Last Saturday night, as the hordes gathered on and about Michigan Avenue to celebrate the lighting of lights and the beginning of the gift-buying season, a few hundred members of the Chicago literary community settled into the seats in the handsome auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University on the Northwest Side.
They were there to watch the ceremonies surrounding the induction of the first class of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame: Gwendolyn Brooks, Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, Studs Terkel, Lorraine Hansberry and Saul Bellow.
No writer I know — oh, there was no notable exception who, every year shortly before the Pulitzer Prizes were announced said, in silent prayer, "Oh, Lord, if I don't win it, at least don't let the winner be someone I know" — ever wrote for awards.
Money? Of course. Fame? No doubt.
But the members of the first class of inductees into the HOF wrote because they had to and the results are among the greatest works written, ever or anywhere.
The idea for this HOF was that of Don Evans, a novelist ("Good Money After Bad" and the editor of the anthology "Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year.") For the last two years he has been tireless in his passion for this project. He got a lot of local writers to come up with and finally vote for the people inducted, persuaded me to emcee the event and got Marc Smith, founder of the poetry slam movement, to direct it. He sat, tired but pleased, in a box in the theater with his wife, Margaret, and their young son, Dusty.
Like most any awards event, this one dragged on. What was meant to be a two-hour program clocked out at something closer to 3 1/2 hours. And if there were some speeches that went on far too long or were far too loose in focus, there were also some spectacular moments.
Topping my list would be actor/director Gary Houston reading Algren and actress/director Jackie Taylor reading Hansberry. There was terrific singing by Lori Lippitz. Among those presenting the awards were some people likely to eventually find themselves inductees: Haki Madhubuti, Sara Paretsky, Audrey Niffenegger and Stuart Dybek. Among those accepting the awards were Terkel's son, Dan, Algren's old pal Art Shay, and Brooks' daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely, who charmingly and playfully outed her mother as a devoted fan of TV soap operas.
There was the usual small talk before the show and during intermission — "Great to see you … What are you working on? ... You sold how many copies?" — but there was some delightful banter between Greg Bellow and Osgood. They had not seen one another since Greg's father was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in Stockholm in 1976, with Osgood there to shoot the event.
The evening ended with a singalong and the eating of desserts and, as always happens at these sorts of things, some carping: "What, no Carl Sandburg?"
He is certain, I would say, to make next year's class along with …
What do you think? Royko? Farrell? Dreiser? Hecht?
Eventually the hall expects to open up to living writers and then … Oh, well, it is a lovely thing for a city to have so many choices for its newest Hall of Fame.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun