Chicago Renaissance Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis Liesl Olson

Publication date:
19 Sep 2017
Yale University Press
400 pages: 235 x 156mm
88 b-w illus.
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A fascinating history of Chicago’s innovative and invaluable contributions to American literature and art from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century

This remarkable cultural history celebrates the great Midwestern city of Chicago for its centrality to the modernist movement. Author Liesl Olson traces Chicago’s cultural development from the 1893 World’s Fair through mid-century, illuminating how Chicago writers revolutionized literary forms during the first half of the twentieth century, a period of sweeping aesthetic transformations all over the world. From Harriet Monroe, Carl Sandburg, and Ernest Hemingway to Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olson’s enthralling study bridges the gap between two distinct and equally vital Chicago-based artistic “renaissance” moments: the primarily white renaissance of the early teens, and the creative ferment of Bronzeville. Stories of the famous and iconoclastic are interwoven with accounts of lesser-known yet influential figures in Chicago, many of whom were women. Olson argues for the importance of Chicago’s editors, bookstore owners, tastemakers, and ordinary citizens who helped nurture Chicago’s unique culture of artistic experimentation.

Cover art by Lincoln Schatz

Liesl Olson is director of Chicago studies at the Newberry Library. She is the author of Modernism and the Ordinary and many essays about twentieth‑century writers and artists.

“Chicago Renaissance is itself a story of stories; one not of comparison, but of change, continuity, and creative persistence over time”—Matthew Corpolongo, Western Historical Quarterly

Chicago Renaissance was awarded the 2018 Pegasus Prize from the Poetry Foundation

"Wonderfully knowledgeable and just as wonderfully readable, Chicago Renaissance will be essential not just for anyone interested in the history of the city but for anyone interested in a brilliantly variegated history of its contribution to modernism."— Walter Benn Michaels, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Liesl Olson has written the book Chicago has been waiting for—a rich, rigorous and definitive cultural history of its turn-of-the-century heyday that’s as lively as the time."—Thomas Dyja, author of The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream

“This is modernism in all its technicolor glory, Chicago style:  the literary ladies and the porkpackers, the Bronzeville poets and the scribbling ad-men.  Dazzlingly learned, revelatory and a cracking great read.”—Deborah Cohen, Northwestern University