Oak Park has more talent per square foot than any other place in the U.S.  I say that without hyperbole. I spent last Saturday afternoon with some Oak Park writers at the Library.  There were several authors present, but that doesn’t even touch the number of published writers who live or have lived in the village.  Yet we continue to only talk about Hemingway and occasionally, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

What about Carol Shields who won a Pulitzer in 1995 for literature, Jane Hamilton who won the PEN Award for most promising debut novel in 1988, Joan Bauer, a children’s author who was awarded a lifetime achievement award in 2011 for children’s literature at Printer’s Row or Harriette Robinet, who was the winner of the Scott O’Dell award for children’s lit? All these award winning writers, who just happen to be women, were either born in or have lived in Oak Park.  We ought to celebrate them too when we talk about Hemingway.

Most Oak Park residents are not aware of the local connection with these world famous writers.  In the same vein, we don’t know about some wonderful writers who haven’t won awards (yet) but who are nevertheless thought provoking, poetical and well worth our time to read.

Janet Nolan for example has written The Firehouse Light, a non-fiction book for kindergarteners and early elementary grades.  It’s a story about a 2 watt bulb that has been continuously burning for over 100 years in a California. Sallie Wolf has written a book about birds, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound, that was originally published as a children’s book but has found a home in adult workshops on journaling and artwork. These are available at the Magic Tree Book Store.

Sophia Wells has published 97 Ways to Senior-Proof Your Home , which contains excellent ideas for making your house safer for an older person.  Haunted Exiles by George Bailey is a combination of prose narrative about stories from his extended family infused with poetic imagery. I’ve reviewed his book previously in my blog and I think it’s a winner. These books are available on Amazon.

Terry Anderson has done a graphic novel, Hannukatz Saves Hannukah, as well as having been a composer of blues, won a Grammy and written a book about the blues called In the Belly of the Blues.  I believe his books are available locally at the Book Table.

Poetry was well-represented. Al DeGenova and Charlie Rossiter publish and co-edit a literary arts journal Back Beat, do performance poetry, play the saxophone, talk on the radio and other assorted jobs while writing and publishing their own poetry. Neil DiLaura has published Bodily Matters, a 15 year work of love and verse. Billy Lombardo’s work is both poetry and prose. His most recent work is a young adult novel, The Day of the Palindrome. He also co-founded a student literary magazine, Polyphony H.S. All these authors can be special ordered through the Book Table or Amazon.

There were quite a variety of other genres there too.  Bruce Hodes has published a book on developing the work place called Front Line Heroes: Battling the Business Tsunami. Golden: How Rod Blagojevich Talked His Way Out of the Governor’s Mansion and Into Prison  by John Chase and Jeff Coen, which gives insight into how the ex-governor self-destructed and why. Memoirs were represented by Look Back, But Don’t Stare by Mary Lou Edwards. A parody of the Tolkien books, The Wobbit, by Paul Erickson and thrillers by Alex Nevala-Lee. Lee did not write his first book, the Icon Thief, in Oak Park.  And maybe not his second one, City of Exiles, either.  But he lives here now so we’re glad to claim him as a Oak Park writer. These can be ordered through the Book Table too.

Local publisher, Allium Press, has a variety of Chicago-themed books and is expanding their list with amazing regularity considering what a small operation is it.  Their titles can be found at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore and include mysteries, novels and a young adult novel.  I’ve reviewed a few of the titles previously in my blog and they are worth your time.

There are local Oak Park books by Lee Brooke, Marcy Kubat and David Sokol that wll give you background understanding about how this village came to be a magnet for good writers. They are available through all the local bookstores and are well written and researched. Sokol’s book has been previously reviewed by this blog.  

In other words, if you’re looking for a unique gift for someone who lives out of the area, or who has moved out of the area, or who is thinking of moving to the area, consider one of these books and talk up the local connection. Check Centuries & Sleuths, the Magic Tree and/or the Book Table to up the ante on your local connection for the holidays.

 Happy Reading!

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Helen Kossler

Helen Kossler loves reading aloud to her grandchildren and is not ashamed to admit that she almost always likes the book better than the movie. She has been buying, borrowing, begging and stealing (well—not...