. We have a right to sing.”  We have a very few signed, first edition copies of this fine book available. Order at AuthorsVoice.net.

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Iannelli Bust to Be Reproduced, Displayed in Paris!

Alphonso Iannelli Abraham Lincoln Bust

31 July 2017

One of the most rewarding parts of our jobs here are Abraham Lincoln Book Shop is the opportunity to find the right homes for the objects that come through the shop. What’s even more rewarding is learning what happens to these objects after they leave our hands.

Today’s Chicago Tribune brings us news that one of our favorite and most rewarding placements will bring joy to even more people!

While de-camping from our Chicago Ave. shop a two winters ago, we had the opportunity to place a Lincoln bust created my modernist Alphonso Iannelli. Iannelli was a student of Gutzon Borglum and has strong Chicago roots.

From 1912 to 1915, Iannelli designed posters for the vaudeville acts appearing at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. There he met Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1914, Wright convinced him to come to Chicago to work on the Midway Gardens. Iannelli is the man behind the still-popular Sprites. He designed many of the structures at the Century of Progress Chicago World’s Fair, too.

Later he opened studio with his wife, Margaret in Park Ridge IL. Together, they expanded into commercial design, advertising, product design and architectural interiors. Local venues, including his studio, and two theaters designed by him still stand today. Visitors to Chicago can see his work at the Adler Planetarium; as well as the carving at One Prudential Plaza, on Randolph St.

Alfonso and Margaret were the subject of a well-attended, months-long Messengers of Modernism exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2013. Our own M. Sylvia Castle, a fan of modernism and Chicago’s role in bringing it to the world,  attended the exhibit. Iannelli’s Park Ridge studio was acquired by the Kalo Foundation in 2001. It is now part of The Kalo Arts and Crafts Community House, a well-respected center for silversmithing and other disciplines of The Arts & Crafts movement.

Visiting the exhibit sparked her interest in The Kalo Foundation in Park Ridge, IL. Imagine her surprise when when she saw this membership brochure.

Alphonso Iannelli Abraham Lincoln Bust

She had been walking past the bust used on the brochure every, single day for years! Daniel Weinberg, the shop’s owner had acquired it from a long-shuttered gallery in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Sylvia’s regular habit of attending First Fridays,  a monthly mass gallery opening the shop’s old neighborhood acquainted her with David Jameson, a dealer in modernist and architectural drawings. Jameson was also an expert in the works of Iannelli. He is the author of Alfonso Iannelli: Modern By Design. It was with David’s help that we confirmed that the Lincoln bust that had for years, welcomed visitors to the book shop, was indeed a modernist treasure.

As we started to pack and ready things for moving out of the old shop it became obvious that the best thing we could do is place as many things as we possibly could. The stress on these objects-the packing, the storing expense and environment, the unpacking-can damage them. We had spoken to the Kalo Foundation previously about the Lincoln bust; but they are a small operation with a limited budget. The move gave us all an opportunity to finally send Mr. Lincoln home to Kalo.

That brings us to today’s news. Thanks to Judy Barclay and the Paris-Chicago Sister City Committee the Iannelli bust is being replicated. The replica travelling to Paris! We are thrilled to play a small role in this success!

In his interpretation of Lincoln, Iannelli has a much different opinion of Lincoln than many of his predecessors and peers. Of the Lincoln art of the day, Iannelli said “I wish they appreciated the depth and the bigness, the loftiness of the character of Lincoln. If they did, how could they put up a building like this to commemorate him?” He was no fan of the Greco-Roman ideal that so dominated public monuments of the day.

Iannelli’s sculpture captures Lincoln as a human and not the godlike image so popular of that era. In a time dominated by formal, Romanesque renderings of Lincoln, this has an evocative, hand-wrought quality seldom seen in the early 20th Century. It is Lincoln at his informal, yet deeply serious and ponderous best. It is the very early modernist, Iannelli, deeply considering and responding to the very modern (for his era) Abraham Lincoln.

Modernism’s objective was to be a great equalizer—to bring beauty and design to the masses. The goal of Emancipation was equality—bringing freedom to the masses. Dying almost a century apart, the two men shared a mission.

Bon Voyage, Monsieur Iannelli!

Learn More About The Kalo Foundation

Learn More about the Paris replica in the Chicago Tribune.

Sidney Blumenthal on A House Divided

Wrestling With His Angel

On June 8, Sidney Blumenthal talked with Daniel Weinberg on A House Divided. Blumenthal discussed Wrestling with His Angel, the second installment of Blumenthal’s four-volume Lincoln biography. Order your signed copy today. Volume 1, A Self-Made Man, is also available.

Volume II of Sidney Blumenthal’s acclaimed, landmark biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, reveals the future president’s genius during the most decisive period of his political life when he seizes the moment, finds his voice, and helps create a new political party.

In 1849, Abraham Lincoln seems condemned to political isolation and defeat. His Whig Party is broken in the 1852 election, and disintegrates. His perennial rival, Stephen Douglas, forges an alliance with the Southern senators and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Violent struggle breaks out on the plains of Kansas, a prelude to the Civil War.

Lincoln rises to the occasion. Only he can take on Douglas in Illinois, and he finally delivers the dramatic speech that leaves observers stunned. In 1855, he makes a race for the Senate, which he loses when he throws his support to a rival to prevent the election of a proslavery candidate. Now, in Wrestling With His Angel, Sidney Blumenthal explains how Lincoln and his friends operate behind the scenes to destroy the anti-immigrant party in Illinois to clear the way for a new Republican Party. Lincoln takes command and writes its first platform and vaults onto the national stage as the leader of a party that will launch him to the presidency.

The Washington Monthly hailed Blumenthal’s Volume I as, “splendid…no one can come away from reading A Self-Made Man without eagerly anticipating the ensuing volumes.” Now, in one of the greatest American success stories, Wrestling With His Angel brings Lincoln from the wilderness to the peak of his career as he takes control of the nation’s most profound spiritual crisis—slavery—and enters the battle for the nation’s soul.

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David Garrow’s Rising Star on A House Divided

Barack Obama

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Daniel Weinberg talked with David Garrow on A House Divided. They discussed Garrow’s latest book, Rising Star, The Making of Barack Obama. There are a few copies available. Order your signed copy today.

Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention instantly catapulted the little-known state senator from Illinois into the national spotlight. Three months later, Obama would win election to the U.S. Senate; four years later he would make history as America’s first black president. Now, at the end of his second presidential term, David J. Garrow delivers the most compelling and comprehensive biography ever written of Obama in the years preceding his presidency.

Moving around the globe, from Hawaii to Indonesia to the American Northeast and Midwest, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama meticulously unpacks Obama’s life, from his tumultuous upbringing in Honolulu and Jakarta, to his formative time as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, working in some of the roughest neighborhoods, to Cambridge, where he excelled at Harvard Law School, and finally back to Chicago, where he pursued his political destiny. In voluminous detail, drawn from more than 1,000 interviews and encyclopedic documentary research, Garrow reveals as never before the ambition, the dreams, and the all-too-human struggles of an iconic president in a sure to be news-making biography that will stand as the most authoritative account of Obama’s pre-presidential life for decades to come.

Mercy Street Author, Pamela Toler on A House Divided

Heroines of Mercy Street

Bjorn Skaptason talked with Pamela Toler, PhD about her new book, Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War.

Heroines of Mercy Street tells the true stories of the nurses at Mansion House, the Alexandria, Virginia mansion turned wartime hospital and setting for the PBS drama Mercy Street. Among the Union soldiers, doctors, wounded men from both sides, freed slaves, politicians, speculators and spies who passed through the hospital in the crossroads of the Civil War, were nurses who gave their time to save lives and aid the wounded.

Civil War nurses  ushered in a new era for medicine in the midst of tremendous hardship. While the country was at war, these women not only learned to advocate and care for patients in hostile settings, saved countless lives, and changed the profession forever, they regularly fell ill with no one to nurse them in return, seethed in anger at the indifference and inefficiency that left wounded men on the battlefield without care, and all too often mourned for those they could not rescue.

Heroines of Mercy Street tells the true stories of the Civil War nurses at Mansion House, the Alexandria, Virginia, hotel turned wartime hospital and setting for the PBS show Mercy Street. Women like Dorothea Dix, Mary Phinney, Anne Reading, and more rushed to be of service to their country during the war, meeting challenges that would discourage less determined souls every step of the way. They saw casualties on a scale Americans had never seen before; diseases like typhoid and dysentery were rampant; and working conditions-both physically and emotionally–were abysmal.

Drawing on the diaries, letters, and books written by these nursing pioneers, Pamela D. Toler, PhD, has written a fascinating portrait of true heroines, shining a light on their personal contributions during one of our country’s most turbulent periods.

Order Your Signed Copy Today at AuthorsVoice.net. 1st edition, hardcovers are getting hard to find.

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A Closer Look at Presidential Libraries on A House Divided

A House Divided

Daniel Weinberg talked with Jodi Kanter about her book, Presidential Libraries as Performance. Brian Dirck was scheduled to talk about Lincoln in Indiana, but was unable to attend.

Kanter’s Presidential Libraries as Performance considers the moments in the presidents’ lives the museums choose to interpret, and not to interpret, and how the libraries approach common subjects in the presidential museum narrative—the presidents’ early years in relation to cultural ideals, the libraries’ representations of presidential failures, personal and political, and the question of presidential legacy.  Kanter demonstrates how the presidential libraries generate normative narratives about individual presidents, historical events, and what it means to be an American. 

Dirck’s Lincoln in Indiana tells the story of Lincoln’s life in Indiana, from his family’s arrival to their departure. Dirck explains the Lincoln family’s ancestry and how they and their relatives came to settle near Pigeon Creek. He shows how frontier families like the Lincolns created complex farms out of wooded areas, fashioned rough livelihoods, and developed tight-knit communities in the unforgiving Indiana wilderness.  With evocative prose, he describes the youthful Lincoln’s relationship with members of his immediate and extended family. A triumph of research, Dirck cuts through the myths about Lincoln’s early life, and along the way he explores the social, cultural, and economic issues of early nineteenth-century Indiana. The result is a realistic portrait of the youthful Lincoln set against the backdrop of American frontier culture. It is part of the Concise Lincoln Library.

Both titles are published by Southern Illinois University Press. Both are available in 1st edition, signed. Order Now. 

 

Kate Warne book on Stranger Than Fiction

Girl in Disguise

Bjorn Skaptason talked with Greer MacAllister about her latest book, Girl in Disguise. Inspired by the real story of investigator Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective’s rise during one of the nation’s times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.

With no money and no husband, Kate Warne finds herself with few choices. The streets of 1856 Chicago offer a desperate widow mostly trouble and ruin―unless that widow has a knack for manipulation and an unusually quick mind. In a bold move that no other woman has tried, Kate convinces the legendary Allan Pinkerton to hire her as a detective.

Battling criminals and coworkers alike, Kate immerses herself in the dangerous life of an operative, winning the right to tackle some of the agency’s toughest investigations. But is the woman she’s becoming―capable of any and all lies, swapping identities like dresses―the true Kate? Or has the real disguise been the good girl she always thought she was?

Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist who earned her MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her debut novel The Magician’s Lie was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection. It has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films.

Order Your Copy Today At AuthorsVoice.net.

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Sex! Sleep! Dreams! on A House Divided

A House Divided

Daniel Weinberg talked with Judith Giesberg about her book,  Sex and the Civil War and Jonathan W. White, author of Midnight in America.

Giesberg, a professor of history at Villanova University, has written the first serious study of the erotica and pornography that nineteenth-century American soldiers read and shared. She links them to the postwar reaction to pornography and to debates about the future of sex and marriage. Sex and the Civil War examines the social changes that occurred in human relations—including the regulation of sex and reproduction—most evident in the Comstock laws, a federal law and a series of state measures outlawing pornography, contraception, and abortion.

White, associate professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University, has written an innovative new study that explores what dreams meant to Civil War–era Americans and what their dreams reveal about their experiences during the war. Midnight in America shows how Americans grappled with their fears, desires, and struggles while they slept, and how their dreams helped them make sense of the confusion, despair, and loneliness that engulfed them.

We have limited copies of both books, signed, in first edition.

Order Sex and the Civil War

Order Midnight in America

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Lincoln In The Bardo on Author’s Voice

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is now available. Already in its 4th printing. the novel debuted at No 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers Fiction List. We have only a few signed, first editions available. They are selling fast!

George Saunders joined us on A House Divided on March 2 to talk about his long-awaited debut novel.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a moving and original father-son story featuring Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying.

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The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address

The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address

February 9, our own Bjorn Skaptason talked to the authors of The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address. David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften returned to our program with their always fascinating take on Lincoln’s use of Euclid. Their previous work, Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason was the first book in what has become a fascinating and recuring theme.

Abraham Lincoln’s November 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address is generally recognized as one of the greatest leadership speeches ever written. The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address explains the 272-word speech more thoroughly than any book previously published. With the aid of colorized step-by-step diagrams, the authors deconstruct the speech into its basic elements and demonstrate how the scientific method is basic to the structure of the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln’s fascination with geometry is well documented. Authors David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften, however, are the first to discover and then demonstrate Lincoln’s use of the six elements of a proposition and then diagram and explain how his in-depth study of geometry helped him compose the Gettysburg Address. The result is a deeper and richer understanding of the Gettysburg Address that was not previously possible. This concise color examination of one of our nation’s most treasured and important speeches is perfect for all ages and especially for those interested in history, the use of language, and logic.

Copies of Both The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address and Structure of Reason are Available.

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