By Toni Nealie
Chicago’s Loop was once a lively area of movie theaters, the second most important cinema market in the country from the 1920s through the 1970s. By 1990, all eleven venues were gone. Film historian and Aurora University professor Gerald R. Butters has written a thoroughly researched and absorbing book, “From Sweetback to Superfly: Race and Film Audiences in Chicago’s Loop,” examining the clash of community, entertainment and business interests in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »
“Roses are red, violets are blue, the stockyards stink and so do you!” begins Dominic Pacyga’s account of Chicago’s Union Stock Yard. At the stockyard’s zenith, fifty-thousand people were employed there and in the adjacent Packingtown just south of Bridgeport. Pacyga, a historian whose Polish grandparents lived in Back of the Yards and worked in the meatpacking industry, weaves together a deft social, ethnic, business and labor history and story of the place. “The Stockyards were Chicago,” he says.
The Union Stock Yard represented modern capitalism and the industrial factory system applied to food for the first time. Companies such as Swift and Armour centralized and unified meat markets in the nation. Previously it took almost a day to butcher a steer, but Chicago’s packinghouses took only thirty-five minutes. The spectacle of killing and processing thousands of animals each day drew 50,000 tourists each year, from around the United States and around the world. Politicians included it on their campaign trails. Rudyard Kipling wrote, “They were so excessively alive, these pigs. And then they were so excessively dead, and the man in the dripping, clammy, hot passage did not seem to care.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Amy Strauss Friedman
“Here is the paradox of the memoir: its retrospective vision, which is its strength, is also its weakness,” Joyce Carol Oates warns in her new book “The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age.” “The fact is–We have forgotten most of our lives. All of our landscapes are soon lost in time.” With this challenge in mind, the prolific Oates works cautiously to reconstruct what is lost through the muddied nature of memoir, exploring her childhood on a farm in western New York and the ways in which her upbringing has shaped her writing life. In fact, this memoir is composed largely of reprinted essays written between 1986 and present day, indicating the discontinuous, cyclical nature of recall. “Our memories seem to lack the faculty for chronological continuity,” Oates correctly suggests. Read the rest of this entry »
A Diane von Furstenberg dress is a great equalizer. I held an informal poll on Facebook and discovered that friends of different shapes, sizes, coloring, lifestyle, location and wealth all had DVF dresses in common. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the garment’s popularity, because last year the company had sales of an estimated $500 million. During the early seventies, the wrap was selling at a rate of 25,000 per week, before ubiquity killed it in 1977.
In “Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped,” Chicago-based journalist Gioia Diliberto digs into the rise, fall, rise, fall and rise of both the woman and the brand.
Thoroughly researched, it is a juicy biography of a fashion icon. Diane, the daughter of a concentration camp survivor, became a princess and blazed her way into America. She aimed to create body-conscious clothes that were easy to wear and affordable. When heavily pregnant, Diane made the rounds of New York retailers with her samples in a suitcase. Some executives refused to meet her then, but by the mid-1970s the wrap dress was everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »
Jarrett Neal/Photo: Gerald Butters
By J-L Deher-Lesaint
“What Color Is Your Hoodie? Essays on Black Gay Identity” is Newcity contributor Jarrett Neal’s first book: a collection of personal essays that examine what space the black gay male body occupies in hip-hop culture, sports, mainstream cinema, pornography and, most importantly, everyday life.
How did the book begin, and how long did it take to complete it?
In 2011, I decided to take a break from writing fiction and poetry and give essays a try. When I was a student in the creative writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I never took classes in nonfiction and initially felt I didn’t have the reportorial voice I thought essays needed to have. But I had so many feelings I needed to express that I took to essay writing with ease.
For years, I had been holding in a lot of mixed feelings about both the black community and the gay community. I needed some sort of catharsis. “What Color Is Your Hoodie?” is the culmination of it. I began the collection in late 2011, but the collection really began to gather momentum and take shape when George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. I completed the manuscript in early 2014, and spent the better part of that year querying agents and publishers. I’m happy it found a home at Chelsea Station Editions, an LGBT press. Read the rest of this entry »
“The year of the woman,” 1992, was a time of idealism and anger brought to the fore after the 1991 Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. A Judiciary Committee of white men concluded that Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas were insignificant. Illinois democrats and progressive women were infuriated that Democratic Senator Alan J. Dixon had voted for Thomas’ confirmation. Carol Moseley Braun decided to challenge Dixon, and the account of her 1992 campaign as described by Jeannie Morris in “Behind the Smile” is riveting.
University of Chicago Law graduate, Cook County Recorder of Deeds at the time of her campaign, divorced, a single mother and a feminist fighting to be taken seriously in a man’s world, Braun represented the challenges women of all backgrounds face. EMILY’S List provided her with the first significant campaign donation. A good beginning, except that menacing clouds were forming in the shape of Braun’s campaign manager and eventual boyfriend, Kgosie Matthews. While controversies arose during Braun’s campaign, allegations of sexual harassment against Matthews sent to Braun in an anonymous letter could have ruined her; sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas had brought Braun into the limelight to begin with. Read the rest of this entry »
When Greg Bellow’s memoir about his father, Saul, came out in 2013, the Independent headlined its review, “Great author, terrible father.” Between the younger Bellow’s book and the three other biographies, to say nothing of the fact that Bellow’s own fiction was thinly veiled autobiography, what does Zachary Leader’s two-volume “The Life of Saul Bellow” bring to the already-crowded field of Bellow studies?
For people like me, who have to confess they’ve never read much Bellow, there’s the cynical temptation to say that with Leader’s work we don’t need to. Certainly most of the plot points from Dangling Man, The Adventures of Augie March, and Herzog can be found in the first volume: “To Fame and Fortune: 1915-1964.” We see Bellow’s parents’ childhoods in Russia; their immigration to Montreal, where Bellow was born; the family’s move to Chicago; and Bellow’s rise to fame, ending in his arrival “at the pinnacle of American letters,” as Leader writes. Marriages one and two are covered in detail, and his relationship with his third wife, Susan, begins in the last chapter, by the end of which things have not yet gone south. We see the womanizing egomaniac as well as the brilliant writer. Read the rest of this entry »
By Toni Nealie
In her memoir of prose poems and essays, Re’Lynn Hansen captures what she calls the “prismatic moment,” the color burst, the distilled essence of past. It’s sweet-sharp. Beauty, loss and humor sidle out from memories—a horse “gone like a ghost train, all light and muscle flying past,” a severed toe in a white handkerchief set in a drawer, an old guy in a nursing home who insists on putting his shoe on his lunch plate. Looking at adolescence, Hansen threads ideas of “becoming” and being “more,” over a catalog of recollection and longing. Read the rest of this entry »
Jessica Hopper / Photo: David Sampson
By Liz Baudler
Jessica Hopper’s byline connotes two things: vivid, confrontational description, and criticism with an unabashedly feminist and social conscience. “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic” raucously celebrates Hopper’s multidecade career, blaring its politics with the seminal piece “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” and veering through rap and rock and girls and boys with joyful and incisive abandon. Read the rest of this entry »
One evening last month, I listened to a former white supremacist warning that America’s biggest terrorist threat came from home-grown hatemongers. He and his audience at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square had no idea that at that hour in Charleston, a white gunman was ending the lives of nine worshippers in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Read the rest of this entry »