(Jan. 8, 1910-April 15, 2002)
Colter began writing at the age of 50 and ten years later published his first book, the short story collection The Beach Umbrella, when Kurt Vonnegut chose it as the winner of the Iowa School of Letters Award. That and his first novel, River of Eros, are both naturalistic works that revolve around blue-collar African-Americans in Chicago. Night Studies won the 1980 Carl Sandburg fiction prize, though Chocolate Solider (published eight years later) is generally considered his crowning accomplishment. Colter had a full career as a lawyer before joining Northwestern University’s faculty in 1973; a few years later, he became the first black to hold an endowed chair when he was appointed chair of the department of African-American studies.
(Aug. 27, 1871-Dec. 28, 1945)
Dreiser, who began writing for theChicago Globe after flunking out of Indiana University, is known as a trailblazer for his generation. In his fiction and non-fiction, he tackled subjects that were considered in violation of conventional morality, including Sister Carrie(about a woman who flees the country for Chicago and eventually dabbles in illicit activities such as the theatre and rich men) and his Trilogy of Desire (based on Chicago streetcar tycoon Charles Tyson Yerkes). Dreiser’s themes of social inequality and his battles with censorship earned him a reputation as a champion for literary freedom, while his style won him credit as a founder of the naturalism literary movement.
(Dec. 23, 1860-Sept. 26, 1936)
Best known as the founder and first editor of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, the Chicago-born Monroe tirelessly dedicated her life to the promotion of the art. As Poetry’s editor, she helped shape the careers of such luminaries as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams. She was a writer, scholar, critic and patron of the arts. Monroe gave her collection to the University of Chicago, which formally opened the Harriet Monroe Library of Poetry with a dinner that included guest speakers Carl Sandburg, Archibald MacLeish and Ford Maddox Ford—all who lauded her remarkable influence. Monroe’s will also provide $5,000 to establish a prize for distinction in poetry, a considerable gift for that time.
(September 19, 1932-April 29, 1997)
Winner of the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Royko’s columns were a fixture in Chicago newspapers for more than three decades. He grew up in a Polish neighborhood on the Northwest Side of Chicago, living in an apartment above a bar, and drew on his childhood experiences to become the voice of the Everyman Chicago. “…his writing was distinctive and memorable and in its time the closest thing to lasting literature in a daily paper,” Jacob Weisberg wrote for Slate. “Royko could make you laugh and make you think, stir outrage at a heartless bureaucrat, or bring a tear to the eye when he flashed a glimpse of the heart hidden beneath his hard shell.” He wrote over 7,500 daily columns for three newspapers, the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Many of his columns are collected in books, but his most famous book remains Boss, a devastating portrait of Richard J. Daley and machine politics that New York columnist Jimmy Breslin called “the best book ever written about a city of this country.”
(Jan. 6, 1878-July22, 1967)
A winner of Pulitzer Prizes for both poetry and biography, as well as a Grammy for spoken word performance, Sandburg provided Chicago with its lasting reputation as “Hog Butcher to the World,” as well as “City of Big Shoulders.” Sandburg’s roots were in rural Galesburg, Illinois (where he for a time drove a milk wagon), but his prolific output reflects his deep connection to Chicago, where he worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. He lived in Elmhurst for 13 years. In addition to his poetry, criticism and biographical work, Sandburg wrote acclaimed film reviews and children’s stories. Sandburg’s vast legacy includes train lines, auditoriums, postal stamps, urban renewal projects, grade schools, middle schools and colleges bearing his name.
Ida B. Wells
(July 16, 1862-March 25, 1931)
The daughter of Mississippi slaves freed after the Civil War, Ida B. Wells became an early leader in the Civil Rights and women’s rights movements. She came to Chicago to help organize a boycott and contribute to the writing of a pamphlet called Why the Colored American is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition. She remained in the city and was active in her own Ida B. Wells Club as well as the Chicago Women’s Club. Throughout her career, Wells stood up against injustice, writing, in pamphlets and for media such as the Chicago Conservator, about issues such as lynchings, Jim Crow laws and white suppression of black economic progress. Around 1894, she became the first black correspondent for a mainstream white newspaper. She spent the last 30 years of her life working for urban reform in Chicago. Her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, was unfinished when she died. A Chicago Housing Authority project is named after Wells, a U.S. postal stamp issued with her likeness, and a journalism award and scholarship fund given through the foundation established in Chicago by her five grandchildren.