Saul Alinsky (January 30, 1909 – June 12, 1972)
“Hell would be heaven for me. All my life I've been with the have-nots. Over here, if you're a have-not, you're short of dough. If you're a have-not in hell, you're short of virtue. Once I get into hell, I'll start organizing the have-nots over there.”
Born in Chicago in 1909 to Russian immigrant parents, Saul Alinsky worked his way through the University of Chicago, then dropped out of grad school to organize Chicago’s Woodlawn area to battle slum conditions. He went on to do the same thing in other US cities. Published the year before he died in 1972, Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals has been compared with the writing of Thomas Paine, and it inspired many young idealists (including, apparently, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote her Wellesley College senior thesis on Alinsky). "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be,” Alinsky begins his book. “The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away." Time magazine once wrote that "American democracy is being altered by Alinsky's ideas," and conservative author William F. Buckley said he was "very close to being an organizational genius." Alinsky’s name was cast into the 2012 presidential campaign when Republican candidate Newt Gingrich repeatedly likened President Barack Obama to Alinksy in his speeches.
Rane Arroyo – November 15, 1954 – May 7, 2010
“It is only after a lifetime of poems, of difficult work, that a man or woman can be judged a prophet.”
Rane Arroyo was born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents, and began as a performance artist in Chicago galleries before beginning to write poetry, which eventually yielded Columbus’s Orphans, Pale Ramon and Home Movies of the Narcissus, among other titles. He wrote 10 poetry books, more than a dozen plays and a short story collection.
A beloved teacher, writer, and scholar, Arroyo overturned assumptions and stereotypes about homosexuality and Latinos, helping define both literary canons. Among his many awards, Arroyo’s work received the John Ciardi Poetry Prize, the Carl Sandburg Poetry Prize, an Ohio Arts Council Award for Excellence in Poetry, a Pushcart Prize and the Hart Crane Poetry Prize.
Though for more than a decade Arroyo lived in Ohio, where he was a professor of creative writing at the University of Toledo, he considered Chicago his home more than any other. In an interview with Cervena Barva Press, Arroyo said that he “actually lived in three Chicagos.” The first was an entirely Spanish-speaking Chicago neighborhood, the second the western suburb to where his family relocated, and the third the Chicago that welcomed him as “prodigal son returned.” As a young artist exploring Chicago’s 80s art scene, Arroyo read in “parking lots and discos.” He earned his bachelor’s degree from Elmhurst College.
Seven Kitchens Press recently announced the formation of the Rane Arroyo Chapbook Prize.
Margaret Ayer Barnes (April 8, 1886-Oct. 25, 1967)
All people who think sooner or later go through hell.
Chicago born and bred, Margaret Ayers Barnes was a novelist, short story writer and playwright. She began her writing career in earnest after a debilitating car accident at age forty in 1926. Two of her plays, Age of Innocence (adapted from the Edith Wharton novel), and Jenny each played for more than a hundred performances on Broadway. Her first novel, Years of Grace won the Pulitzer Prize in 1931 and was also the best selling book in its year of publication. The novel, set in late nineteenth century Chicago, spans four decades in the life of Jane Ward Carver, daughter of a wealthy family, from child all the way to grandmother, and shows the changing world through her eyes. Barnes followed that up with two more best sellers, Within This Present and Westward Passage, which was adapted to the screen for Ann Harding. Barnes was also an amateur actress, playing roles in productions of the Aldis Players in Lake Forest and the North Shore Theatre in Winnetka. That experience helped her launch a career on the speaking circuit.
Norbert Blei (Aug. 23, 1935-April 23, 2013)
You give a poet a bucket of worms, he’ll probably put the whole bucket on the end of the hook.
Born and raised in Chicago’s Little Village and then Cicero, Blei, armed with an English degree from Illinois State University, began his writing career at the City News Bureau. After a time as a successful free-lance journalist, Blei began incorporating journalistic tidbits into fiction, and in the end produced 17 books, including his Chicago trilogy of Neighborhood,Chi Town and The Ghost of Sandburg’s Phizzog. In those works, Blei pays homage to Chicago’s great literary culture, writing about the likes of Mike Royko, Studs Terkel and Carl Sandburg. Blei’s short stories, poems and essays were as distinguished as his novels, finding publication in some of the most respected literary outlets, such as The New Yorker,Utne Reader and Tri-Quarterly, as well as newspapers that included the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. Blei was as much associated with Door County, WI as with Chicago, having moved to Ellison Bay in 1968. For 40 years, he was Writer-in-Residence at The Clearing Folk School, and there he became a beloved teacher, editor, publisher and mainstay guest on Wisconsin Public Radio. He received the Gordon MacQuarrie Award from the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters; Pushcart Press Award in fiction; and the Bradley Major Achievement Award from the Council of Wisconsin Writers.