Visual Evidence of Lunch at the Swedish Diner

Sue Maher described our lunch event at the Swedish diner in Chicago. Here are some visuals to accompany her description:

We started out with huge sweet rolls, served atop slices of homemade bread

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White sausage, Swedish meatballs, roast duck with lingonberry sauce, pickled cabbage with with caraway

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We ate in the upstairs dining room, where the walls were covered with Swedish folk art

(there’s Margaret Doane at the very left hand edge of the picture. Sorry to cut you off, Margaret!)

We also had salad, coffee, strawberries and fudgy brownies. I was too overwhelmed to document the entire event. The staff did a great job getting our group of 55 in and out of the restaurant; we were running late when we arrived and had to make it back to the conference site for a plenary session.

Day Three of the Cather International Seminar

Day Three: Cather International Seminar

In the morning, 55 seminar participants boarded a tour bus to make the trip north along Lake Shore Drive to Andersonville and Uptown, neighborhoods connected with Cather’s Thea Kronborg and Lucy Gayheart as well as Cather childhood friend, Irene Miner Weisz, immortalized as Nina Harling in My Antonia. Neighbor Fannie Wiener (Mrs. Rosen in “Old Mrs. Harris”) is also connected to this part of Chicago: she is buried in Rosehill Cemetery, having died in Chicago during a visit to the 1893 World’s Fair.

Our energetic and witty tour guide, scholar Tony Millspaugh, provided commentary as our able driver, Cheryl, negotiated Lake Shore Drive and neighborhood streets. She was deft within Rosehill Cemetery as well, whose lanes were clearly not designed to carry large tour buses! First we went up Michigan Avenue, past the expensive stores and hotels–Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Saks, Tiffany’s, Chanel, The Drake, and other high, high-end places–and the Gold Coast area made famous by the Rockefeller and McCormick empires. We whizzed past many landmarks from the University Center: Frank Gheary’s bridge and “The Bean” or “Cloud Gate,” the Art Institute of Chicago, The Fountain of the Great Lakes in its courtyard, the Y (where the two branches of the Chicago River merge and head to the lake), Pioneer Park with its recreation of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a number of Louis Sullivan buildings, and the Chicago Water Works, which was supposed to end the too-frequent cholera outbreaks that plagued 19th-century Chicago. The statues of Grant, Lincoln, and Phil Sheridan greeted us along the lake, as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo animals. We passed marinas full of boats, and the Lincoln Park Boat House which shelters various sculls for rowing. Tony regaled us with many stories of Chicago’s old mayors (two of whom were assassinated), Oprah, President Obama, sin and infamy (he recommended the book Sin in the Second City), and tales of the beer wars. Chicago has more bars, Tony told us, than any other American city. Between the German beer gardens and the Irish saloons, not to mention the Fort Dearborn Massacre in 1812 brought on by the dumping of liquor, Chicago has had a lively, colorful history connected to “the drink.” At this point in the 21st century, one can definitely say that the Carrie Nations of the USA did not win the beer wars! Tony told us about the 1871 fire, which destroyed much of Chicago along what is now Lincoln Park. He also pointed out the buildings and streets that Irene Miner Weisz lived in and that Cather visited when she came through the Windy City.

We weren’t able to go to the Chicago History Museum, but Tony highly recommends it. It is near one of Irene Miner’s homes. When she visited Chicago, Cather would use Irene’s credit at Marshall Field’s to purchase things for herself. She even held a book signing at Field’s great store, now gone and replaced by “the evil red star, Macy’s,” according to Tony. As we entered into the north ethnic neighborhoods, now the Edgewater area of town, Tony pointed out his favorite statue of Abraham Lincoln, a young man reading a book. We also passed Western Avenue, Chicago’s longest avenue. A Swede, Pers Peterson, planted most of the trees in pioneer Chicago, helping to establish its “garden in a city” culture. Chicago’s wonderful green spaces owe much to Peterson’s vision. Cheryl gingerly pulled into the Rosehill Cemetery, clearly not designed for unwieldy modern tour buses! We walked to the burial sites of Irene Miner Weisz and Fannie Wiener, who died during the 1893 Chicago Fair and had to be buried within 24 hours, the Jewish custom. She now rests in an old Jewish section of the cemetery. Irene lived a long life–1881-1971. In Andersonville, one finds the Nelson Funeral Home, where Irene and her husband, who preceded her in death, were “rested”–or is it fested?– the Swedish term for a wake. Thankfully the temperature today is tolerable; the walk around the cemetery was a bit longer than people had expected, so we had to hurry to Ann Sather’s for lunch in order to return downtown for afternoon sessions. Anne Kaufman hopes to add a photo of our meal later on. I forgot my camera this trip.

My sister and I are still recovering from the luncheon meal! While some of us ordered vegetarian–an overly ample portion of salad–most of us wanted to try the restaurant’s famed “Swedish Sampler.” It was overwhelming! Duck with lingonberry sauce, white sausage, Swedish meatballs, noodles and gravy, kraut, humongous cinnamon rolls, and strawberries and chocolate squares–way too much food to process! With just a few seconds to spare, I ran into the Swedish American Museum to purchase a “Velkommen” sign for my home, a connection to my paternal grandmother’s family, the Dahlquists and Christies, who settled in Andersonville. It’s worth Googling Ann Sather to read about this wonderful restaurant. The walls are all decorated with rosemaling paintings; we ate upstairs in a charming area overlooking the street.

We passed familiar territory on the way back, but Tony pointed out some new features we had missed: the splendidly elaborate terra cotta decorations on Uptown buildings, the ferris wheel at the old Navy Pier, the Palmolive Building with its dirigible landing pad (never used–the Hindenberg disaster happened) that became home to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club, and all of the Mies van der Rohe skyscrapers along the lake. We passed Gheary’s fanciful Bean again, and Cheryl twisted and turned around downtown before landing us back at the university center: happy, smarter than we were before we left, and ready for the afternoon sessions. I have to chair a session on “Southwestern Modernism” in half an hour, so I’ll sign out for today. Tonight I plan on resting up, reading more of Mildred Bennet’s The World of Willa Cather, and beginning to pack up for the train trip home tomorrow afternoon. Thank you Tony for a great tour of the quintessential American city!

Day Two: Cather International Seminar

From Susan Maher:

Day Two: Cather International Seminar

This evening, participants at the seminar gathered on the 22nd floor of 200 South Michigan Avenue in the Cliff Dwellers Club, founded by writer Hamlin Garland. What a panoramic view we enjoyed! The entire day has been lovely–tolerable summer temperatures, lots of crowds attending the Taste of Chicago event at Grant Park, regattas sailing out of the marina into Lake Michigan to enjoy brisk winds and good water. From our vantage point, we could see the curve of the shore, lined with skyscrapers at the ends, with Grant and Millenium Parks front and center. Below us sat the Chicago Art Institute, a place Cather knew well. Stretching to the north for miles and miles was the lake, Godfrey St. Peter’s favored element in The Professor’s House. We sipped our drinks, gnoshed on hors d’oeuvres, and held lively conversations about all things Cather.

A memorable plenary session today focused on the two newest scholarly editions: Youth and the Bright Medusa, edited by Mark Madigan, and Sapphira and the Slave Girl, edited by WLA member Ann Romines. Mark showed a number of photographs of relevant personalities and sites connected to Cather’s urban stories set in New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, and tangentially Chicago. Mark compared Cather’s journalistic essays and short pieces to their later revisions and reworkings in Cather’s short fiction. “She liked these descriptions well enough to revise,” Mark concluded. These small revisions that fed into short stories set the stage for Cather’s larger revisions of material into her novels.

Of particular interest were Mark’s materials on “Paul’s Case,” set in Pittsburgh. He showed a contemporary photo of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, were Paul lives, for a brief time, in material luxury. Mark’s most fascinating materials, however, connected to the Denny robbery and to silent film star Tommy Meaghan, both part of Pittsburgh lore. Mark and Tim Bintrim have been tracing the boy robbers who stole $2,000 from the Denny vault and then fled–to Chicago and then Milwaukee. The mastermind, James Wilson, and his companion were arrested in Milwaukee after enjoying some high living in Chicago. Upon their return to Pittsburgh, the two boys’ parents hired good lawyers and got the boys off. Paul’s fate is much worse in Cather’s story. Mark and Tim hope to flesh out the two robbers’ stay in Chicago.

Paul is particularly taken by the juvenile lead in the story. Mark discovered that Charley is none other than silent film star Tommy Meaghan, who began his early stage career playing young heroes in Pittsburgh theater as an 18 year old. Between 1916 and 1927, Meaghan was one of Hollywood’s big stars, earning $5,000 per week–big money in those days. Mark segued into “The Sculptor’s Funeral.” Though set in Sand City, Kansas, the dead artist, Merrick, was based on Pittsburgh artist Charles Henry Reinhart, who lived from 1844-1896. Upon his death, Pittsburgh barely acknowledged this talented son, admired the world over for his artistic vision. Cather herself wrote a eulogy for the neglected Reinhart in The Home Monthly, attempting to redress the community’s rejection of this man. Mark found Reinhart’s fallen tombstone in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, across the river from St. Mary’s cemetery, where Tommy Meaghan is buried and acknowledged. Mark was able to help restore Reinhart’s tombstone in the Allegheny Cemetery, and he showed before and after pictures of this great artist’s final resting place.

Editor Ann Romines turned our attention to Cather’s Shenandoah Valley. Ann drew a parallel between Cather’s final journey, her return to home and family history, and Ann’s own journey across Cather’s southern geography. Ann currently lives 75 miles from Frederick County and Willow Shade. She has traced numerous maps, genealogy records, and census data to provide a fuller vision of this antebellum world. As Ann put it, “the infrastructure of the novel still exists.” The many homes in Sapphira, the millhouse, the cemeteries, and churches are mostly extant. Ann says that her journey to Frederick County was like “driving into the pages of the book itself.” By remapping Cather’s southern space, Ann notes that one can better appreciate “place, history, memory, and fiction,” as well as gain insight into “writerly practice and the trajectory of [Cather’s] career.” Ann also reminded us that the autobiographical epilogue to the novel, resisted by her publisher, “is singular in her fiction.” In Ann’s assessment, Cather spent a “lifelong negotiation with her southern connections.” In this soil lies 300 years of Cather family habitation and memory.

In opening up the world of Sapphira, Ann connected to other writers. She mentioned Ellen Douglas, contemporary author, whose family stories “Old Enough to Tell” gave Ann the title of her presentation. Ann concluded that Cather needed to be old enough to tell this complex, vexed family history. At the same time Cather was writing this final novel, published in 1940, “contending southern visions”–Mitchell’s and Faulkner’s–were published, attempting to evaluate antebellum culture and slavery. While “Cather underplayed her family’s role in slavery,” Ann suggested, the author was still trying, in a dispassionate, unsentimental, and “unvarnished” way, to reveal “something terrible under the surface.” Ann also told the audience that young Cather “may have been shielded by combustible stories” that focused unflattering light on Cather family history.

My favorite insight of Ann’s had to do with her application of Edward Said’s idea of the “late style” (the name of his final study). “Modernism,” Ann asserted, “is a movement of aging and ending.” She highlighted the “special maturity in Cather’s last novel.” Quoting Said, Ann asked “what if age and ill health don’t provide serenity?” Cather, in her last completed work, is “tampering with closure,” giving us a “perplexed and unsettled” story, which should be celebrated in Cather’s oeuvre as “a triumph of late style.”

Many other sessions were memorable today, and I hope that other participants on Westlit will add their voices to my own blog. A light-hearted moment today occurred in Steven Trout’s assessment of The Professor’s House as an academic novel that examines “homo academicus.” When Cather was drafting this novel, two other writers, Veblen and Sinclair, had already published scathing critiques of American higher education. Steve reminded us that Cather indicts a number of areas in higher education that remain topical: the problem of admission standards; the competing definitions of scholarship that often leads to the devaluing of “pure” research over pragmatic research; the onslaught against the liberal arts; the fear that university training was becoming trade school; the danger of censorship and the loss of academic freedom; and the perils of privatization and private/public collaborations on American campuses. Much of Steve’s trenchant analysis left us laughing, providing a good tonic to clarify the afternoon.

Tomorrow I tour Chicago’s ethnic north neighborhoods with my sister Kris. This tour is significant for us because our Swedish relatives first settled in Andersonville before assimilating into American society and dispersing out to other regions. I hope to have some good descriptions of our tour tomorrow for Westlit readers. Good night for now from downtown Chicago!

Notes from the 12th International Cather Seminar

The International Cather Seminar Begins Today, June 25th

The first day of the seminar has opened splendidly, from the first plenary session to tonight’s keynote address, “My Willa Cather,” by novelist Bradford Morrow. Our group is international and bridges scholars, writers, and Cather’s common readers. The quality of papers I observed today was impressive, particularly on the topics of urban space, Modernism, and Chicago. Many of us took a break in the afternoon to wander over to Millenium Park, just a few blocks from our seminar site at the University Center on State Street. A group from Mexico was doing sound checks, allowing us to sit and enjoy their preview of a free concert tonight at the spectacular outdoor theater in the park. The sun is setting at this point, city lights now defining the skyline. Lake Michigan is disappearing in the darkening horizon from my eighth story room. All is good in the world.

Westlit readers might be particularly interested in news from the Cather Project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Andy Jewell, who guides development of the Cather Digital Archive as its editor, gave an informative plenary address entitled “The Professor’s Mouse.” Westlit readers should visit the site at http://cather.unl.edu to enjoy the new additions outlined in this presentation. Foremost among the new features is the Geographic Chronology of Willa Cather’s Life (GeoChron), developed with the help of the Nebraska Humanities Council. One can track Cather’s travels in multiple ways. Andy demonstrated both location and date range searches. Images pulled from the 2600 photos now on the Cather Archive pop up to illustrate her sojourns. Andy noted that his team hopes to add scanned postcards that Cather sent over the years as well as samples of texts that describe Cather’s varied places and spaces. As Andy put it, “the woman was a cosmopolitan woman.” No doubt about it, thanks to GeoChron.

Another fascinating new feature on the Archive is TokenX, a text visualization program. Andy demonstrated this cool tool by creating a word cloud of “Paul’s Case,” showing us that the word “moment” is key in the story (among others). Even a large novel like Song of the Lark can be scanned for stylistic features in seconds (the word “little” is prominent). One can even do an n-gram analysis up to 5-grams, examining Cather’s cherished phrases through her oeuvre. All of her fiction has been keyed into this program, and TokenX allows one to design specific language analyses of Cather’s texts.

57 short fiction texts published before 1923 are now featured in the Archive, and the scholarly edition of Cather’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, One of Ours is now digitized. Moreover, Volume 6 of Cather Studies is available to scholars of Cather and the American West. Particularly wonderful in the short fiction archive were the original illustrations that accompany them as well as the facsimile versions of the 57 stories. Andy also showed us images of the first editions of all Cather’s novels. If you are interested in Cather’s career as an editor and journalist, you can now find her editions of The Home Monthly as well as her articles in the Nebraska State Journal. Andy added that the “vibrant world of theater in 1890s Lincoln” is recreated for all to enjoy.

Later this year, some other additions will appear in the Archive: Sharon Hoover and Melissa Ryan are preparing a bibliography of Cather’s reading. Hannah German is studying translations of Cather’s fiction, and her research will help define Cather internationally. An update of the Calendar of Letters, a collaboration with WLA member Janis Stout, is in the works (400 letters to be added). For those of you eager for the digital versions of Alexander’s Bridge and the 7th edition of Cather Studies, your wait won’t be long. They are coming this fall. Andy says that his group will also be adding features to the scholarly editions that have already been archived. As Andy said, “this project never ends, which is exhilarating and scary.” New features are added regularly, he noted, as the group chases a comprehensiveness that “is the dream and the fantasy” of every digital archivist. The inventiveness, aesthetic beauty, and scholarly integrity of the evolving Cather Archive are impressive, so please take time to look at it and provide feedback to Andy and his team.

I asked Andy if he had any words for the Westlit audience. He emphasized that digital archives can take any focus, not simply an author-centered focus. A digital archive on American regionalism, he added, “could be a great resource.” His archive provides one model for high-standard scholarly work in the digital humanities. He encourages Westlit visitors to envision new emphases and contents.

Finally, to balance Andy Jewell’s visual display in the morning, Bradford Morrow gave a luminous tribute to Cather, family, and creativity. Illustrating the parallels between Cather’s career in the early twentieth century and his own writer’s journey in the late 20th and 21st centuries, Morrow shared photos from the Cather archives and his own family’s records. Interweaving comments on geography, generational stories, and writerly techniques, Morrow offered a meditation on the nature of home and other “scapes” that inform Cather’s and his works of fiction. The verbal and visual tapestry that Morrow presented was loudly applauded and punctuated the end of the day in a deeply satisfying way. His talk will be replayed via the webcasts that the Chicago Public Library maintains. More reflections of the 12th International Cather Seminar to follow tomorrow.

CFP: Technology and the American West

Please join us for the biennial John R. Milton Writers’ Conference, held October 29-31, 2009, at The University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota.

We are seeking panel and round table proposals, scholarly papers, and creative writing related (either explicitly or implicitly) to the theme of Frontier Technology/Techno-Frontiers: Technology and the American West. Possible topics or approaches might include, but certainly aren’t limited to:

• Frontier Technology/Techno-Frontiers in Western American literature, history, and culture;

• Frontier Technology/Techno-Frontiers in American Indian literature, history, and culture;

• Frontier Technology/Techno-Frontiers in the American West in relationship to environmental issues and ecocriticism;

• The railroad and the American West;

• The American West as a site or fantasy space of anti-technology;

• Representations of Frontier Technology/Techno-frontiers in popular culture (including, but not limited to, HBO’s Deadwood and Joss Whedon’s Firefly, Westerns (both film and television), graphic novels, and science fiction); and

• The American West in cyber-space.

Please submit a 250-word abstract, along with a brief biographical note, postmarked by August 15, 2009. Panel and proposals should include individual paper abstracts and biographical notes for all of the participating panelists, in addition to a 250-word justification for the panel. Round table proposals should include a 250-word justification for the round table session, along with biographical notes for the participating round table session members.

For creative submissions, please submit either 8-10 pages of poetry, or no more than 25 pages of creative prose writing, along with a short biographical note, postmarked by August 15, 2009. While creative work that either explicitly or implicitly addresses the conference theme, or is related in some way to landscape are particularly welcome, all types of creative work on any theme and in any style will be gladly considered for readings at the conference’s creative writing panels.

All submissions should be sent to:

Lee Ann Roripaugh
Department of English
University of South Dakota
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD 57069

Alternatively, you may submit your proposals/creative writing samples in MS Word or RTF format, via e-mail, to: Lee.Roripaugh@usd.edu

For additional questions or information, please e-mail: Lee.Roripaugh@usd.edu

New Findings

Mississippi Review 36.3 (2008) has a great issue on the history and current state of literary magazines.

The spring 2009 issue of the Sewanee Review once again has an essay by Ed Minus reviewing the previous year’s volumes of Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, and Best American Poetry.  Minus is unafraid to share his criticism, which is partly why his essays are usually quite delightful to read. One wishes, though, that he would expand the series within his purview to include New Stories from the South and, dare I say, Best of the West: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri.

Gargoyle issue 53 (2008) has published Susi Klare’s “At the Intersection of Heaven and Hell,” a story about a narrator who attends Burning Man while trying to emotionally come to grips with their child being in Iraq.  The ending is nicely done and Klare gets credit for trying to distill the wildness of the festival into a controlled narration. I happened to attend Burning Man a couple of years ago and was particularly intrigued as to how everyone seemed to imply that the Black Rock desert was extremely dangerous.  “This is the desert man, you could die,” was a mantra I heard numerous times, the idea being that if you simply wandered far out into the desert without water, you wouldn’t make it back.  Klare seems to be picking up on this in that she links this desert with Iraq and the war going on there.  I thought the metaphorical linkage between the danger of both deserts was somewhat forced, but it was nevertheless an interesting “problem” in that it once again illustrates how we continue to misread the desert, interpreting the physical dangers of arid landscapes in metaphysical and/or existential terms.

 Shenandoah has published several interesting pieces lately.  “A Hunter’s Story,” by Jerry D. Mathes II in the winter 2009 issue (58.3) is about more than simply hunting; the narrator, unable to earn a living in rural Idaho where he has grown up, will soon move his family to Nevada where he has found a job.  The hunting trip serves as a kind of goodbye that is made all the more poignant by the author’s clear familiarity with this particular landscape.  The spring/summer 2009 issue (59.1) has a decent story by Geoffrey Becker entitled “Imaginary Tucson,” which explores how isolating it can be to try and carve out an academic career. There is also a wonderful essay by Mary Clearman Blew.  “Shadowing” details how she came to be the dean of nursing at Northern Montana College.  These two pieces nicely complicate one another and should be read together. Hats off to the editor, R. T. Smith, for publishing them in the same volume.

Oh, Harold

In a recent interview with the A.V. Club, Harold Bloom clarifies what he meant when he called Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian the ultimate Western: “It culminates all the aesthetic potential that Western [regional] fiction can have.  I don’t think that anyone can hope to improve on it, that it essentially closes out the tradition.” 

Most readers of this blog would take umbrage at Bloom for this last sentiment, and his view on McCarthy seems to be a rehashing of the argument that he does for the west/southwest what Faulker did for the south. A more interesting reading of Bloom would be to question what McCarthy accomplishes with the books that follow this apparent closing out of the western tradition.  Might we, in other words, read McCarthy as a bridge from the west (Blood Meridian) to the postwest (The Road)?