Poetry News

Liesl Olson's Chicago Renaissance Triptych at Los Angeles Review of Books

By Harriet Staff
Liesl Olson, Chicago Renaisance, cover

Liesl Olson shares three sections from her new book, Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis, at Los Angeles Review of Books this week. She explains that the majority of her research happened in archives, "From personal diaries, correspondence, telegrams, photographs, guest books, shipping receipts, and boxes of ephemera — some of it riveting, most of it dull — a picture emerged of how modernism was made in Chicago." The subject of the first excerpt is none other than Sherwood Anderson, but we'll zoom forward to our personal favorite: Bobsy Goodspeed awaiting the arrival of Gertrude Stein. "The parrot squawked; the phone rang. Bobsy Goodspeed tossed the sheets and picked up the receiver." Mhm, yes, more please: 

Barney had already left for a board meeting. She was perched seventeen stories high in a modern penthouse apartment of brick and Indiana limestone, at the edge of Lincoln Park. As the sun rose above the lake, light flooded in from the plush carpet to the vaulted ceiling. The busiest person in town, according to the Tribune, Bobsy kept two telephones in her bedroom, which rang all morning from 8:30 to 11:00.

It was Carl Van Vechten calling from New York. They were still very nervous about the flight to Chicago. He loved to fly — really, he was not frightened — but Miss Stein and Miss Toklas had never been on an airplane and he was anxious for them. Bobsy assured him it was worth it, a few hours in the air and they would arrive for the premiere!

Bobsy’s throaty voice was like a balm. She reminded him that Virgil Thomson was conducting the opera himself, and she appealed to Carl’s love of spectacle. The Auditorium Theatre had been redesigned by Rue Carpenter: Pompeian red upholstery and the entire ceiling lacquered in gold. The performers — gospel singers from Harlem — would be framed by a sparkling stage of pink cellophane. With proceeds going to the Vocational Society for Shut-Ins, a philanthropic favorite, the evening would bring out Chicago’s very best gowns. Afterward, there would be a supper party at her home, and everyone must spend the night. Bobsy promised that she and Fanny would be waiting at the airport, likely with an entourage of reporters. Fanny had let the word out.

Read on at Los Angeles Review of Books.

Originally Published: August 22nd, 2017