A Guide to the History of Illinois

By John Hoffmann | Go to book overview

12
LITERATURE

JAMES HURT

STUDENTS OF ILLINOIS literature find themselves in something like the position of early travelers to the state. The maps available are sketchy, with large areas marked "terra incognita." The study of Illinois literature has lagged far behind the study of other state literatures, including several in the Midwest, notably those of Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan. It is not clear why this should be so. Certainly it is not for any thinness in the state's literary heritage. The early nineteenth-century travelers' accounts and "guides for emigrants," many of high literary quality; the speeches not only of Abraham Lincoln but of such other notable orators as Stephen A. Douglas, Owen Lovejoy, and Robert G. Ingersoll; such memorable autobiographies as those of Peter Cartwright, Ulysses S. Grant, and Jane Addams; such permanently valuable products of the Chicago Renaissance as Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology ( 1915), Carl Sandburg Chicago Poems ( 1916), and the poems of Vachel Lindsay; the tough "Chicago novels" of James T. Farrell, Richard Wright, and Nelson Algren; and a contemporary tradition that includes the works of Saul Bellow, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Maxwell, and Harry Mark Petrakis--these amount to a remarkably rich and provocative body of Illinois writing.

Of course, few of these writers could be fairly labeled "neglected" or "forgotten"; many of them have received and continue to receive voluminous critical attention. It is only as Illinois writers, as writers exploring a sense of place and reflecting or rejecting a certain distinctive intellectual and artistic

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