NEW IPO Logo - by Charles Larry Home Search Browse About IPO Staff Links

State Stix


Illinois literati

A proper library has names of great authors inscribed around its frieze. In this respect the new Illinois State Library, which was dedicated June 20, is very proper. The 35 names inscribed there are those of Illinois authors by definition authors born in Illinois or resident here for a significant period. For most the Illinois connection has been a vital influence in at least one major work. The state also emerges as a ground as fertile for the growth of significant literary movements as for corn and soybeans.

Why 35?

The space on the building can hold 218 characters; only two spaces went unfilled. George Ade's name (only last names were used) was the most economical while Ernest Hemingway's and Lorraine Hansberry's the most prodigal. The choice of Hansberry, the first black woman to have a play (Raisin in the Sun) produced on Broadway, was obvious. Hemingway's status as a native son and his tremendous impact in his time got his 10-letter name up there. In between the short and the long well, read on.

Writing when and where?

Of the 35 authors, 6 were living at the time the list was compiled. One was born in the 18th century. 23 in the 19th century and 11 in the 20th century. Three died during the 19th century and 26 during the 20th.

Only 15 are native-born Illinoisans, but 17 more can be called Illinoisans by virtue of residence, either having grown up here (e.g.. Edgar Lee Masters of the Spoon River Anthology moved to New Salem when he was 1) or having spent a significant time working here. Twelve of the "outlanders" were born in the Midwest and one in New York City (although he grew up in Wisconsin). A few, such as Edna Ferber and Upton Sinclair, were not really significant residents but produced at least one work with an Illinois setting (So Big and The Jungle).

There are six women on the list, five African Americans and one Amerindian.

Writing what?

It is not easy to categorize the authors' writing, and at least nine, such as Masters, Ferber and Carl Sandburg, fall into more than one slot. Novelists lead the list: There are 20, including L. Frank Baum, the journalist who wrote the Oz books and many other children's stories. Poets, journalists and dramatists tie, with six in eaeh category; there is one historian. Five fall into the broad category of "other" since there is no easy fit for such disparate authors as Jane Addams, Abraham Lincoln and Chief Black Hawk.

Oh, yes, Lincoln is included, although one would hardly expect to find him under the "Author" heading on Jeopardy. Yet it would be unthinkable to omit someone described in reference works as showing "masterly command of logic and language" and "lucidity of thought, trenchancy of expression, richness of idea, flexibility of style." Could any writer ask for more? His style, in the current patois, "is to die for"! Although Kentucky-born and Indiana-reared, he certainly belongs to Illinois (in Springfield he's a cottage industry).

Illinois oh, inspiration!

Twenty of the authors have written at least one work set in Illinois. The typical bifurcated view of Illinois as consisting of Chicago and downstate is reflected in its literary production. A group of writers clusters around Chicago and takes the city as the material for its work. Others draw on either the rural or small town locale, sometimes with specific Illinois settings. A few, like Carl Sandburg, draw inspiration from both the urban and rural scene.

Of the 18 authors who draw on Chicago for their subject matter, 11 can be called realists or naturalists. Significantly, they include some of the leading figures in the development of those two related styles. (Chicago-born Frank Norris, author of The Pit, may be regarded as the first important American naturalist.)

Among the eight "downstate" authors, five also belong within the realist or naturalist movements. Hamlin Garland, author of Rose of Butcher's Coolly, foreshadows both.

Finally, Lincoln, mainly in his Illinois and national roles, was the subject for four of the authors. Their treatment ranges from the poetry of Vachel Lindsay's "Abraham Lincoln walks at midnight" to the studies by Sandburg and Paul Angle to the attack by Masters in Lincoln the Man (his grandfather knew Lincoln and disliked him).

Illinois oh, diversity!

Other than this striking contrast, what distinguishes the selected authors is their great diversity, much of it derivative from the Illinois locale. Personalities range from Chief Black Hawk (in his autobiography) to Finley Peter Dunne's prototypical Chicago Irishman. Mr. Dooley in Peace and War. Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull House appears alongside Ring Lardner's ballplayers. Nelson Algren's social protest balances Lindsay's "gospel of beauty." Illinoisans can justly feel that the exterior of their new state library reflects a significant literary heritage.


The primary source is the building itself at 2nd and Capitol in Springfield. The difficult job of choosing the Illinois authors was done by Michael Anania, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Robert Bray, professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, State Library Director Bridget Lamont; and Kristina Valaitis, program director for the Illinois Humanities Council.

Up from April

The general funds balance at the end of May was $405.129 million; the average daily available balance rose to $401.310 million (up $240.821 million from April). It had been declining since July 1989.
Source: Office of the Comptroller.

Lowest since August 1979

Illinois' seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in May was 5.3 percent, the same as the nation's. It was the lowest jobless rate Illinois has seen since the August 1979 rate of 4.9 percent and 266.000 people idle.

In May the state's civilian labor force consisted of 5.987 million people (104,000 fewer than in April but still a record for the month); 5.670 million people had jobs (down 52,000 from April), and 317,000 were looking for work (also down 52,000 from April).

Final unemployment rates in March for the state's metro areas were:

Aurora-Elgin, 5.9 percent.
Bloomington-Normal, 4.1 percent.
Champaign-Urbana-Rantoul, 3.6 percent.
Chicago, 5.6 percent.
Davenport, Rock Island, Moline (Illinois sector), 6.8 percent.
Decatur, 6.7 percent.
Joliet, 6.7 percent.
Kankakee, 7.3 percent.
Lake County, 3.8 percent.
Peoria, 5.8 percent.
Rockford, 6.0 percent.
Springfield, 4.3 percent.
St. Louis (Illinois sector), 6.8 percent.

F. Mark Seibert

6 /July 1990/lllinois Issues

|Home| |Search| |Back to Periodicals Available| |Table of Contents| |Back to Illinois Issues 1990|
Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library