Chicago

Ben Hecht’s “Journalism Extraordinary”

March 1, 2010
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Ben Hecht’s “Journalism Extraordinary”

Yesterday was the birthday of Ben Hecht. Though best known for his second career as a Hollywood screenwriter (he won an Oscar for 1927’s Underworld and wrote or contributed to some of the most beloved films of all time), Hecht cut his teeth as a Chicago journalist before he headed west. Writing for the Chicago Daily News, he penned an enormously popular column called A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, which was assembled into a book in 1922 that bought Hecht his first dose of fame. A timeless caricature of urban American life in the jazz age, Hecht’s book captured 1920s Chicago in all its furor, intensity, and absurdism. From the glittering opulence of Michigan Avenue to the darkest ruminations of an escaped convict, from captains of industry to immigrant day laborers, he embodied many voices and many lives. As the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Hecht is attempting to do for Chicago something of what Dickens did for London; he stands appalled before the spectacle of the streets with their tumultuous, mysterious throngs.” The Press reissued A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago last year. Featuring sixty-four columns illustrated with striking pen drawings by Herman Rosse, our new . . .

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The Supreme Court and the Chicago gun ban

March 1, 2010
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The Supreme Court and the Chicago gun ban

With the Supreme Court due to hear arguments tomorrow in a suit challenging Chicago’s ban on handguns in the city, Chicago Public Radio’s Eight Forty-Eight aired the second of a two part special on the history of Chicago’s ban this morning. On the program contributor Robert Loerzel walks through some of the major events—including the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing riots on Chicago’s South Side, the assassination of J.F.K., and even the attempted murder of Pope John Paul II—that helped to gain public support for Chicago’s handgun ordinance. But despite the mountains of negative publicity that guns have received, especially in the nation’s urban centers, the question of whether allowing people to own or carry guns deters violent crime still remains. Back in 2000 the University of Chicago Press published one of the most influential and controversial books on the issue, John R. Lott, Jr.’s More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. Slated for an updated third edition later this month, Lott’s book employs some of the most rigorously comprehensive data analysis ever conducted on crime statistics and right-to-carry laws to directly challenge common perceptions about the relationship between guns, crime, and . . .

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Key ingredients for “baking up a good school”

February 25, 2010
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Key ingredients for “baking up a good school”

In an article that appeared in yesterday’s Chicago Journal, reporter Megan Cottrell offers a nice summary of the results of a study conducted by researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research and recently published in Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. The study, conducted over a seven-year period, aimed to track the effects of the 1988 decentralization of the Chicago Public School system—a move that granted parents and communities significant resources and authority to reform schools. But, as Cottrell notes, the researchers found that the results of these reforms varied greatly from school to school, some dramatically improving the academic performance of their students, while others floundered. In their book, Anthony S. Bryk, Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Stuart Luppescu, and John Q. Easton have sifted through mountains of data to identify the key ingredients required to, as Cottrell’s article puts it, ‘bake up a good school.” Cotrell writes: A good school, it turns out, is a lot like a cake. Put in sugar, eggs and oil, but forget the flour, and all you end up with is a sweet, sloppy mess. Without all the right ingredients, success will continually evade you. It all starts with the chef. . . .

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The New Republic‘s The Book website reviews Chicago

January 26, 2010
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The New Republic‘s The Book website reviews Chicago

The New Republic has just debuted its new online book reviews site, and in the midst of clicking around we were pleased to note that The Book as it’s called, is featuring one of our titles amongst its inaugural reviews. In an article posted to the site last Wednesday, Harvard economist Edward L. Gleaser reviews Dominic A. Pacyga’s Chicago: A Biography—a thoroughly detailed and uncommonly intimate portrait of the city and its inhabitants written by a native Chicagoan. In his piece Glaeser inventories a few of the main topics in the book including Chicago’s rapid industrial growth in the early 20th century, the city’s role in the invention of the skyscraper, and Pacyga’s unique focus on the stories of the city’s working class. Navigate to TNR‘s The Book to read the full review and see a gallery of photographs from the book. . . .

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What can we learn from the Chicago public schools?

January 22, 2010
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What can we learn from the Chicago public schools?

Elaine Allensworth, co-author of a new study recently released by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, was invited on Chicago Public Radio’s Eight Forty-Eight yesterday to discuss the book’s findings. The book tracks the effects over a twenty year period of the radical program of reform put in place by the Illinois General Assembly in 1988—a program which has utilized some controversial tactics to accomplish its goals from the consolidation of students, to staff replacements, to wholesale school closures. Listen in as Allensworth and others deliver an insightful analysis of the project to reform Chicago’s public school system on the Chicago Public Radio website, then read an excerpt from Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. . . .

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Chicago through the eye of a poet

January 8, 2010
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Chicago through the eye of a poet

The Tribune‘s Julia Keller recently penned an article about a man who knows the city “like the back of his hand,”—and is one of its most prominent writers—Reginald Gibbons, whose evocative collection of writing about our fair city in Slow Trains Overhead: Chicago Poems and Stories comes out April 2010. Though a native of Houston, Gibbons’ new collection reveals that his muse is clearly the city of Chicago, where he has lived and taught for many years as a professor of English at Northwestern University. As Keller writes: It was coming to Chicago—a place in which, to Gibbons’ eye, the past and present commingle in rackety yet luminous profusion—that truly set fire to his imagination, he says. “I got such a powerful feeling in Chicago, a feeling I’ve never gotten in New York—the historical echo of the spaces downtown, the feeling that everyone who has ever worked here is still here. There’s a profoundly good feeling of being connected with the generations.” And in Slow Trains Overhead Gibbons combines this connection to the city of Chicago with his inimitable command of language to capture what it’s really like to live in this remarkable city. Embracing a striking variety of human . . .

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Free e-book of the month: Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White

January 4, 2010
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Free e-book of the month: Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White

The perfect remedy for those mid-winter blues, Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen’s fascinating (not to mention funny) tale of their careers as the first interracial comedy team in the history of show business in Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, is now available for download free from the Press website. About the book: As the heady promise of the 1960s sagged under the weight of widespread violence, rioting, and racial unrest, two young men—one black and one white—took to stages across the nation to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing at it. Tim and Tom tells the story of that pioneering duo, the first interracial comedy team in the history of show business—and the last. Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen polished their act in the nightclubs of Chicago, then took it on the road, not only in the North, but in the still-simmering South as well, developing routines that even today remain surprisingly frank—and remarkably funny—about race. Most nights, the shock of seeing an integrated comedy team quickly dissipated in uproarious laughter, but on some occasions the audience’s confusion and discomfort led to racist heckling, threats, and even violence. Though Tim and Tom perpetually . . .

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Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

December 16, 2009
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Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

Jazz.com‘s Ted Panken recently posted an in-depth two–part interview with George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. In the interview Panken and Lewis engage in a detailed dialogue on the history, theory, as well as practice of one of the most influential jazz collectives of the 20th century—The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. From Panken’s preface to the interview: A Power Stronger Than Itself is a landmark work. The bedrock of the text is an exhaustively researched linear narrative history, constructed on over 90 interviews from which Lewis traces keen portraits of numerous members; AACM archival records; encyclopedic citations from contemporaneous literature, both from American and European sources; and vividly recounted personal experience. Furthermore, Lewis contextualizes the musical production of AACM members—a short list of “first-wavers” includes such late 20th-century innovators as Muhal Richard Abrams, who stamped his character on the principles by which the AACM would operate; the founding members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye); Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgil, Amina Claudine Myers, and John Stubblefield—within both the broader spectrum of experimental activity . . .

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Ben Hecht— A brash poet of Chicago’s underbelly

December 15, 2009
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Ben Hecht— A brash poet of Chicago’s underbelly

“Hecht was a reporter, a newspaper man in America’s hottest crime city during American journalism’s golden age.” So begins Richard Rayner’s review of the University of Chicago Press’s republication of Ben Hecht’s writing for the Chicago Daily News in A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago. Though he is perhaps best known for his work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist, Ben Hecht began his career on the gritty streets of Chicago, chronicling the city as a reporter with a knack for penetrating through the city’s layers of dust and ice to capture a rarely seen vision of the life it contained, as Rayner writes: “I have lived in other cities but been inside only one,” Hecht said, and 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago, originally published in 1922 and recently re-issued in a gorgeous paperback facsimile of the first edition, records that intimacy. “I ran everywhere in the city like a fly buzzing in the works of a clock,” Hecht notes. He haunted “streets, studios, whore houses, police stations, courtrooms, theater stages, jails, saloons, slums, mad houses, fires, murders, banquets, and bookshops.” He earned his early glamour as a brash poet of Chicago’s underbelly. And indeed from . . .

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How the Second City became first in comedy

December 11, 2009
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How the Second City became first in comedy

As nearly everybody knows, or should know, the Second City is responsible for producing some of the best comedic talent of the last fifty years—Martin Short, Jim Belushi, Tina Fey—the list is quite long. But the story of how the Second City became the number one source for great comedy, (and the University of Chicago’s not so small role in its rise to fame), is perhaps less well known. As this excerpt from Stephen E. Kercher’s Revel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in Postwar America relates, it was in the mid-50’s that, David Shepherd, Paul Sills, and Eugene Troobnic formed the Compass Players—an improvisational comedy troupe consisting of “alumni, dropouts and hangers-on from the University of Chicago,” several of whose members would go on to form the venerable Second City in 1959. But even though stardom didn’t strike until the Second City, it was the Compass Players who established the improvisational style, and foundational principles upon which the fame of its successor relied. Expanding on the chapters of Kercher’s book touching on the Players, Janet Coleman’s The Compass: The Improvisational Theatre that Revolutionized American Comedy provides the definitive account of this phenomena and how the rag-tag comedy troupe from the . . .

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