Literary lions: Chicago authors celebrate their own hall of fame

You’ll be pardoned if you didn’t know there was a Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. It’s been pretty low key during its short life, and so I excused myself for just discovering it in time for its fifth annual induction ceremony.

The ceremony, presided over by journalist/author Rick Kogan, brought six Chicago authors into the Literary Hall of Fame. I wrote a preview of the event for Gapers Block and decided to attend, even though it was a Saturday night in December with three other events trying to grab my attention. But I was happy I decided to be literary.

The event was held in the richly ornamented Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University. Ganz Hall, originally designed as a banquet hall, was built suspended over the Auditorium Theater space in another example of the engineering genius of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. (All photos by Nancy S Bishop.)

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The authors inducted are all dead, have a strong Chicago connection, and are considered writers of literary works. In other words, they are poets, novelists, playwrights, and occasionally one whose work extends beyond those boundaries. (Donald Evans, CLHOF founder and executive director, outlines the guidelines and history in an essay in the event program.) This year’s six honored authors were:

Margaret Anderson, who founded and edited the literary magazine, The Little Review, in 1914

David Hernandez, a street poet and unofficial poet laureate of Chicago

Edgar Lee Masters, author of The Spoon River Anthology

Willard Motley, Englewood native and author of Knock on Any Door and originator of the Bud Billiken columns in the Chicago Defender

Shel Silverstein, author of iconic books for children including The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends

Margaret Walker, whose first book of poems, For My People (1942), made her one of the youngest published black poets of the 20th century

This wasn’t one of your dry awards ceremonies with envelope openings and honorees fumbling for their speeches. (For one thing, they are all dead.) Each honoree was introduced with a remembrance about the author by a relative or literary connection, followed by a reading from the author’s work, and an acceptance speech by another relative or literary connection. Some of the readings were quite dramatic. Sandra Seaton performed an emotional reading from Margaret Walker’s For My People. Leslie Holland Pryor read a passage about the character Nick Romano from her great-grand-uncle’s novel, Knock on Any Door. Cynthia Judge performed a reading from Life Without Roses, June Sawyer’s play about Margaret Anderson.

These presentations, interspersed with comments from Kogan, made an entertaining evening that revealed Chicago literary secrets and history that should not be forgotten.

The evening also included the Rutledge Writing Awards to 13 Chicago high school student writers.

The sponsors of the CLHOF event include the Chicago Writers Association and the new American Writers Museum, which will open its new museum in 2016 on Michigan Avenue near the Art Institute of Chicago.



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