November 9, 2007
Great Chicago Literature
Chicago Magazine's November issue includes an article titled, "Tough Love: Great Chicago Novels," a list of the “ten essential novels” by Chicago authors:
The Cliff-Dwellers, by Henry Blake Fuller (1893)
Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
The Pit, by Frank Norris (1903)
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (1906)
The Studs Lonigan Trilogy, by James T. Farrell (1932-5)
Native Son, by Richard Wright (1940)
The Man with the Golden Arm, by Nelson Algren (1949)
Maud Martha, by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953)
The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow (1953)
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros (1984)
See the links to the right to read several of these great novels online.
A Note on the Chicago Literary Renaissance:
Many scholars define the Chicago literary renaissance in three parts, periods when the cities’ writers truly helped to define American literature as a whole. The first period, which seemed to reach its pinnacle at the turn of the century, included Hamlin Garland, native Chicagoan Henry Blake Fuller, popular humarists George Ade and Eugene Field and Theodore Dreiser. These were the trailbreaking writers of Midland realism.
Chicago’s third important literary period peaked in the 1940s with Nelson Algren, Richard Wright’s classic Native Son, Gwendolyn Brooks and the emergence of Saul Bellow.
But it was the period from approximately 1910 to the mid-1920s, the second wave that is more commonly referred to as the “Chicago Renaissance.” It refers to a time when there was a gathering of writers in Chicago and the establishment of a considerable number of institutions and publications that supported them.
Theodore Dreiser, whose career had begun during the first wave, was earning controversial notoriate from the publication of his now classic Sister Carrie. Sherwood Anderson, poets Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters, newspaper reporters Ben Hecht and Ring Lardner all made their mark during this explosive era.
Small literary magazines such as Monroe's Poetry, Margaret Anderson's Little Review, Dell's Friday Literary Review, the Dial, and the Chap-Book, were important to the writers of the period. Until 1914, Carl Sandburg was just another struggling unknown writer. But in that year he published a few poem in the nationally circulated Poetry magazine and two years later his landmark work Chicago Poems was published. The little magazine had helped to propel the thirty-eight year old writer to the brink of literary stardom.
But it was their Midwest attitude and unconventional writing style and themes that set the Chicago Renaissance writers apart from their East Coast counterparts. They rejected the timid realism of Boston and New York who still looked to England for their style and validation. Chicago poets sneered at the conventional Victorian verse. Instead, the Midland writers embraced literary naturalism and its poets experimented with free verse and imagism.
Do you have a favorite Chicago book not on the list? Let's talk...