Calligraphic wonders at the Newberry -
Think calligraphy is simply that swirling script on nice wedding invitations?
Think, again — then check out the Newberry Library’s newest exhibit, “Exploration 2013.”
Happy Children’s Book Week!
This past fall, the Newberry made a sizable acquisition: boxes upon boxes of children’s books. The majority belonged to Evelyn Lampe, who occupies a special place in Newberry history. In late 1984, she answered an ad in a local newspaper, volunteering to work at the first Annual Book Fair. For over a decade, she guided the Book Fair through an ever-increasing number of donations, volunteers, and customers, earning the half-humorous title of Book Fair Curator (and then, Curator Emerita).
With hundreds of books, duplicates, and a cache of ephemera, including the occasional stuffed animal, her personal collection is categorically grand. It covers a literary gamut, housing sections on history, cooking, art, bibliography, and, most emphatically, children’s literature. The works are tied by an undeniable thread—their eclectic, and sometimes eccentric, beauty.
Lampe had a particular affection for the works of German Expressionists, who captured our inner reality with non-realistic, geometrically absurd images. She amassed an arresting number of illustrated books and paraphernalia, inspired by the techniques and emotionality of these expressionists.
Many of the donated materials, though marketed to and read by children, are decidedly macabre—the novels of Maurice Sendak, for instance. Sendak, who died last spring, is remembered for wrenching the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery. His heroes and heroines are not well scrubbed or behaved, and their adventures stray from the G-rated.
The collection’s greatest strength is its congress of Edward Gorey materials. Like Dr. Seuss, Gorey delighted generations of children (and their parents) with riotous, often rebellious, tales, coupled with topsy-turvy illustrations. Inspired by the works of Ionesco, Buster Keaton, Goya, and Matisse, he, like Sendak, placed children’s literature on its head. His preferred technique was injecting sardonic material into Victorian templates. In The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963), he transforms an abecedarium into epitaphs about hapless toddlers: “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs…. B is for Basil assaulted by bears.”
Gorey authored 100-plus books (some under anagrammatic or translated pseudonyms, e.g., Ogdred Weary, E.G. Deadworry, and Eduard Blutig—German for “Edward Bloody”) and illustrated works for nearly 50 authors, including Samuel Beckett, H. G. Wells, and T. S. Eliot. But the literary community would never fully embrace him. First editions of his individual titles had small press runs, and were quickly swooped up or squirreled away by aficionados. The bookselling community was, and is, uncertain of how to treat these treasures; in any given bookstore, new or used, Gorey’s works can be found in the art, humor, and children’s sections. This confusion began as a marketing dilemma. Publishers were wary of Gorey’s reception among parents. Take The Loathsome Couple, which features Harold Snedleigh and Mona Gritch, would-be lovers who murder children…. Not your typical bedtime story.
Still, there is much to admire in Gorey’s work—its beauty, its influence on modern subcultures, and, perhaps most importantly, its emotional realism. Gorey had a keen understanding of what frightens children—a dimly lit hall or black abyss, the occasional dragon or unnerving waif, and, of course, a menacing adult. Hidden in the depths of these children’s tales are portraits of the human psyche.
We’re proud that these novels now call the Newberry home.
In the early spring of 1788, John Adams returned from Europe, where he’d spent a decade conducting diplomatic business. He arrived in Massachusetts at a seminal moment; he was stateside, acclimating to his Braintree home, when the U.S. Constitution was formally ratified.
On June 19, when ratification was all but certain, Adams addressed a letter to the Massachusetts Legislature. In his epistle, transcribed below, he thanks lawmakers, who extended a warm welcome to their long-absent statesman. And in a premonitory passage, Adams extols the liberties that the “Nation now enjoys.”
To the Honorable the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
The kind and condescending Congratulations of so illustrious a Body as the Legislature of Massachusetts, on my arrival with my Family, in this my native country does me great honor and demands my most grateful Acknowledgement.
If the Dangers and Fatigues which have fallen to my share in the Course of a memorable Revolution, have contributed in any degree, to the acquisition or security, of those inestimable Blessings of Independence, of Commerce and Trinity (?), of civil and religious Liberty which this highly favored (?) Nation now enjoys the reflexion (sic) on them will be a source of some salvation (?) to me, to my latest Period: and the Candour and Indulgence with which they have been received by my Fellow Citizens, will ever be remembered with Gratitude.
David McCullough, whose biography of John Adams won a Pulitzer Prize, is this year’s recipient of The Newberry Library Award. John Adams, first published in 2001, is now in its 82nd printing, and remains one of the most praised and widely read American biographies.
A city is more than a massing of citizens, a layout of buildings and streets, or an arrangement of institutions. It is also an infrastructure of ideas, an embodiment of the beliefs, values, and aspirations of the people who created it. In City Water, City Life, historian Carl Smith explores this infrastructure of ideas through an examination of the development of the first successful waterworks systems in Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago between the 1790s and the 1860s.
On Wednesday, May 15, Smith will discuss City Water, City Life at a meet-the-author event.
Pictured: from the Mitchell Dawson papers—an intimate photograph of a water pump on the Dawson family farm. The Newberry owns the correspondence, literary works, research materials, and personal papers of Chicago lawyer, poet and author Mitchell Dawson.
On this day in 1918, Chicagoans were jumpin’ and jivin’. The Dill Pickle Club hosted an Anti-War Dance to protest the then-waning World War.
Founded by former labor activist Jack Jones, the Dill Pickle Club was a Bohemian social club. Jones hoped to form an unconventional hub for the uninhibited and free-thinking, including socialists, atheists, anarchists, liberated women, soap-box orators, artists, and literary figures. Chartered in 1917, the Dil-Pickle (as it was first known) was frequented by Ben Reitman, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Maxwell Bodenheim, Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, and Sherwood Anderson. The club’s fortunes declined as the Depression set in, and was defunct by 1932.
Thomas More’s Utopia (or in full: A Truly Golden Little Book, No Less Beneficial Than Entertaining, of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia) is a landmark work—both as fiction and political philosophy. It was first published in 1516, composed in Latin. An English edition arrived in 1551.
A first-edition Utopia can be found in the Newberry stacks. Pictured here are its frontispiece and opening page. The former sports a woodcut map of the fictional island.
Haven’t had your utopic fill? Check out Stuart Patterson’s adult education seminar, Brave New Worlds? More, Montaigne, Shakespeare, and Swift on the Age of Exploration. Note: the registration deadline for summer classes is May 29.