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Jane Hamilton Childhood Home

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Photograph by Floyd Sullivan

226 S. Scoville, Oak Park, IL

Best-selling author Jane Hamilton, who was born at West Suburban Hospital on July 13, 1957, grew up in this house in Oak Park. She attended Hawthorne Elementary School (now Percy Julian) and Oak Park and River Forest High School (Class of 1975) where she worked on the school's literary magazine, Crest. Her seven novels are: The Book of Ruth (1989), The Short History of a Prince (1999), A Map of the World (1999), Disobedience (2001), When Madeline Was Young (2007), Laura Rider’s Masterpiece (2009) and The Excellent Lombards (2016).

Hamilton grew up in a family in which both her mother and grandmother were writers, and this house was filled with books. Ruth Hamilton wrote poems, including “A Song for The Fifth Child” published in The Ladies Home Journal in 1957.  It later become the text for a needle point kit, gracing nurseries across the land. She also interviewed actors, directors, costume artists—anyone having to do with the theater.  The interviews were published in the Chicago Daily News for years.  Emma Kidd Hulburt, Hamilton’s grandmother, was a journalist involved in the temperance movement and women’s suffrage. She retired to the Baptist Home in Maywood in order to write novels. Hamilton said, “If you were a girl child, I thought you were supposed to be a writer.”

Hamilton was the fifth child in the title of her mother’s poem.  During the course of her childhood she lived in nearly all the bedrooms, and after the older siblings were out of the house, she moved around, taking advantage of the real estate. It sounds wildly improbable now, but she and her sisters slept upstairs in what was a screened-in back porch not only in the summer, but also sometimes in the winter, with hats and coats and in sleeping bags.  “It was an adventure,” Hamilton said.

Scoville was, according to Hamilton, “a fantastic block filled with children in those days; the Catholic moms had 10, 12, 13 children. Kids were running around barefoot. It was idyllic. I had a happy childhood.” Hamilton recalls leaving the house summer mornings and returning home mostly at meal times, for which she was summoned by a dinner bell that had been part of her mother’s Oak Park childhood and was eventually passed along to Jane’s sister. When the street lights blinked on, Hamilton had to go back inside for the evening. “There was always a basketball game going on somewhere. The whole world was contained in that one block: the beautiful, the homely, the impaired, the strong, the rich and the poor, the whole human spectrum was there. It was a very rich environment.”

All along, Hamilton wrote, starting with a first-grade story called The Heather in the Wind. She wrote stories and poems from her childhood through high school, and spent much time at the Oak Park Public Library, where Dyliss Finch, the children’s librarian, replete with gray bun and glasses, supported her reading addiction. “There was a wonderful spirit in that children’s room,” Hamilton says. “I remember her opening a box of books that just came in with her pen knife, and handing me one and saying, ‘I got this one for you.’  ” Jeanne Westerhoff, an Oak Park public schools librarian, and Barbara D’Asaro, an English teacher at Hawthorne School, were among the other women who influenced Hamilton in those formative years. In eighth grade, Hamilton was on the editorial board of a literary journal called Windfall, and then she published poems and worked on the staff of the high school’s literary magazine, Crest.

Hamilton attended Oak Park and River Forest High School at or around the time of other notable alumni, like: Dan Castellaneta (born Oct. 29, 1957), best known as the voice of Homer Simpson; Steppenwolf Theatre actress Amy Morton (Jan. 1, 1958); comedian Kathy Griffin (Nov. 4, 1960); and Scarface actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Nov. 17, 1958).

“I do think that Oak Park then and now is a community that values art and literature, perhaps more than other communities,” Hamilton says. “Probably because it has that reputation, it continues to draw people of that sensibility.”

Hamilton was very aware of Oak Park’s tradition for excellence in the arts. “I was very aware of Hemingway,” she said. “I felt a certain pride that I was from a place that had nurtured that great master; then later, Carol Shields, I was even prouder to be part of that tradition.”

Frank Lloyd Wright was also part of that tradition. “You walk down the street and there are all those great Frank Lloyd Wright houses,” she said. “The landscape is creating you.”

Like Hemingway and Shields before her, Hamilton’s residence in Oak Park essentially ended when she went off to college. But the influence of the village remained. “I wouldn’t have called myself a writer, didn’t think of that title, at least not out loud, until I went to [Carleton] College,” she said. It was that summer between high school and college when Hamilton wrote a story based on the Whole Food and Grain Depot on Westgate, next to what was then the women’s clothing store Stevens. It was a health food store owned and managed by two women, and Hamilton worked there in high school.

Hamilton now lives, works, and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's magazine. Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, won the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel and was a selection of the Oprah Book Club. A Map of the World, was an international bestseller.

Visit her website: http://www.janehamiltonbooks.com

Best-selling author Jane Hamilton, who was born at West Suburban Hospital on July 13, 1957, grew up in this house in Oak Park. She attended Hawthorne Elementary School (now Percy Julian) and Oak Park and River Forest High School (Class of 1975) where she worked on the school's literary magazine, Crest. Her seven novels are: The Book of Ruth (1989), The Short History of a Prince (1999), A Map of the World (1999), Disobedience (2001), When Madeline Was Young (2007), Laura Rider’s Masterpiece (2009) and The Excellent Lombards (2016).

Hamilton grew up in a family in which both her mother and grandmother were writers, and this house was filled with books. Ruth Hamilton wrote poems, including “A Song for The Fifth Child” published in The Ladies Home Journal in 1957.  It later become the text for a needle point kit, gracing nurseries across the land. She also interviewed actors, directors, costume artists—anyone having to do with the theater.  The interviews were published in the Chicago Daily News for years.  Emma Kidd Hulburt, Hamilton’s grandmother, was a journalist involved in the temperance movement and women’s suffrage. She retired to the Baptist Home in Maywood in order to write novels. Hamilton said, “If you were a girl child, I thought you were supposed to be a writer.”

Hamilton was the fifth child in the title of her mother’s poem.  During the course of her childhood she lived in nearly all the bedrooms, and after the older siblings were out of the house, she moved around, taking advantage of the real estate. It sounds wildly improbable now, but she and her sisters slept upstairs in what was a screened-in back porch not only in the summer, but also sometimes in the winter, with hats and coats and in sleeping bags.  “It was an adventure,” Hamilton said.

Scoville was, according to Hamilton, “a fantastic block filled with children in those days; the Catholic moms had 10, 12, 13 children. Kids were running around barefoot. It was idyllic. I had a happy childhood.” Hamilton recalls leaving the house summer mornings and returning home mostly at meal times, for which she was summoned by a dinner bell that had been part of her mother’s Oak Park childhood and was eventually passed along to Jane’s sister. When the street lights blinked on, Hamilton had to go back inside for the evening. “There was always a basketball game going on somewhere. The whole world was contained in that one block: the beautiful, the homely, the impaired, the strong, the rich and the poor, the whole human spectrum was there. It was a very rich environment.”

All along, Hamilton wrote, starting with a first-grade story called The Heather in the Wind. She wrote stories and poems from her childhood through high school, and spent much time at the Oak Park Public Library, where Dyliss Finch, the children’s librarian, replete with gray bun and glasses, supported her reading addiction. “There was a wonderful spirit in that children’s room,” Hamilton says. “I remember her opening a box of books that just came in with her pen knife, and handing me one and saying, ‘I got this one for you.’  ” Jeanne Westerhoff, an Oak Park public schools librarian, and Barbara D’Asaro, an English teacher at Hawthorne School, were among the other women who influenced Hamilton in those formative years. In eighth grade, Hamilton was on the editorial board of a literary journal called Windfall, and then she published poems and worked on the staff of the high school’s literary magazine, Crest.

Hamilton attended Oak Park and River Forest High School at or around the time of other notable alumni, like: Dan Castellaneta (born Oct. 29, 1957), best known as the voice of Homer Simpson; Steppenwolf Theatre actress Amy Morton (Jan. 1, 1958); comedian Kathy Griffin (Nov. 4, 1960); and Scarface actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Nov. 17, 1958).

“I do think that Oak Park then and now is a community that values art and literature, perhaps more than other communities,” Hamilton says. “Probably because it has that reputation, it continues to draw people of that sensibility.”

Hamilton was very aware of Oak Park’s tradition for excellence in the arts. “I was very aware of Hemingway,” she said. “I felt a certain pride that I was from a place that had nurtured that great master; then later, Carol Shields, I was even prouder to be part of that tradition.”

Frank Lloyd Wright was also part of that tradition. “You walk down the street and there are all those great Frank Lloyd Wright houses,” she said. “The landscape is creating you.”

Like Hemingway and Shields before her, Hamilton’s residence in Oak Park essentially ended when she went off to college. But the influence of the village remained. “I wouldn’t have called myself a writer, didn’t think of that title, at least not out loud, until I went to [Carleton] College,” she said. It was that summer between high school and college when Hamilton wrote a story based on the Whole Food and Grain Depot on Westgate, next to what was then the women’s clothing store Stevens. It was a health food store owned and managed by two women, and Hamilton worked there in high school.

Hamilton now lives, works, and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's magazine. Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, won the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel and was a selection of the Oprah Book Club. A Map of the World, was an international bestseller.

Visit her website: http://www.janehamiltonbooks.com

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