The Chicagoan and the University
Today the University of Chicago homepage features an article and video on Neil Harris’s new book, The Chicagoan: A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age. In the video, Harris discusses how he discovered issues of the Chicagoan in the Regenstein Library and his first impressions of the long-lost magazine. The article by Greg Borzo gives more details and notes how the magazine reflects the University’s own prominence “in the city’s cultural, political, and social life during the 1920s and ’30s.” Borzo quotes Harris as he explains:
“Back then, the University of Chicago was a bigger player, relatively speaking, than it is today because there was no University of Illinois-Chicago, and the Catholic universities were not as prominent. Plus, [former Chicago President Robert Maynard] Hutchins was the golden boy, and we had a football team.”
As illuminating as the Chicagoan is about socialites and politicians, its deepest value is a record of its creators. “The significance and importance of this glorious publication lies in it contributors,” Harris says.
There were a lot of contributors—468 people during one seven-month period, according to a magazine promotion. Harris tracked down the identity of scores of these contributors, and the book includes a chapter with short biographies of more than 80 of them. Most were quite young (and inexpensive) when they worked for the Chicagoan.
A surprising number attended the University, including Richard “Riq” Atwater, co-author of the award-winning Mr. Popper’s Penguins; Meyer Levin, the best-selling novelist of the 1956 mystery Compulsion; Robert Pollak, drama and music critic; and Susan Wilbur, author and translator of literary works.…
“The Chicagoan carried within it the imprint of many aspiring talents,” Harris wrote in his book. “It is hoped that this anthology will offer them not just a brief reprieve from oblivion but quite possibly a vestibule to new celebrity.”