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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.

Watch the program below:

 

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.

Memorial Day at Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery

Everett Monument Rosehill Cemetery

30 May 2017

Yesterday was Memorial Day.

The usual story about it’s origin is that the holiday was started by Union General John Logan. Logan was commander-in-chief of a Union veterans’ organization called the Grand Army of the Republic. Logan issued a decree establishing what was then called “Decoration Day” on May 5, 1868.  The day was “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

John Logan is a well-known Chicago figure. He has a boulevard and a neighborhood named after him; as well as a statue in Grant Park.

Another important Chicago landmark related to the Civil War is Rosehill Cemetery. Dedicated in 1864, the cemetery is the final resting place to over 350 Civil War veterans. Yesterday, as with all Memorial Days at Rosehill, was a day of honoring our soldiers from all wars. There are speeches, a parade, and a 21-gun salute. One of the most moving events in the program encourages attendees to plant flags at the graves of the soldiers.

Our own Bjorn Skaptason shared this from yesterday’s program:

Bjorn Memorial Day

The Civil War lives in every corner of Chicago, In many ways, all of us who work here are always working. Bjorn’s text from yesterday, shows that.

We all wish you and all your loved ones a joyous summer. While you’re having fun, please remember the soldiers and sailors that gave their lives for you.

Lincoln’s Journey Home

Lincoln Funeral Silk Ribbon

3 May 2017

On this date 152 years ago Lincoln’s body was lying in state here in Chicago. Throughout the day-at a rate of 7,000 per hour-mourners filed past the casket paying their final respects to President Lincoln. That evening, the Lincoln Funeral Train would make the last portion of it’s journey home to Springfield, IL.

The Tribune solemnly reported, “Our father, our friend, our deliverer, is dead; the first outthrust of grief, great, overwhelming, though it were, was yet broken by the excitement of the occasion, and our subsequent wailings even have not been without sad interest.  But now that the form is forever departed, naught save the memory of the man remains, now comes the rank desolation and sorrow, which though not so demonstrative, is more affective.  The head of the nation, of the race, is gone from among us – even his form has departed.  We mourn him now as indeed gone; the place which knew him so long, shall know him no more forever.”  

Back in 2015, during the marking of the Lincoln Sesquicentennial, Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Inc. organized and staged a commemorative event marking the anniversary of the Lincoln funeral train’s arrival in Chicago. Watch the video of our program:

Block Museum Receives Steichen Gift

Steichen and Sandburg

May 1, 2017

Followers of Carl Sandburg and his family will be happy to know that Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art has just received a major gift of Edward Steichen’s photographs. These 44 photographs are a gift from Richard and Jackie Hollander.

These silver gelatin and platinum prints by the the iconic photographer are the second gift to the Block from the Hollanders. In 2013, they gifted the Block with 49 other Steichen photographs. The photographs were printed by the artist himself, bringing value as well as the artist’s true vision to the images.

Steichen is credited with elevating fashion photography to an art; as well as being a painter and a curator. His command of units dedicated to military photography in both World Wars helped win those wars. From Vogue to Victory, he was a “photographer’s photographer.”

Lillian Steichen, Carl Sandburg’s wife was Edward Steichen’s brother. Edward and Carl were lifelong friends. Edward went to bat for the couple when his parents objected to their University of Chicago-educated, Phi Betta Kappa daughter marrying a poet-drifter with a community organizer job. 

Sandburg wrote the text for Steichen: The Photographer and collaborated on Road to Victory, Steichen’s World War II photographic exhibit at the MOMA. Sandburg’s contribution also included writing the book that accompanied the exhibit.  Carl also wrote the text for the exhibition catalog for Steichen’s acclaimed Family of Man exhibit. Opening in 1955, this vast collection includes over 500 photos depicting life, love and death in 68 countries. The exhibit has a permanent home in northern Luxembourg, Steichen’s country of origin.

Learn more about the photographs and the Block Museum of Art.

 

Of Local Interest Art Young at Loyola University’s Cudahy Library

Art Young Cartoon

10 March 2017

Anthony Mourek, long time friend, colleague and fellow Manuscript Society member, collects the political cartoons of Art Young. His collection is featured in an exhibit at the Cudahy Library, 6515 N. Kenmore Avenue, Chicago. The library is on the Lakeshore campus of Loyola University. Closing on March 31, we urge you to go see it!

Art Young (1866-1943) stood as a central figure in the most important magazines of art and politics of his time, including The Masses, The Liberator and his own brilliant, if short lived, humor magazine Good Morning. He was a contributor to Life, Puck, Judge, Metropolitan Magazine, The Nation. 

His non-factional politics and humanitarian vision, combined with a mischievously subversive sense of humor, also made Art Young uniquely capable of reaching well into the mainstream of American journalism.

Life in the White House

A White House Diary

8 March 2017

Every family goes through a big adjustment when moving. The President (and his family, most of the time) are not exempt from that adjustment. Moving into a place dubbed The People’s House is daunting. Making it even more difficult is the fact that it is really only temporary.  Making a home among all that history would leave anyone off balance at the very least.

Read what Lady Bird Johnson had to say about it in A White House Diary.

Here is a great round-up of some of the accounts of life in the White House from Lapham’s Quarterly.

Nicolay and Hay, and Their “Other” Lincoln

Nicolay and Hay Abraham Lincoln: A History

16 March 2016

Abraham Lincoln: A History, by President Lincoln’s private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, stands even today as the most massive single work ever written on the sixteenth president. The publication of the ten-volume set by the Century Company in 1890 gave the public the first comprehensive life based upon Lincoln’s own papers – papers that Robert Todd Lincoln made exclusively available to Nicolay and Hay. No other biographers had access to these papers until James G. Randall in 1947. The list of great Lincoln writers who did not have access to Robert’s collection includes Albert Beveridge and Carl Sandburg.

The publication of the ten volumes in well-known green cloth binding did not, however, represent the first opportunity for the public to sample the work.  Century Magazine, the publication that created the famous compilation, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, published the chapters of Abraham Lincoln: A History serially during the 1880’s.  By the time students of Abraham Lincoln’s life read Nicolay and Hay in 1890, they could already have read much of the story in the Century.  The serialized version was not an exact reprint of what came later.  In fact a third contributor to the project, editor Richard Gilder, effected the Century version of each chapter substantially.  Gilder received drafts from Nicolay and Hay – or in some cases Nicolay or Hay, because while the authors collaborated on some sections they wrote other chapters independently of each other – and then fashioned them for the magazine.  Of especial concern to Gilder were certain long sections describing the Civil War from the authors’ pointedly Unionist perspective.  Since Century was a national publication Gilder made changes to soften criticism of the Confederacy, and to focus on Lincoln as a unifier rather than a warrior-president.

It is exceedingly difficult to acquire a full-length copy of this “Gilder” version of Nicolay and Hay.  To do so almost requires finding a set that a loyal Century subscriber personally collected and bound at the time they were released.  The set we are offering now is bound in slightly non-matching ¾ leather spines, with cloth boards and marbled end pages.  The condition of all the volumes are very good. There are other copies of the “Gilder” version on the market, but because each set was personally curated by a collector at the time of publication each set is essentially one-of-a-kind.

Ambrose Bierce in the Midst of Life

Ambrose Bierce

1 March 2016

Most of us encounter the influential short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in our high school literature classes. Lit teachers like to assign Ambrose Bierce’s haunting tale of psychological terror because of its innovative use of plot devices, and its manipulation of time. These were groundbreaking approaches to fiction writing at the time of publication. Most of us like Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge because it is a horror story with a crazy twist. Also, because of its popularity with our favorite high school English teachers, it may have been the first story we ever read that really freaked us out. The darkness of Ambrose Bierce’s short stories forecasts the psychological horror of Stephen King.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842-1914?) was born in the southern Ohio hill country of Meigs County, the youngest of ten children. The poor family of religious fundamentalists soon moved to Indiana where the boy grew to a young man of rebellious temperament. That rebelliousness contributed to his early enlistment in the Union Army. As a sergeant and lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Infantry, Bierce served in the ranks for two years, fighting in small campaigns in West Virginia, and then in large battles, such as Shiloh and Stones River. A promotion moved Lieutenant Bierce from the 9th Indiana to the staff of General William B. Hazen. Staff work provided the adventurous young man plenty of opportunities to seek out dangerous adventures, and to see a greater scope of the war than would otherwise be possible for a subaltern.

The end of the war saw Bierce briefly employed by the Treasury Department in Reconstruction Alabama, a job that was, in many ways, more dangerous than combat. An offer to accompany his old boss, Hazen, on an expedition to the west coast induced him to give up government employment, and take up the profession of journalism. As a journalist in San Francisco Bierce cultivated the acerbic voice and the love of irony that later marked his fiction. His first foray into publishing fiction (he was already an established journalist and political commentator), resulted in the collection of short stories, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891).

The first edition of the collection did not catch on with the reading public, but subsequent printings, published with the title In the Midst of Life: Tales of Soldiers and Civilians took off, selling tens of thousands of copies. The book finally catapulted Bierce to national attention as a writer whose fiction qualified as fine literature.

The itch for adventure never left Bierce, and, famously, led to his demise, likely in 1914, and likely in Mexico, where the seventy-two year old writer had gone to report on Pancho Villa. What actually happened to Bierce is still a mystery.

Our copy of Tales of Soldiers and Civilians provides the collector whose fascination embraces the history of the Civil War and pioneering American literature with a fine shelf-prize. The true first edition, identifiable not only by the 1891 publication date, but by the use of the more prosaic title that was later used as the sub-title, makes this particular copy of Bierce’s ground-breaking collection a desirable addition to a collection of great American fiction.

 

 

Sultana: Tragedy on the Mississippi

Loss of the Sultana

25 February 2016

The story of the deadliest shipwreck in U.S. history is also a Civil War story.  At 2:00 A.M., on April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana, grossly overloaded with liberated Union prisoners, exploded and burned just north of Memphis, Tennessee.  Approximately 1,800 people perished in a tragedy whose story was largely overshadowed by other events surrounding the end of the war and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. 

 It is a story that deserves to be told.  Compared to the tragedy of Lincoln’s death, and the triumph of the Union victory, the Sultana’s tale of senseless death, greed, corrupt war profiteers, and venal government officials, is as depressing as it is revealing.  Thousands of soldiers who had already survived battle and imprisonment were killed within days of their homecoming because of a confluence of the worst traits of humanity.  The avoidable disaster on the Mississippi certainly stains the triumphal narratives of Union victory.

 It fell to the survivors to tell the tale.  For years their only audience was the small circle of veterans and grieving families touched by the tragedy.  Like other groups of vets they formed an association, and held reunions.  Two distinct groups – one northern and one southern – met periodically in Toledo and in Knoxville. They recounted their memories for each other, and recorded their experiences.  Reverend Chester Berry took down the stories of 134 survivors, and compiled his own research.

 The result was Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of the Survivors, a remarkable compendium of primary source stories of this one tragic event.  Few of the big battles of the Civil War have benefited from such a collection of testimony to record the minute experiences of the survivors.  It took not only the tragedy, but the comparative indifference of the public to spur the survivors of the Sultana to make sure that their story was recorded for history.

 Original copies of Berry’s book are quite scarce, and hard to acquire in any condition.  Our copy, while showing signs of wear such as rubbing on the boards and slightly shaken hinges, is still quite bright.  Like the veterans who produced it, it is a survivor of a time and place in Civil War history that some people would have preferred to forget. 

February 25, 2016