In just under one month, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s first induction ceremony will take place at Northeastern Illinois University’s Auditorium. All the writers in the inaugural induction class are dead, and this, more than any other factor, gives the ceremony its shape.
How and why do we go about honoring writers whose careers and lives are complete?
The why part speaks to the Hall of Fame’s mission. Chicago’s great literary heritage deserves to be showcased—I thought so two years ago when I first brought the idea of the Hall of Fame to the Chicago Writers Association board, and I think so now.
To read and continue to read great literature is the way to preserve it, and we’ll only continue to read writers and their books if we are inspired to do so. This is not really a service to the inaugural class. Gwendolyn Brooks, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Studs Terkel, Richard Wright and Lorraine Hansberry…their reputations are long made. Plus, they’re dead.
It’s a service to us: writers, teachers, graphic designers, bartenders, plumbers, advertising executives, librarians, stay-at-home moms and dads, sales people, IT consultants, clerks, bus drivers, factory workers. Friends, neighbors, colleagues, family. All of us who love Chicago and love literature benefit from Chicago’s bounty of truly exceptional writers.
Stories do more than entertain, though that’s certainly part of it. They help us understand who we are, who we’re not; they give us insight into other people and places; they provide points of view that help us make sense of our city, our world, our lives; they inspire us to be better at what we do and how we do it. A thriving literary heritage heightens conversation about our city and thus our ability to ever protect its best aspects and improve its worst.
I don’t much question the why.
How…now that takes us into more difficult territory, at least for me. Like a lot of those involved in this project, I’m more a writer than an event planner or fundraiser or talent coordinator or…anything. As a writer, you explore your ideas through words, and at the end of a usually long process, when everything comes together, you’ve created something with which others can interact. It’s a more-or-less one-man job, writing.
Putting together a Chicago Literary Hall of Fame…. that requires a team.
Our goal for these first two years, and certainly for the induction ceremony, has been to bring together our vibrant cultural community. Our best success, as we take inventory of what’s strong and what’s not leading up to the big event, is the investment that so many quality individuals are making to advance our mission.
People. Interest. Enthusiasm. Not to oversimplify, but that’s most of the how. The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame will be as credible and important a part of our cultural community as people make it. We want partners around the city and suburbs to take ownership of this thing, because with this first induction class we begin to make it ours.
A lot of that will be on display Nov. 20. From Marc Smith, behind the scenes, to Rick Kogan, center stage, dozens and dozens of our best and brightest have volunteered their services to make this a great night.
November 20. Don’t just mark it on your calendar; buy tickets and plan to be there.
Over the next month, I’m going to use this blog to briefly highlight some of the whos and whats of the upcoming ceremony, and in doing so continue the conversation about how and why.