Novelist Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Won Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Novels include The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Humboldt's Gift. An undergraduate student of the University of Chicago, he later taught there.
“I am an American, Chicago born – Chicago, that somber city – and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.”
― Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March
“Nobody asks you to love the whole world, only to be honest, ehrlich. Don't have a loud mouth. The more you love people the more they'll mix you up. A child loves, a person respects. Respect is better than love.”
― Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March
One of the most controversial yet admired of Chicago's novelists was Nelson Algren (1909-81) He wrote about the seedy side of the city; drunks, prostitutes, and drug addicts of the mainly Polish neighborhoods on the Northwest side. He won the National Book Award for his book A Walk on the Wild Side. He also wrote Never Come Morning; Chicago: City on the Make, and The Man with the Golden Arm, which was made into a movie with Frank Sinatra. For many years Nelson carried on a romance, sometimes long-distance, with Simone de Beauvoir, the famous French novelist and feminist.
Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose.
Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.
Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.
Literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.
The hard necessity of bringing the judge on the bench down into the dock has been the peculiar responsibility of the writer in all ages of man.
I went out there for a thousand a week, and I worked Monday, and I got fired Wednesday. The guy that hired me was out of town Tuesday.
Louis 'Studs' Terkel (1912-2008), an award winning author, is one of the best known literary figures in Chicago, having had a long running radio and television series. His books, many based on interviews, include Division Street, Hard Times, Working, Race, and The Good War, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1984. Working has also been the basis for a play.
Sharon Atkins, excerpt from Working by Studs Terkel, Receptionist
I never answer the phone at home. It carries over. The way I talk to people on the phone has changed. Even when my mother calls, I don’t talk to her very long. I want to see people when I talk to them. But now, when I see them, I talk to them like I was talking on the telephone. It isn’t a conscious process. I don’t know what’s happened. When I’m talking to someone at work, the telephone rings, and the conversation is interrupted. So I never bother finishing sentences or finishing thoughts. I always have this feeling of interruption.
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) is perhaps the author best internationally known. A native of Oak Park, he spent much of his life overseas. He wrote numerous novels and short stories, many about people living dangerous yet courageous lives. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1952 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He became known as the spokesman for the Lost Generation. He participated in WWI, WWII and the Spanish Civil War. His books include The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea.
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.
There are only three sports: mountain climbing, bull fighting, and motor racing. All the rest are merely games.
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
If we win here we will win everywhere. The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.
“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”…“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.
But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.
Courage is grace under pressure.
Ernest Hemingway wrote his epic second novel, The Sun Also Rises, in 1926. It's a tragic love story that follows a group of American and English expats around the Left Bank of Paris to the macho bullfighting scene in Pamplona, Spain. As we're thinking about the state of bullfighting today on Fathom, we thought we'd take a minute to recall it's heady and glamorous novelization.
"My God, isn't he beautiful?" Brett said. We were looking right down on him.
"Look how he knows how to use his horns," I said. "He's got a left and a right just like a boxer."
"It goes too fast."
"Wait. There'll be another one in a minute."
They had backed up another cage into the entrance. In the far corner a man, from behind one of the plank shelters, attracted the bull, and while the bull was facing away the gate was pulled up and a second bull came out into the corral.
He charged straight for the steers and two men ran out from behind the planks and shouted, to turn him. He did not change his direction and the men shouted: "Hah! Hah! Toro!" and waved their arms; the two steers turned sideways to take the shock, and the bull drove into one of the steers.
"Don't look," I said to Brett. She was watching, fascinated.
"Fine," I said. "If it doesn't buck you."
"I saw it," she said. "I saw him shift from his left to his right horn."
The steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen. Suddenly the bull left off and made for the other steer which had been standing at the far end, his head swinging, watching it all. The steer ran awkwardly and the bull caught him, hooked him lightly in the flank, and then turned away and looked up at the crowd on the walls, his crest of muscle rising. The steer came up to him and made as though to nose at him and the bull hooked perfunctorily. The next time he nosed at the steer and then the two of them trotted over to the other bull.
Writers whose works were influenced by sojourns to Chicago include George Ade, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Philip Roth Willard Motley, Frank Norris, and Upton Sinclair who wrote The Jungle, about the horrendous condition of the meat packing plants of Chicago.
Published in 1906, The Jungle brought awareness to the harsh working conditions in
the American meat packing industry and the plight of immigrants. Upton Sinclair’s
descriptions shocked the public and led to new safety regulations and support for the
Excerpt 1 (Chapter 8)
Jurgis (/yer*giss/), an immigrant from Lithuania, works in a large meat packing plant, or
“packer.” Marija (/mah*ree*ya/), a member of Jurgis’s extended family, works in a canning
factory. However, during a slump in the economy (a time of reduced buying and selling),
the canning factory closes. The big meat packing plants do not close, but there is less work.
The men upon the killing beds [meatpacking plants where animals were butchered]
felt also the effects of the slump which had turned Marija out; but they felt it in a
different way. . . . The big packers did not turn their hands [workers] off and close
down, like the canning factories; but they began to run for shorter and shorter
hours. They had always required the men to be on the killing beds and ready for
work at seven o’clock, although there was almost never any work to be done till the
buyers out in the yards had gotten to work, and some cattle had come over the
chutes. That would often be ten or eleven o’clock . . . [but now] they would perhaps
not have a thing for their men to do till late in the afternoon. And so they would
have to loaf around, in a place where the thermometer might be twenty degrees
below zero! . . . Before the day was over they would become quite chilled through
and exhausted, and, when the cattle finally came, so near frozen that to move was
There were weeks at a time when Jurgis went home after such a day as this with
not more than two hours’ work to his credit—which meant about thirty-five cents.
There were many days when the total was less than half an hour, and others when
there was none at all.
All this was bad; and yet it was not the worst. For after all the hard work a man did,
he was paid for only part of it. Jurgis had once been among those who scoffed
at the idea of these huge concerns [businesses] cheating; and so now he could
appreciate the bitter irony of the fact that it was precisely their size which enabled
them to do it with impunity [without any consequences]. One of the rules on the
killing beds was that a man who was one minute late was docked an hour. . . . And
on the other hand if he came ahead of time he got no pay for that—though often
the bosses would start up the gang ten or fifteen minutes before the whistle. And
this same custom they carried over to the end of the day; they did not pay for any
fraction of an hour—for “broken time.” A man might work full fifty minutes, but if
there was no work to fill out the hour, there was no pay for him.
One of the consequences of all these things was that Jurgis was no longer
perplexed [surprised] when he heard men talk of fighting for their rights. He felt
like fighting now himself.
[He began to attend union meetings.] He had picked up a few words of English
by this time, and friends would help him to understand. They were often very
turbulent [wild] meetings, with half a dozen men declaiming [shouting] at once, in
as many dialects of English; but the speakers were all desperately in earnest, and
Jurgis was in earnest too, for he understood that a fight was on, and that it was his
fight. . . . He discovered that he had brothers in affliction [with similar problems],
and allies [friends]. Their one chance for life was in union, and so the struggle
became a kind of crusade [fight for a just cause].
Excerpt 2 (Chapter 14)
Sinclair’s graphic descriptions of the unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants shocked
There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there
would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected,
and that was moldy and white—it would be dosed with borax [a white powder
made from boric acid, used in detergents, flame retardants, and disinfectants] and
glycerine [a chemical compound used in foods and medicines], and dumped into
the hoppers [containers for mixing], and made over again for home consumption.
There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust,
where the workers had tramped and spit. . . . There would be meat stored in great
piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands
of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well,
but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls
of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put
poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat
would go into the hoppers [containers] together. This is no fairy story and no
joke; the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling
would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one—there were things
that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit.
There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner,
and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled
into the sausage. . . . Some of it they would make into “smoked” sausage—but as
the smoking took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their
chemistry department, and preserve it with borax and color it with gelatine to
make it brown.
The Chicago area has about 200 live theater companies scattered throughout the city and suburbs. Probably the most famous Playwright is David Mamet who has written numerous plays and screenplays.