In 2019, a literature professor from Tel Aviv emailed to say that she was writing something about me and hoped to visit that summer to meet up.
Now the thing she wrote is an academic survey of Chicago literary history. My friend, Bill, who wrote a chapter about the city’s literary future, gave me a copy. Good thing too, since it’s priced at an astounding $110, guaranteeing it a minuscule readership. The standard explanation for academic presses pricing hardcovers this way is that they are aiming at libraries that expect high-quality copies to stand the test of time. But it seems to me that a book like this could have appeal beyond the halls of academe. There are a lot of Chicago homers out there.
Selfishly, I’ve only read the couple pages about myself so far. It’s flattering stuff. Nice to get some institutional acknowledgment, though I don’t know what it actually means. Does a foreign academic press’s decision to include my work in a survey of Chicago literature give me a place in the official history? Is there even such a thing anymore? A universal standard by which any casual reader acknowledges this or that writer as belonging to the canon. Canons aren’t popular these days anyway.
Whatever the case, it is validating when anyone takes notice of what I do. It makes it feel like it’s not all just pissing into the wind.
My one quibble with the book so far is the cover. Maybe it’s a cultural blindspot rather than a dig at the city, but who the fuck chose to put that horrible building on there? At least the tramp-stamp its namesake marked our city with isn’t visible. A completely generic photo otherwise. You’d think they’d have a couple bucks in the budget set aside to decorate a $110 book properly, rather than just doing a Google Image search and slapping a random result on the front. I wish they’d called me. I would have made them a much more attractive cover.
I don’t expect anyone to shell out $110, but if you’re curious what the professor wrote about me, drop me a line and I’ll send you a pdf scan of the relevant pages. Still working through what I feel about this development. Should I have a pin made——something between a blue ribbon and a hammer-and-sickle, say——so passersby know who they’re sharing air with? More likely, I’ll forget about it entirely in a week or two. Even historical figures have to go on with their lives sooner or later.