There is an art gallery on South Lombard in Oak Park that pays homage to Carl Sandburg, T.S. Eliot, and some local poets in the form of painted stanzas on the gallery’s brick walls and painted doors. Across from the painted poetry is the bright and bustling Buzz Café.
In between these is a bench. Sitting there on a hot summer day, an author might think to himself, “This is promising. I could write here,” followed by a deep curiosity about who might have written what from this very spot before.
A native Ohioan, this author has often felt camaraderie with those tied to the state: R.L. Stine, Ambrose Bierce, Sue Grafton, O. Henry, Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver, Susan Orlean (for more Ohio authors, check out the Ohio Center for the Book). Their writing recalls life in the heartland, pastorals crashing into the 21st century, disparity between who one is and how one seems, all the while tasting tough as jerky and sweet as wild blackberries.
What of Illinois writers? Specifically, what about Chicagoans? What flavors do they leave with their words?
One of the first times I tasted Chicago-flavored literature was here in Chicago, many years before I would move here.
I still have the book, a dog-eared, underlined, commented on version of Sandburg’s “Honey and Salt,” purchased on December 3, 2005, at a corporate bookstore. An impatient and impassioned girl scrawled in the jacket: “Two Chicago bookstores lacked the literary genius of Sandberg. I was astonished- how could the Windy City, the city of Hog Butchers and painted ladies, forget, no, abandon their poet?”
Sandburg! Its poet!, I want to scream at that younger version of myself who would not listen even if she could. Nonetheless, that book helped me explore Chicago for the first time, flaws and all. Packing it into a moving crate to bring it back feels apropos: the words return to where they were born.
And there are so many more words to explore from many more benches.
With this blog, I hope to embark on a journey of place, a quest for Chicago, for its stories- its happenings, heartaches and little ecstasies. Exploring the city and her literary life, I am bound to make some errors of terminology and the like. However, if you crave a literary journey, even if it is from a Chicago newbie, please tag along.