A Bibliophile's Guide to Chicagoland


My series, The Bibliophiles, takes place mostly in the Chicago suburbs, but in my latest book, Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two), Catherine Elbert decides she needs to escape her family’s Wisconsin farm for some greener pastures, farm pun intended. ((Groan.)) Anyhow, Catherine bounces from coast to coast in search of her true self, traveling from Portland, Maine clear across the continent to San Diego, California. Eventually, she ends up in Chicagoland, my home turf.

Chicago is a great literary city with a reputation for gritty, social realism both in its fiction as well as its poetry. Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, a tale of what can happen when a country girl loses herself in the big city is set here, as well as James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan, which focuses on the lives of Irish-Americans during the Great Depression. Upton Sinclair’s famous The Jungle portrays life working in Chicago’s early meat-packing plants. A part of the old Union Stock Yard Gate is still standing today on Exchange Avenue and Peoria Street.

More recently, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Travelers Wife takes place in Chicago, along with the non-fictional Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. Hard-boiled detective V.I. Warshawski lives here, as does her creator, Sara Paretsky. Presumed Innocent author Scott Turow also calls Chicago home.

Here are some of Chicago’s great literary sites.

Carl Sandburg House, 4646 N. Hermitage Avenue, Chicago. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Sandburg (1878-1967) is best known for the famous “Chicago” poem in which he describes “The City of the Big Shoulders.” Sandburg lived here when he wrote for The Chicago Daily News. He is also penned a six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, the last of which earned him the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1940.

Poet Carl Sandburg. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Nelson Algren House, 1958 West Evergreen Street, Chicago. Algren (1909-1981) often wrote about the American Dream gone awry while he lived on the third floor of this building. Winner of three O. Henry Awards, both the International Writers Guild PEN and Chicago Tribune have fiction contests named after Algren. He won the National Book Award for his 1949 novel, The Man with the Golden Arm.

Nelson Algren. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The University of Chicago, Hyde Park, on Chicago’s south side. Among its many illustrious alumni are Saul Bellow, author of Adventures of Augie March, and Studs Terkel, known for his personal stories of average people in Working and Division Street: America.

The University of Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Tailgater's Handbook.

The Newberry Library, 60 West Walton Street, Chicago. Chicago’s independent research library, it houses a collection of rare books, manuscripts, music and maps spanning six centuries, including letters from President John Adams and his family and manuscripts from Nelson Algren, Sara Paretsky and Ben Hecht.

The Newberry Library. Photo courtesy of www. newberrylibrary.org.

Gwendolyn Brooks Home, 4334 S. Champion, Chicago. The first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize, Brooks is best known for her Selected Poems and A Street in Bronzeville, as well as many essays and reviews. She was Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and taught at many local colleges.

Gwendolyn Brooks. Photo courtesy of www.poetryfoundation.org.

Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, 200 N. Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois. Out in the near-western suburbs stands the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize-winning author of A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway spent his first twenty years in Oak Park and attended Oak Park-River Forest High School.

The Ernest Hemingway House. Photo courtesy of the Oak Park Journal.

Which Chicago literary site would you be most interested in visiting?

This post originally ran on Julie Lindsey's blog, Musings from the Slush Pile.


Shari Pontillo said…
Can you believe I've never been to the Hemingway House??? NEVER. No idea why. What with all those years living near it and in the area.

Gotta schedule that this year.
Kelly Hashway said…
I heard BEA is moving to Chicago in 2016. That will be my first trip there.
Shari, that sounds like a good idea. I love to visit author homes. Great insights into the authors' minds.

Kelly: Really? Love that idea. Maybe I could get there then. Thanks for the info.
Deborah said…
Great post, Karen - I love reading about writers and their true settings. Wishing you continued success, too. Very good news about the summer reads shout-out for UMSGIR!
Thanks so much, Deborah.

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