Chicago literature is writing, primarily by writers born or living in Chicago, that reflects the culture of the city.
When Chicago was incorporated in 1837, it was a frontier outpost with about 4,000 people. The population rose rapidly to approximately 100,000 in 1860. By 1890, the city had over 1 million people. Thus, Chicago writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries faced the challenge of how to depict this potentially disorienting new urban reality. Narrative fiction of that time, much of it in the style of "high-flown romance" and "genteel realism", needed a new approach to describe Chicago's social, political, and economic conditions. Chicagoans worked hard to create a literary tradition that would stand the test of time, and create a "city of feeling" out of concrete, steel, vast lake, and open prairie.
In 1920, the critic H.L. Menken wrote in a London magazine, the Nation, that Chicago was the "Literary Capital of the United States." Chicago's early twentieth-century writers and publishers were seen as producing new work that broke with the Victorian and Eastern United States establishment past and embraced new techniques and styles including "naturalism," "imagism," and "free verse." Themes often centered on an exciting but dirty urbanism, as well as the quaint but dark and sometimes stultifying small town. Chicago's dynamic growth, as well as the manufacturing, economics, and politics that fueled this growth, could be seen in the works of writers like Sandburg, Dreiser, Anderson, Garland, Norris, Sinclair, Cather, and Ferber.
While Chicago produced much realist and naturalist fiction, its literary institutions also played a crucial role in promoting international modernism. The avant-garde Little Review (founded 1914 by Margaret Anderson) provided an important platform for experimental literature, famously serializing James Joyce's novel Ulysses until the magazine was forced to discontinue the novel due to obscenity charges. Similarly, the publication that became Poetry Magazine (founded 1912 by Harriet Monroe) was instrumental in launching the Imagist and Objectivist poetic movements. T. S. Eliot's first professionally published poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," appeared in Poetry. Contributors have included Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes and Carl Sandburg, among others.[relevant? ] The magazine also discovered such poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, James Merrill, and John Ashbery. Poetry and the Little Review were "daring" in their editorial championship of the modernist movement. Later editors also made substantial contributions in poetry, as did Chicago's university and performance venues.
According to Bill Savage in The Encyclopedia of Chicago, today's Chicago writers are still interested in the same social themes and urban landscapes that compelled earlier Chicago writers: "the fundamental dilemmas presented by city life in general and by the specifics of Chicago's urban spaces, history, and relentless change."
- A period around the turn of the 20th Century, which featured "Midland realism" of authors such as Henry Blake Fuller, Theodore Dreiser and Eugene Field;
- A period in the 1910s and 1920s in which literary works were published by newspapers and new literary magazines based in Chicago. Sometimes called the "Chicago Renaissance" which includes the later works of Dreiser and the work of authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Floyd Dell, Carl Sandburg, Harriet Monroe, and Margaret Anderson;
- A period in the 1940s featuring what it calls "neighborhood novels." Authors in this period include James T. Farrell, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks and Saul Bellow.
Literature scholar Robert Bone argues for the existence of a fourth period:
- A second "Chicago Renaissance," this time lasting approximately 1935 to 1950 and referring to a wave of creativity from Chicago's African-American writers. Bone suggests that this Chicago Renaissance was comparable in influence and importance to the earlier Harlem Renaissance. Bone's list of Chicago Renaissance writers includes fiction writers like Richard Wright, William Attaway, and Willard Motley along with poets like Frank Marshall Davis and Margaret Walker.  It is worth noting that the term "Chicago Black Renaissance" is often used to denote creativity in all the arts, not just in literature, during the 1930s-50s.
Works about Chicago or set in Chicago
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Much notable Chicago writing focuses on the city itself, with social criticism keeping exultation in check. Here is a selection of Chicago's most famous works about itself:
Fiction and Poetry
- Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make is a prose poem about the alleys, the El tracks, the neon and the dive bars, the beauty and cruelty of Chicago.
- Saul Bellow's Adventures of Augie March charts the long drifting life of a Jewish Chicagoan and his myriad eccentric acquaintances throughout the early 20th century: growing up in the then Polish neighborhood of Humboldt Park, cavorting with heiresses on Chicago's Gold Coast, studying at the University of Chicago, fleeing union thugs in the Loop, and taking the odd detour to hang out with Trotsky in Mexico while eagle-hunting giant iguanas on horseback. This book has legitimate claim to be the Chicago epic.
- Gwendolyn Brooks's A Street in Bronzeville is the collection of poems that launched the career of the famous Chicago poet, focusing on the aspirations, disappointments, and daily life of those who lived in 1940s Bronzeville.
- Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street is a Mexican-American coming-of-age novel, dealing with a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, growing up in the Chicago Chicano ghetto.
- Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie is a cornerstone of the turn of the 20th century Chicago Literary Renaissance, a tale of a country girl in the big immoral city, rags-to-riches and back again.
- Stuart Dybek's The Coast of Chicago is a collection of fourteen short stories about growing up in Chicago (largely in Pilsen and Little Village) in a style blending the gritty with the dreamlike.
- James T. Farrell's most famous novels, including Studs Lonigan, focused on the often bitter lives of Chicago's Irish-Americans around the time of the Great Depression.
- John Guzlowski's Lightning and Ashes consists of poems chronicling the author's experiences growing up in the immigrant and displaced persons' neighborhoods in Chicago's old Polish Downtown, in the context of Jewish hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish Cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead horses, and women who walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians.
- Lorraine Hansberry's play Raisin in the Sun tells of the struggles faced by a middle class black family in Chicago's Washington Park Subdivision.
- Audrey Niffenegger's The Time-Traveler's Wife is a recent love story set in Chicago nightclubs, museums, and libraries.
- Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files is a series set in Chicago about Harry Dresden, Chicago's first (and only) Wizard PI, who protects the city from supernatural attack.
- Frank Norris's The Pit is a novel of greed and life on the early 20th century trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.
- Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems the most famous collection of poems about Chicago by its "bard of the working class."
- Upton Sinclair's The Jungle sits among the canon of both Chicago literature and US labor history for its muckraking-style depiction of the desolation experienced by Lithuanian immigrants working in the Union Stockyards on Chicago's Southwest Side.
- Richard Wright's Native Son is a Chicago neighborhood novel set in Bronzeville and Hyde Park about a young, doomed, black boy hopelessly warped by the racism and poverty that defined his surroundings.
- Karen Abbott's Sin in the Second City is about Chicago's vice district, the Levee, and some of the personalities involved: gangsters, corrupt politicians, and two sisters who ran the most elite brothel in town.
- Erik Larson's Devil in the White City is a best-selling popular history about the 1893 Colombian Exposition; it's also about the serial killer who was stalking the city at the same time. Straight history of the Exposition and also the workers' paradise in Pullman is found in James Gilbert's Perfect Cities: Chicago's Utopias of 1893.
- Mike Royko's Boss is the definitive biography of Mayor Richard J. Daley and politics in Chicago, written by the Tribune columnist. American Pharaoh (Cohen and Taylor) is a scholarly treatment of the same subject.
Other noted[vague] writers, who were from Chicago or who spent a significant amount of their careers in Chicago include, David Mamet, Ernest Hemingway, Ben Hecht, John Dos Passos, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, Eugene Field, Studs Terkel and Hamlin Garland.
- Nugent, Walter. Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Demography."
- Savage, Bill. Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Fiction."
- Spears, Timothy B. Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Literary Cultures."
- Rotella, Carlo. Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Literary Images of Chicago"
- Pinkerton, Jan and Hudson, Randolph H. (2004). "Introduction". Library of American Literature. Encyclopedia of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. New York: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 1–426, iv. ISBN 0-8160-4898-3.
- Pinkerton, Jan and Hudson, Randolph H. (2004). "Introduction". Library of American Literature. Encyclopedia of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. New York: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 1–426, iv–v. ISBN 0-8160-4898-3.
- Savage, Bill. Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Fiction."
- The Modernist Journals Project (searchable database). Brown and Tulsa Universities, ongoing.
- Curdy, Averill. "Poetry: A History of the Magazine". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2013-05-12.
- Goodyear, Dana, "The Moneyed Muse: What can two hundred million dollars do for poetry?", article, The New Yorker, February 19 and February 26 double issue, 2007
- Starkey, David and Bill Savage Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Poetry"
- Savage, Bill. The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Fiction.
- Rotella, Carlo. Encyclopedia of Chicago History, "Chicago Literary Renaissance."
- Bone, Robert. "Richard Wright and the Chicago Renaissance." Callaloo 28 (1986): 448. JSTOR (behind paywall) Accessed 30 Nov 2014.
- Hine, Darlene Clark. Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Chicago Black Renaissance."
- Williams, Kenny Jackson. "Gwendolyn Brooks' Life and Career." 1997.
- Duffey, Bernard, The Chicago Renaissance in American Letters, Greenwood Press, Westport CT (1972)