From the Archives: Images of America: Chicago Heights

In 1833, the same year two hundred settlers organized the town of Chicago, another nucleus of settlers began gathering about thirty miles south. Their community grew into a miniature, parallel version of its northern neighbor: a Rust Belt boomtown with its own Louis Sullivan architecture and the nickname “Crossroads of America.”

This book review was originally published on the Read/Writer blog of Read/Write Library Chicago on September 6, 2014. See also PDF.

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From the archives: Straight talk

It’s a mini-zine. It measures about 2 x 4 inches. It consists entirely of dictionary entries, fourteen of them, one per page in plain text. The presentation is understated and deadpan. And it packs a considerable punch.

Straight Talk, by H. Melt, is a poetic dictionary that ponders the social identity of straightness.

This review was originally published on the Read/Writer blog of Read/Write Library Chicago on July 30, 2014. See also PDF.

From the archives: Radical Disciple

Author’s note: Between July 2010 and February 2011, I wrote a series of posts for the old Underblog of the Chicago Underground Library, now the Read/Write Library.“From the CUL Stacks: Radical Disciple” was published February 21, 2011.

Kathleen Whalen FitzGerald observed that “Chicago priests are like no other priests in the world.” If so, Father Michael Pfleger is truly in a class by himself. He is like no other priest in Chicago.

Pfleger is probably the only white man to be the undisputed leader of an African-American religious community. His legendary preaching style, often jarring to outsiders, is black Pentecostal far more than traditional Catholic. A tireless neighborhood activist, he is never far from the public eye. And there has never been a book about him…until now.  Continue reading

From the archives: Gang Leader For a Day

Author’s note: Between July 2010 and February 2011, I wrote a series of posts for the old Underblog of the Chicago Underground Library, now the Read/Write Library. “From the CUL Stacks: Gang Leader For a Day” was originally published December 11, 2010.

“I woke up at about 7:30 A.M. in a crack den, Apartment 1603 in Building Number 2301 of the Robert Taylor Homes.” So begins Gang Leader For a Day, sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh’s memoir of his years among the crack-dealing Black Kings.

In 1989, Venkatesh was starting grad school at the University of Chicago, researching race and urban poverty. Young, impetuous, and naïve, he wandered into the Lake Park projects with a bundle of questionnaires asking things like: “How does it feel to be black and poor? Very bad, somewhat bad, neither bad nor good, somewhat good, very good.”  Continue reading

From the archives: James Conroyd Martin

Author’s note: Between July 2010 and February 2011, I wrote a series of posts for the old Underblog of the Chicago Underground Library, now the Read/Write Library“Miracles in self-publishing: James Conroyd Martin” was originally published November 6, 2010.

North Side resident James Conroyd Martin wanted to write for film. He fell backwards into writing successful historical novels about Poland. He wasn’t even Polish.

And self-publishing, in some ways the path of most resistance, was his unlikely point of entry.

The Irish-Norwegian Martin was studying screenwriting in L.A. in the 1970s when a friend showed him something he thought he might be interested in. It was the colorful, occasionally scandalous diary of the friend’s ancestor, a Polish countess.  Continue reading

From the archives: Take it to the Streets

Author’s note: Between July 2010 and February 2011, I wrote a series of posts for the old Underblog of the Chicago Underground Library, now the Read/Write Library. “From the CUL Stacks: Take it to the Streets” was originally published October 8, 2010.

Chicago in the mid-1980s may still have been the City of Big Shoulders, but those shoulders definitely ached. The inner city festered with poverty, gangs, and drugs. City and county government, already legendary for the amount of business they conducted under the table, took another hit when the FBI’s Operation Greylord nabbed forty-nine judicial and law enforcement personnel for fixing everything from tickets to divorces.

Meanwhile, when they weren’t getting indicted, elected officials in the unsettled interim between the two Daleys spent most of their time ferociously jockeying for position. They earned Chicago an unflattering sobriquet: “Beirut on the Lake.”  Continue reading

From the archives: The Case for Socialism

 Author’s note: Between July 2010 and February 2011, I wrote a series of posts for the old Underblog of the Chicago Underground Library, now the Read/Write Library“From the CUL Stacks: The Case for Socialism” was published July 28, 2010 as part of the Chicago Underground Library’s Printers’ Ball 2010 Blog-Down.

In the United States, “socialism” or “socialist” can be a dirty word. Many people would perhaps rather admit to being a parking-ticket scofflaw, or tearing the wings off butterflies.

But not Alan Maass. In his book The Case for Socialism, published in 2004 by Chicago’s very own Haymarket Books (with an afterword by the late Howard Zinn), he proudly admits his political affiliation. And he wants you to join him.  Continue reading

From the archives: Muldoon

Author’s note: Between July 2010 and February 2011, I wrote a series of posts for the old Underblog of the Chicago Underground Library, now the Read/Write Library. “From the CUL Stacks: Muldoon, more than just a Chicago ghost story,” was published July 5, 2010 as part of the Chicago Underground Library’s Printers’ Ball 2010 Blog-Down.

When Rocco Facchini was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1956, he was charged to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. According to those teachings, ghosts don’t exist.

But then, Facchini hadn’t lived at St. Charles Borromeo, yet.  Continue reading