An Enterprising Sinner: Floyd Dell's Chicago Years
Floyd Dell's Chicago Legacy at Newberry Library
Thursday, April 21, 6-7:15 p.m.
by Donald G. Evans
Founding Executive Director, Chicago Literary Hall of Fame
Chicago became for him the symbol of that real world. It
was no longer a place of refuge—it was a test, a challenge. He would go there
not as a moonstruck dreamer, but as a realist, able to face the hard facts of
life. (from The Briary-Bush)
When Floyd Dell arrived in Chicago, he was a young,
intelligent, unsettled man, full of ambition for his literary career and life
in general. For the next eight years, Dell pushed the limits of what literary
and cultural gatekeepers would accept. He tested philosophies, lived an
unconventional life, and wrote about it all.
Thursday, April 21, Dell’s literary and cultural impact will be explored in a
discussion called An Enterprising Sinner:
Floyd Dell’s Chicago Years. The event, which takes place from 6-7:15 p.m.
at the Newberry Library’s Towner Fellows’ Lounge, will combine dramatic
readings and discussion of Dell’s work. Dell, whose papers are held at the Newberry, became a major influence on
Chicago’s literary cultural during his residency here.
He was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame last winter.
Liesl Olson will moderate
the discussion that includes panelists Ian Morris, R. Craig Sautter
and myself, while Vitalist Theatre actors will perform excerpts from Dell’s essays, novels and memoir.
28, 1887-July 23, 1969) was born in Barry, IL and after attending high school
in Iowa moved to Chicago in 1908, where he remained until moving to New York
City in 1913. Having been brought up in poverty, he took an early interest in
politics and social change and by the age of 16 had joined the Socialist Party.
This would pave the way for a string of jobs writing and promoting for
Socialist publications such as The Tri-City Worker and The Masses.
While a supporter of Socialism, he
did not limit himself or his career to mere political constraints. He
eventually took a job with The Chicago Evening Post and by 1911 was the
editor of its Friday Literary Review, a nationally distributed weekly
supplement that helped enhanced the reputation of Chicago’s literary
renaissance. During this period he would become an unequivocally prominent
figure in the literary movement that would in later years be deemed American
Modernism. He advocated the work of such modernist icons as Jack London, Upton
Sinclair and George Bernard Shaw, all the while slowly honing his own literary
Dell is perhaps best remembered for
his first novel, the 1920 bestselling Moon-Calf, and later with the 1928
Broadway hit play Little Accident. Along with his novels (11 of them)
and plays (12), he was also an influential critic, essayist and poet. He also
wrote an autobiography, Homecoming, in 1930. He is remembered today as a
heavily influential figure in early American Modernism, Socialism, and as an
usher for the exodus of new literary voices in the Midwest to settle in the
great cities of the east like New York.
According to author Sautter, who
helped compile a 1996 collection of his essays from the Friday Literary
Review, Dell was "one of the most flamboyant, versatile and
influential American Men of Letters of the first third of the 20th
Olson is a 2015-16 ACLS fellow, and
a scholar-in-residence at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Olson’s first book Modernism
and the Ordinary examines a broad range of twentieth-century writers and
how their works present the habitual and unselfconscious actions of everyday
life. Olson is currently working on a book about the literary and cultural
centrality of Chicago in the first half of the twentieth century, Chicago
Renaissance: The Midwest and Modernism (forthcoming, Yale U P). In 2013,
Olson directed a four-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer
Institute, "Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century
Morris, who considers Dell one of
his “heroes,” is the co-founder and managing editor of Fifth Star Press. He is
the author of the novel When Bad Things
Happen to Rich People, and co-editor of The
Little Magazine in America: A Guide.
Sautter is the author or co-author
of ten books, many about Chicago, politics or both. He has researched and
written extensively about Dell.
Vitalist Theatre has been an
independent Chicago concern for 15 years.
The event is free and open to the
public; it is co-sponsored by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, Newberry
Library and Vitalist Theatre.
Reserve tickets to ensure a seat.