Northern Illinois University Press

American Voices of the Chicago Renaissance

Lisa Woolley

"Provides a significant contribution to American language and literature."—Sidney Bremer, University of Wisconsin, Marinette

There is a city of English and American words and it has been a neglected city. Strong broad shouldered words, that should be marching across open fields under the blue sky, are clerking in little dusty dry goods stores....

Sherwood Anderson's plain spoken language typifies the spirit of the Chicago Renaissance, a movement that expressed the new tone and pace of American life in the twentieth century. Challenging established English usage by boldly experimenting with a variety of dialects, Chicago authors created a modern urban idiom.

Woolley expands the story of the Chicago Renaissance to encompass women and African American writers, including reformers Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells, magazine founders Harriet Monroe and Margaret Anderson, and Bronzeville poet Fenton Johnson, in addition to famous writers such as Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay. These newly recognized authors probed the boundaries of language to convey simplicity, democracy, and Americanness—qualities that have come to be associated with the Chicago Renaissance.

Known primarily as journalists by profession, most of these Chicago writers learned the language of common folk through social work, oratory, editing, live performance, and the creation of an African American literary aesthetic. These experiences helped to teach them how American literature should sound. Shedding fresh light on a critical period in the history of American letters, Woolley's groundbreaking study illuminates the distinctly American character of Chicago writing and shows us how to listen to the diversity of its voices.

(2000) 184 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-258-9
cloth $42.00

Table of Contents

1. Dialect Is a Virus: Chicago's Literary Vernacular amid Linguistic Purity Movements
2. Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay: Composite Voices of the Open Road
3. Renaissance Women, Reformers, and Novelists
4. "The Best Conversation the World Has to Offer": Chicago's Women Poets and Editors
5. Fenton Johnson and Marita Bonner: From Chicago Renaissance to Chicago Renaissance
Works Cited

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-258-9
cloth $42.00