Open PDF Version
History of clubs is history of Chicago, too, author says
By Thomas Frisbie
Researching a book about the history of Chicago's clubs ran
the gamut from easy to impossible, author Lisa Holton
told Society of Midland Authors members at their regular monthly
program on Jan. 13 at the Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago.
Holton, who began her career as a business writer at the Chicago
Sun-Times and today writes about business history and other
topics at her own firm, The Lisa Company, is author of 11 books.
Her most recent is For Members Only: A History and Guide
to Chicago's Private Clubs (Lake Claremont Press).
Representatives of some clubs were happy to talk about their
history, but that wasn't always true, Holton said. "These
folks would not speak on record in a lot of these clubs,"
she said "It really did bother me. As a reporter you want
to find out as much as you can."
Nevertheless, Holton did find out a lot. For Members Only
tells a story of how the clubs in Chicago helped shaped the
city, as the Commercial Club of Chicago did, for example, by
fronting the money for Daniel Burnham's lakefront plan.
"It was a wonderful chance to visit Chicago history through
a single topic," Holton said. "What I loved about
the project was learning how the private clubs were such an
extraordinary window into how politics, wealth and architecture
figured into all of it."
Pointing out the Cliff Dwellers' Sullivan Room, Holton recounted
how it is named for the great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.
Isolated late in his career, Sullivan had no new major commissions
when noted architects Nelson Max Dunning and George Nimmons,
both Cliff Dwellers members, came to his aid. They made sure
his dues, which he no longer could afford, were paid, and they
helped to set up one of his last architectural commissions,
a series of printed renderings that illustrated his philosophy
of architectural ornament.
"They worked with other Cliff Dwellers members to put this
project together," Holton said.
Club members also made it possible for Sullivan to write his
autobiography in the last two years of his life, The Autobiography
of an Idea, she said. A significant part of the writing was
done at the Cliff Dwellers, she added.
"I really like the story for two reasons," Holton
said. "First of all, I believe a lot of people think private
clubs are all
about exclusion and secrecy and sometimes infighting, and believe
me, as I researched this book, that can be true in a lot of
cases. But clubs succeed because they provide a second family
for people in ways that their families at home and work cannot."
Barbara Gregorich had three poems about Inuit stone-carved
bears published in the January 2009 issue of Cricket: "All
Bear," "Get Down" and "Sniff, Sniff."
Charlotte Herman's children's novel, My Chocolate
Year, has been named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book, by the
Association of Jewish Libraries.
Robert Loerzel was interviewed Jan. 14 on WBEZ
Chicago Public Radio about William Lorimer, the Chicago Republican
boss who was ousted from the U.S. Senate in 1912 after being
accused of obtaining his seat through bribery. Loerzel wrote
about the parallels between Lorimer and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich
for the Huffington Post. Loerzel also co-wrote a feature story
on Chicago's leading movie people for the February issue of
Chicago magazine. Also, Loerzel will talk about how to do historical
research at the 6 p.m. March 10 meeting of the Independent Writers
of Chicago. The meeting is at National-Louis University, 122
S. Michigan Ave., Room 5008, Chicago.
Andrea Cheng's children's book Where the Steps Were
was selected by "Choose to Read Ohio," a project of
the State Library of Ohio designed to promote reading across
Ohio. Also selected was Anne Hagedorn's Beyond the River:
The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad.
(Beyond the River also is the Hildene, Mass., History
Book Club's current book for discussion.)
In an online piece titled "The Real Housewives of Crook
County" on Dec. 17, Michelle Malkin quoted Jim Merriner's
Chicago magazine article.
Carol Felsenthal wrote the cover story for the February
issue of Chicago magazine on Michelle Obama. Felsenthal also
been posting online commentaries, including one on Leon Panetta,
the proposed CIA head and former chief of staff for Bill Clinton.
Also, on Jan. 15 the Chicago Reader interviewed Felsenthal about
why she posts commentaries for the Huffington Post. And on Jan.
8, the Kansas City Star wrote: "Carol Felsenthal has done
it again. The Chicago investigative journalist and author
of the most damning expose of Bill Clinton's post-presidential
career, Clinton in Exile is back with disturbing
evidence that that very nice man, Roland Burris, may have had
something to do with the wife of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich
getting a very nice $80,000-a-year job in August."
The film, "Santa Claus in Baghdad," made from the
title story of Elsa Marston's book Santa Claus in
Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World,
had its main premiere this past summer at the Rhode Island International
Film Festival, and has had premieres and screenings in several
other places plus honors from a couple of other fairly large
film festivals. Marston organized a showing in Bloomington,
Ind., on Dec. 21. On a zero wind-chill day, the crowd in the
more-than-jam-packed-auditorium at the public library responded
warmly to the film. The program also included a discussion by
a local media film-reviewer and Marston; a musical interlude
on the oud (a Middle Eastern stringed instrument) by a Turkish
musician; and a reception with Middle Eastern food. Plans are
under way for a second Bloomington screening later this winter
on the Indiana University campus. The book has already had three
printings, and the film maker (Raouf Zaki of RA Vision Productions,
near Boston) and Marston continue to explore ways to promote
both the film and the book.
Jane Hamilton, 2007 SMA Adult Fiction finalist, has
a new book: Laura Rider's Masterpiece. Publishers Weekly
said Hamilton laces "her narrative with winning humor."
Blue Balliett was profiled in the Jan. 10 Chicago Sun-Times.
The newspaper said the 53-year-old author of three best-selling
children's novels wants people particularly aspiring
kid writers to know that doing what she does for a living
is itself often a very untidy business. Characters jabber away
in her head even after she's finished writing a novel.
Balliett once wrote 180 pages of a book, only to realize it
wasn't going to work and needed to be thrown away. Story ideas
tiptoe up and slither into her brain at all hours of day and
In a Jan. 17 Newseek essay, Joseph Epstein wrote, "I
don't have enough knowledge of etymology to know whether thrift
is the root of the word 'thrive,' or thrive the root of the
word 'thrift,' but no nation can hope to thrive without the
ethos of thrift at its core." Also, Newsday in a review
of Epstein's latest book, Fred Astaire, called it "delightful
Ray E. Boomhower was scheduled to give a slide presentation
and discussion about Lew Wallace of Indiana at New Castle-Henry
County Public Library on Jan. 10.
On Jan. 14, the Jackson Free Press mentioned Brock Clarke's
"wonderful nuggets of characterization" in his book,
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England,
an SMA 2008 Adult Fiction finalist.
Mark Eleveld wrote a profile in the Jan. 11 Chicago
Sun-Times of poet Kevin Coval, who has read his poetry
at several SMA poetry programs.
The School Library Journal called Bonnie Dobkin's 2008
book Neptune's Children "a captivating survival
tale to add to collections."
My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories, from
Chekhov to Munro (Jan. 8, Harper) includes a story about
adolescent longing by Stuart Dybek.
Richard Jones, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Haki Madhubuti and Martha
Modena Vertreace-Doody are among the poets who contributed
to an anthology in celebration of Barack Obama's inauguration,
A Writers' Congress: Chicago Poets on Barack Obama's Inauguration.
A reading was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 20 in the DePaul
Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield Ave., Room 314. The anthology
was published by DePaul University's Humanities Center and the
DePaul Poetry Institute. Stuart Dybek wrote on the book
jacket: "These poems celebrate both the hope embodied in
the man, Barack Obama, and a renewed hope for the promise of
American democracy. So natural an act as praise seems a wondrous
release after the necessity to protest the previous eight years
of disastrous American policy."
Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Ill., held a service this
month to commemorate a visit and talk to the congregation by
Dr. Martin Luther King in 1966. The commemoration was organized
by Michael H. Ebner, a longtime congregant and retired
Lake Forest College history professor.
Jean Bethke Elshtain will be one of the speakers next
month when Union University in Jackson, Tenn., holds a conference
in honor of the 15th anniversary of the publication of Robert
P. George's book Making Men Moral.
The Jan. 18 Chicago
Sun-Times ran a feature on Richard Cahan and Michael
Williams' new book, co-authored with Nicholas Osborn,
Who We Were: A Snapshot History of America. "The draw
of turning the pages of Who We Were," the Sun-Times
wrote, "is that we come upon insights from our past. This
random walk through history is a rewarding one."
On Dec. 30, Blogcritics reviewed Paula Kamen's Finding
Iris Cheng: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary
Mind, saying, "In retrospect, Kamen realizes that the
incomparable drive, desire and competitiveness Chang displayed
throughout her life may have been indicative of a manic side."
Harry Mark Petrakis was honored in September at the
opening of the Dunes Acres exhibit at the Westchester Township
Historical Museum in Indiana.
A commentary on the new senator from Illinois, Roland Burris,
by Thomas Frisbie appeared in the Jan. 20 Chicago Sun-Times.
Q&A With Shawn Shiftlett: Writing professor
sees a bright future for fiction
Shawn Shiflett, a Columbia College professor, is the
author of the critically acclaimed 2004 novel Hidden Place
and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship winner. Shiflett and
Stephanie Kuehnert (author of I Wanna Be Your Joey
Ramone (2008, MTV Books), and the upcoming Ballads of
Suburbia (MTV Books)) will present the Feb. 10 Society of
Midland Authors program, "The Future of Fiction."
(Additional panelists may be announced).
Literary License: A recent report by the National Endowment
for the Arts said the endowment believes a 25-year decline in
fiction reading has reversed. Have you seen any evidence of
Shiflett: Yes, I have seen evidence of this both in my
students at Columbia College Chicago, the proliferation of reading
groups, and even with the emphasis on reading that my own children
are getting in grade, junior high, and high school. The question
is, what kinds of fiction are they reading? Fantasy? Science
Fiction? Horror? Graphic novels? Young Adult? The answer, of
course, is all of that and more. A very promising development
is in Young Adult Fiction, a genre that is increasingly expanding
its boundaries of acceptable subject material and therefore
helping to develop the literary fiction readers of the future.
Literary License: In your writing, how do you develop
Shiflett: My own characters often start with real people
or, more often, combinations of several people whose contradicting
traits free them into the realm of the "wholly imagined."
They may be people whom I knew very well. Other times, they
are several images of people whom I saw for brief moments, encounters,
or saw for no more than an "image flash" out a car
window. Sometimes they are characters that I thought were only
bit players in a novel until they started to elbow everyone
else off the stage. Those are the most fun characters to develop,
as they seem to write themselves and are completely out of my
control. They challenge me to write by the seat of my pants.
Alberto in Hidden Place is such a character, as are Jay and
Literary License: Are the changes in the publishing industry
affecting serious fiction writers?
Shiflett: Technology might actually prove to be "the
friend" that saves literary fiction by keeping publishing
costs down, and allowing for new ways of publicizing books,
etc. The book as we know it today an object made of paper
that occupies shelves in our homes will vanish, maybe
even a lot sooner than we realize, but our basic need for story
in print will continue, even if the form of the object that
we hold in our hands changes.
Literary License: At one point in writing your book should
an author begin to look for a publisher?
Shiflett: That's a complicated question that really
depends on so many different factors.
Literary License: What's your next book?
Shiflett: Set in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood,
Hey, Liberal! is about a white kid in a predominately African-American
high school right after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How
to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues,
University of Chicago Press
April 15, 2009
Each year writers and editors submit more than 3,000 grammar
and style questions to the Q&A page at The Chicago Manual
of Style Online. Some are arcane, some hilarious and
one editor, Carol Fisher Saller, reads every single
one of them.
All too often she notes a classic author-editor standoff,
wherein both parties refuse to compromise on the "rights"
and "wrongs" of prose styling.
In The Subversive Copy Editor, Saller casts aside
this adversarial view and suggests practical strategies for
keeping the peace. Emphasizing habits of carefulness, transparency,
and flexibility, she shows copy editors how to build an environment
of trust and cooperation. One chapter takes on the difficult
author; another speaks directly to writers. Throughout, the
focus is on serving the reader, even if it means breaking
"rules" along the way. Saller's own foibles and
misadventures provide ample material: "I mess up all
the time," she confesses. "It's how I know things."
Writers, Saller acknowledges, are only half the challenge,
as copy editors can make plenty of trouble for themselves.
(Does any other book have an index entry "terrorists.
See copy editors"?) The book includes helpful sections
on e-mail etiquette, work-flow management, prioritizing, and
organizing computer files. One chapter addresses the special
concerns of freelance editors.
Saller's emphasis on negotiation and flexibility will surprise
many copy editors. The Chicago Q&A presents itself as a kind
of alter ego to the comparatively staid "Manual of Style."
The Bear Makers
In Andrea Cheng's new 170-page children's book, The
Bear Makers, Kata, 11, lives in post-World War II Hungary.
Her once-successful father is depressed, her mother illegally
sells stuffed animals, and her older brother flees to the
West. The School Library Journal wrote: "Kata's clear,
first-person voice never loses the child¹s point of view.
Even as her older neighbor changes enough to rebel against
her parents' demands that she become a Young Pioneer leader,
Kata only sees that Eva has again become her friend. Thoughtful
readers, however, will see between the lines and find enough
detail to understand something of the political background
and the family's precarious situation."
Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing
University of Michigan Press
April 15, 2009
Arnie Bernstein's new book is the definitive tale of
a forgotten story, the deadliest act of school violence in American
history. On May 18, 1927, a consolidated school in the farming
town of Bath, Mich., exploded. Simultaneously a fire broke out
at the farm of Andrew Kehoe, a local farmer and member of the
school board. He drove his truck to the school site, motioned
to the superintendent, then set off a case of explosives in
the truck cab, blowing the two men apart and killing several
others. At the end of the day, 38 children and six adults, including
Kehoe and his wife, were dead. The book includes interviews
with survivors (people in their 90s) and previously unpublished
photos of the killing field. New York Times best-selling writer
Gregg Olsen says of the book: "With the meticulous attention
to detail of a historian and a storyteller's eye for human drama,
Bernstein shines a beam of truth on a forgotten American tragedy.
Heartbreaking and riveting."
Canonicals: Love's Hours
Finishing Line Press
David Radavich's new poetry collection features love
poems based on the standard liturgical hours, evoking time from
dawn to dusk, the turning of seasons, the coming of night. Moods
shift from anticipation and discovery to absence and loss and
finally to redemption and healing. Radavich, a professor of
English at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, says the
publisher, Finishing Line Press, has created a beautiful volume
suitable for gifts to friends and loved ones.
of Cancer Bitch
University of Iowa Press
February 16, 2009
Cancer is S.L. Wisenberg's muse, and Cancer Bitch is
her blog. Drawing on a wealth of personal, literary and historical
sources, from Jewish liturgy to the first crude mastectomies,
from Anne Frank to Emma Goldman, The Adventures of Cancer
Bitch creates an image of a politically engaged, self-aware
woman facing a daunting disease with humor, well-founded fear
and keen intelligence.
Wisenberg's writing has been compared to a mix of Leon Wieseltier
and Fran Lebowitz.
in the Search for the Origin of Species
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
February 1, 2009
Sean B. Carroll, 2006 Adult Nonfiction Winner, has written
what Publishers Weekly calls "a thoroughly enjoyable book"
about the people who have made the most significant discoveries
The Shepherds of Shadows
Southern Illinois Univ. Press
November 24, 2008
Thirty-one years after Harry Mark Petrakis wrote
his historical novel The Hour of the Bell, which was
set in the first year of Greece's war of independence from
the Ottoman Empire, he carries the narrative forward with
his new book, The Shepherds of Shadows.
Woven through the novel are stories of the love of a young
guerrilla fighter for a Greek girl and her child, born of
a brutal rape, as well as the love of the scribe, Xanthos,
for a village woman widowed by the war.
Patrakis, author of 21 books, has created a modern epic based
on one of the most savage conflicts in European history.
A 1925 edition of The Century Magazine includes an article
by Hobart C. Chatfield-Taylor, first president of the
Society of Midland Authors.
In the article, Hobart quotes a letter written to him in 1891
by Eugene Field, the essayist, children's author and Chicago
Daily News columnist.
"If you intend to follow writing as a profession, you
must cultivate your skin until it becomes hide - the hide of
a pachyderm," Field told Chatfield-Taylor. "I believe
it is better to be antagonized than to be patronized. Go right
along doing the best work of which you are capable and you are
bound to succeed in spite of the ill will of some people. There
are in the midst of us many who, incapable of ambitious endeavor,
themselves, envy and hate those who do try to do somewhat and
to be somebody. Do not let these creatures worry you. After
a while they will be only too glad to fawn upon you."
Writers on Writing: Mervin Block
When CNN's 'happening now' means: 'Not very much happened
a while ago'
Longtime SMA member Mervin Block is a broadcast writing
coach as well as an author. He has written news at three TV
networks and he teaches newswriting workshops for TV and radio
newsrooms around the country. Here, he analyzes CNN's coverage
of a story about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"Happening now," the anchor Wolf Blitzer exclaimed
recently, "a CNN exclusive our own Drew Griffin
he catches up with the embattled Illinois governor, Rod
Blagojevich, and asks him about the scandal that has state officials
now moving to try to force him from office. Stand by. You'll
see it for the first time."
Then Blitzer delivered several other headlines and said emphatically,
"You're in the Situation Room." Time: 5 p.m., Dec.
12. Immediately, an announcer said, "This is CNN breaking
Blitzer resumed: "But first we have some breaking news
[as the announcer just said] we're working on exclusive,
brand-new video just coming into the Situation Room right now
an exchange between the embattled [again!] Illinois governor,
Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate
seat, and our own Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations
Unit. State officials are now moving to oust Blagojevich. Will
he step down? I want you to listen to what he said."
So what viewers were about to see was described not only as
exclusive but also as breaking news and happening now.
It sounded as though we were about to hear something big, something
important. And Blitzer told viewers to listen. But if they weren't
already listening to him, how could they hear him say they should
listen? Also, listeners might wonder, How come he didn't tell
viewers to watch?
Next, videotape of the CNN reporter in Chicago intercepting
Blagojevich as he left his lawyer's office and identifying himself:
"Governor, Drew Griffin with CNN. Can you say anything
to the people of the state of Illinois, sir?" No reply.
State of Illinois? Most of us are already aware that Illinois
is a state. Or was Griffin asking about the state of Illinois'
economy? And why did Griffin ask a yes-or-no question? Especially
when we all knew that the governor could answer a question.
But we didn't know whether he would answer a question. In any
case, don't preface an interview (or would-be interview) by
asking whether the subject could or would answer a question;
just ask your question.
A few questions a reporter might have asked: What's your response
to the allegations? How do you plan to defend yourself? What's
your side of the story? How do you explain this to your family
and friends and neighbors? How does it feel to see your
private phone conversations spread around the world? A reporter
might have time for only a few of those questions, but at least
he'd be steering clear of yes-or-no questions. Don't ask a yes-or-no
question unless you want a one-word answer.
Griffin: "Do you have anything to say?" [Almost
the same as his first question.]
Blagojevich: "I will, at the appropriate time, absolutely."
[Suggested response for the reporter: "I'll give you all
the time you want right now."]
Griffin: "Are you going to resign, sir?"
Blagojevich: "I'll have a lot to say at the appropriate
time." [Suggested reporter's response: "Why not right
Griffin: "Governor, are the authorities right in their
petition, that criminal complaint? Did you do what they say
you did?" [The governor, who's a lawyer, was highly unlikely
to answer those two questions. And indeed he didn't.]
As the governor slid into his car, Griffin asked, "Governor?
Just 30 seconds for anybody? For the state of Illinois?"
Again, no response. And that's how it ended. Griffin had asked
six questions, more or less, all yes-or-no. The governor said
next to nothing, only that he'd have something to say at the
right time but nothing now.
When the tape ended, Blitzer chatted with Griffin and told
him bluntly: "At least, he answered one of your questions.
At least, he stopped a little bit [on the way to the car]
not very much, though." (CNN re-ran the Griffin-Blagojevich
encounter on several newscasts that night. And the next day,
CNN re-ran the tape on at least four newscasts.)
When Blitzer had introduced the story, he said it was happening
now, that it was breaking news and exclusive. But Griffin's
attempted interview was played on tape, so it was definitely
not happening now. Breaking news? Breaking, it was, but hardly
news. After all, we assumed Blago would talk when he thought
the time was right. As for exclusive, that's true: no other
reporter was present. Blitzer had promoted the encounter as
an exchange, but it was small change.
One hour later, Blitzer again promoted the so-called exchange
as taking place at that very moment. He said on his 6 p.m. newscast:
"Happening now: the embattled Illinois governor talks exclusively
to CNN. . . . Listen to what he said in this exclusive exchange."
Two days later, on Sunday, Dec. 14, at 11 a.m., on Late Edition,
Blitzer re-played the Griffin-Blago encounter. When the clip
ended, Blitzer told Griffin briskly that Blago "obviously
Now he tells us after he sells us. The story Blitzer
peddled as exclusive, breaking news and happening now turns
out to be no grabber, just a gabber. CNN does have a huge news
hole to fill, so running the Griffin-Blago exchange was justifiable.
But from start to finish, CNN's handling of the story was bad
Mervin Block offers more writing tips at mervinblock.com
and in one of his books, Broadcast Newswriting: The RTNDA
Reference Guide. To get free updates like this one, e-mail
top of page