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What is a world-class city without its cultural pantheon? The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame is an excellent idea just a few weeks from reality. The charter members, who will be inducted in a ceremony November 20 at Northeastern Illinois University, are inarguable: Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Studs Terkel, and Richard Wright. The location of the hall, the Cliff Dwellers Club on South Michigan Avenue, couldn’t be more appropriate—though it’s odd to think of these six spirits pent up anywhere. I hope schoolchildren are led through, and wouldn’t it be nice if there were exhibits all over town—in buses and classrooms and other public places?
The Chicago Writers Association, the fledgling organization that has created the hall of fame, wants to make the induction a night to remember. The evening has its own “director of event planning,” author Valya Dudycz Lupescu, and she has brought into the picture the city’s “ array of talented designers who create classic and innovative styles.” As the inductees are all dead, they will be represented by friends or family members, but these surrogates will shine in their own right because those who choose what Lupescu calls an “exciting option” will be dressed by our talented designers and interviewed not only about the ceremony itself but also about “their outfit for the evening.” The interviewer will be Elysabeth Alfano, host of Channel 11’s Fear No Art Chicago.
Art Shay, the photographer, will be accepting the hall of fame invitation for Algren, an old buddy. In her e-mail to Shay, Lupescu explained what she had in mind: “This is a wonderful opportunity for us—to offer special guests the chance to wear Chicago fashion originals (this includes the option of accessories and jewelry)—and it’s also a great opportunity for our designers to find another audience for their work. We hope that this collaboration will increase press and visibility for all parties involved.”
The e-mail continued with a check list for Shay to fill out if so inclined.
PLEASE CHECK ONE:
I would like to have a complete ensemble that I can wear at the Ceremony. ________
I would like to wear some accessories: shoes, tie, hat, scarf, etc. _________
I would like to wear jewelry at the event. _________
I would like to wear my own outfit that was designed by a Chicago designer, and I would like to be interviewed. _________
Lupescu concluded, “I will follow up with another email to discuss your fashion preferences and to arrange for you to meet with the appropriate designers. At that time we will also schedule the interviews. They will be brief, just a few minutes, and we may have to conduct some of them after the ceremony. We will work with your needs.”
Shay writes, “Nelson Algren woulda laughed his ass off in his non-matching pants ‘Salivation’ Army suit . . . and accessories at my accepting his Hall of Fame nomination in a designer outfit!. My wife insists I accept this offer, thinking Chicago's best designers-for-men will somehow manage to do better with my public image than a foray into my notoriously unreplete Seventies wardrobe. I've turned down the accessory offer because I believe there's enough time for me to find my tie. I wore it to my father's funeral in 1951 so it should be around."
Looked at another way, Lupescu’s invitation strikes the perfect bittersweet note for the occasion. How sad it is that we won’t get to see Algren himself dressed to the nines, or the pair of tens, or the jack-high straight, however that expression goes.