August 24, 2018

City on the Make: Part 1

Given that this weekend would have been Theodore Dreiser’s 147th birthday, it seems like a good #ThrowbackThursday to honor the writer of the timeless Chicago classic Sister Carrie by taking a quick look as some of the best literature to come out of our great city over the past hundred years or so. It’s definitely not just you and me—there’s something magical about Chicago’s urban landscape, about the people, the buildings, the lake and the sidewalks and the train tracks, that inspires a feeling inside of us that’s hard to describe, but makes it a great place to read and write about.

In the spirit of Chicago writers, I think author Richard Wright, who once lived in here, captured that feeling best when he talked about Chicago as “that great iron city, that impersonal, mechanical city, amid the steam, the smoke, the snowy winds, the blistering suns; there in that self-conscious city, that city so deadly dramatic and stimulating, we caught whispers of the meaning that life could have…” I don’t know if anyone’s ever said it better. So in honor of our friend Mr. Dreiser by recapping a few of the greatest books ever written about Chicago, so you can do some light homework for your vacation:

Sister Carrie (1900) is the aforementioned masterpiece of Dreiser, and is a dark (and at the time of its writing, totally scandalous!) but ultimately uplifting story about the titular Carrie, who moves to Chicago from rural Wisconsin in the hopes of finding both herself and the American Dream.
The Jungle (1906) is a dramatic novel by Upton Sinclair exploring the trials and tribulations of Chicago’s many industrial workers around the turn of the 20th century, particularly in the famous Union Stockyards. Public outcry reacting to the book was so powerful that it actually pressured Congress to pass new laws designed to boost safety regulations in the meat packing industry, and ultimately led to the creation of the FDA.
No list of required Chicago reading would be complete without Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems (1914), which contains some of the most beautiful verse ever written not just about Chicago, but the whole world, if you ask me.
A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry is one of the most popular American plays ever written, detailing the struggle of an African-American family on the South side as they deal with racial discrimination in the wake of the desegregation of Chicago’s housing and real estate market.
To end on a more modern note, The House on Mango Street (1984) is still taught in many Chicago elementary schools today. It’s a series of stories and poems based on author Sandra Cisneros’ childhood growing up as a Mexican-American in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on the near Northwest side. It’s easy to read and is really one of the most remarkable works of art produced by an American writer in recent memory

I could go on and on and on, but that’s all for today! Check back in a few weeks and I’ll be here with more classics to tack on to your reading list before you stay here in Chicago.