Recently, in developing a community history Web site about my hometown of
Lincoln, Illinois, I discovered information that suggests teachers can
effectively include published creative writing and memoir by authors in a
particular community as part of the English curriculum. This article first
offers a brief rationale for teaching community-related literature and
describes the project that led to my interest in the literature of Lincoln,
Illinois--the first namesake town of Abraham Lincoln. Then, as a case study
in this kind of literature, the article surveys the published poets and
authors associated with Lincoln, Illinois. The article also discusses the
content and themes of the most significant works that explicitly draw upon
this community. This discussion considers how these works relate to the
history of American literature and how they could be used in the English
curriculum. Last, I suggest ways to find local literature.
Teaching Community-Related Literature
Community-related literature can supplement almost any approach to the
teaching of literature and composition. This kind of literature is
especially appropriate for thematic units on identity and literary movements
relating to social and psychological realism in American literature. Many
students would naturally be curious about literature whose subject matter
refers to local places, people, and events. Students could be engaged by
discussing how their own lives do or do not relate to the experiences and
points of view expressed in literature relating to the local community.
Students could also be asked whether community-related literature reflects
the views of literary critics about the literature of place. For example,
James Hurt cites James Cox's assertion that Midwestern writers tend to show
"estrangement from flat landscapes, town, and society on which they looked"
(Writing Illinois 2). Hurt notes that Cox's observation mainly
relates to middle-class writers and that "marginalized voices" sometimes
echo this "estrangement," but other times express "affirmation and even
celebration" (2). In the work of some Midwestern writers, the theme of
estrangement takes the form of social criticism. Robert Bray observes that
from 1880 to 1930, "two generations of writers were angry about the 'village
virus' and encouraged a wholesale 'revolt from the village'" (Rediscoveries
52). Bray further comments that, except for the fictionalized communities
portrayed in Spoon River Anthology, "The country towns of downstate
Illinois mostly escaped the critical attacks of the antivillage writers.
This was not due to any chauvinistic feeling that Illinois's towns were
superior, but to the historical accident that no first-rate novelists
happened to be concentrating on rural Illinois (they were all busy
dramatizing Chicago) . . . " (53).
The present article shows that an abundance of literature relates to
Lincoln, Illinois. This literature affords a generous sampling of downstate
Illinois literary works to test whether they reflect the themes observed by
literary critics. Next I explain how I became interested in local-community
The Context for
My Discovery of Literature Treating Lincoln, Illinois
Early in 2002, I began to research the history of my hometown as preparation
for developing an educational, book-length Web site history of that
community. This research led me to collect and read the works of William
Maxwell based on Lincoln. I had known he wrote about this place, but I had
never read him. I also discovered other published creative writing
associated with this town.
The Web site project has been part of my work as a member of the English
faculty at Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU), Missouri's
second-largest public university. The central mission of SMSU is public
affairs, and the University encourages students and faculty to help define
this mission. One of the objectives of this public affairs mission is
promoting public service, and I created the community history Web site about
Lincoln as a "distance" public service. Specifically, the purpose of this
Web site is to educate viewers about this community as a way to increase
interest in it, to foster civic pride, and to promote heritage tourism. On
July 4, 2003, I launched Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of
Lincoln, Illinois. Since then, I have expanded this site, and presently
it has the equivalent of more than 1,000 printed pages and more than 1,200
images (published and original photos, maps, and vintage picture postcards).
In the spring of 2004, the Illinois State Historical Society honored Mr.
Lincoln with its "Best Web Site of the Year" award (refereed
competition). The use of local-community literature in Mr. Lincoln
greatly strengthens its content and educational purpose, for some of this
literature portrays social history and some of it offers social criticism.
Published Writers and Poets Associated with Lincoln, Illinois
Two famous writers had lived in Lincoln but did not make it a major subject
of their writing: Poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and Theologian Reinhold
Niebhur (1892-1971). Hughes, arguably one of the most significant American
poets of the twentieth century, stated that "I can never forget Lincoln,
Illinois, because in a sense my writing career began there in the eighth
grade when I was elected class poet" (letter to Ethel F. Welch). Niebuhr,
the author of the "Serenity Prayer" (published in 1951), grew up in Lincoln.
His major works are Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) and The
Nature and Destiny of Man (1943). Life magazine named Niebuhr to
its 100 most important Americans of the twentieth century, and he received
the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.
The best-known writer from Lincoln who wrote about it is William Maxwell
(1908-2000). He was born in Lincoln and lived there until 1923, when his
father and stepmother moved to Chicago. After graduating from the University
of Illinois and Harvard University, Maxwell returned to the University of
Illinois for a year to teach English, but decided against an academic
career. By 1936 he had moved to New York, where he began dual careers in
creative writing and in editing fiction at The New Yorker magazine.
He worked with several major authors, including Brodkey, Cheever, Nabokov,
O'Connor, O'Hara, Updike, and Welty. His own publications consist of more
than forty short stories, a family history, a work of literary criticism,
and six novels. Maxwell used Lincoln-related personal experience in several
of his books and eleven of his short stories. His best-known work is So
Long, See You Tomorrow (1980), a novel about a murder and suicide in
rural Lincoln of the early 1920s.
Other authors I discovered who wrote about the town of Lincoln are William
Childress (a professional poet and writer), Robert Wilson (an editor), Lee
Gurga (a dentist), and James Knecht (an Illinois Appellate Court Justice).
Award-winning Poet Lee Gurga, a native of the Chicago area, has for several
years lived in or near Lincoln. Restricting himself to Haiku, he draws upon
the nature of central Illinois for its universality, so his work does not
treat the history and society of Lincoln. Wilson, Childress, and Knecht
wrote about Lincoln, Illinois, and I discuss their works below.
I also discovered several memoirists who wrote about the Lincoln, Illinois,
area. One is acclaimed Sportswriter David Kindred, a native of Atlanta,
Illinois. In 1982 he published a memoir of his grandmother at the time of
her passing. She had run the West Side Tavern on Sangamon Street in Lincoln
during the 1940s and 1950s, and Kindred had spent summers with her in
Lincoln so he could play Pony League baseball. Kindred's memoir first
appeared in the Washington Post, then in the Bloomington
Pantagraph. With Mr. Kindred's permission, I published his memoir in
Mr. Lincoln on a special page. Later, I cite other sources of memoir
relating to Lincoln and Logan County. Also, in developing the Lincoln Web
site, I used some of my own recollections about growing up there.
In "Dream Deferred," Journalist Maureen McKinney laments the city of
Lincoln's neglect of its authors. She notes the signs along old Route 66 on
the outskirts of town announce the community's service organizations and
schools' championship sports teams; but no signs proclaim the community's
association with Hughes, Maxwell, Niebuhr, or Gurga. In response to
McKinney's lament, in addition to using Lincoln's community-related
literature throughout the Lincoln Web site, I state the town's literary
connections prominently under the nameplate on the introductory page
(formerly the homepage). The signs on old Route 66 do not identify the
town's famous writers, but the introductory page announcement that does so
is like a billboard on the "information super highway." Next, I discuss how
these poets and writers have treated Lincoln, Illinois.
Lincoln, Illinois, Expressed in Literature
This section discusses the range of subject matter and theme in the
literature of Lincoln, Illinois, from the twentieth century. I begin with
the two authors who published the greatest amount of work about this town:
William Maxwell and Robert Wilson. I then discuss William Childress and
William Maxwell's treatment of Lincoln, Illinois (Draperville/Elmsville),
could be used in teaching psychological and social realism, but a full
discussion of Maxwell's use of realism is beyond the scope of this essay.
Presently I am seeking a publisher for my article titled "Social
Consciousness in William Maxwell's Writings Based on Lincoln, Illinois."
There, I explain that Maxwell's characters represent the full range of
social classes in early twentieth-century Lincoln and that his treatment of
Midwestern small-town life is richer than corresponding portrayals seen in
Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis.
Below, I briefly identify types of Maxwell's characters whose lives are
representative of people living in small Midwestern towns. Maxwell's
characters derive from the people he knew best: his extended Lincoln family,
servants, neighbors, and ultimately himself. In fact, his most complex use
of psychological realism appears in authorial personas seen in many works
relating to Lincoln, Illinois, spanning nearly sixty years of his literary
Maxwell's short stories present an abundance of benevolent figures. An
example is Miss Vera Brown, a popular fifth-grade teacher, whose death
devastates her male students ("Love" in All the Days and Nights
245-248). Another example is Mr. Danforth, the venerable horse veterinarian
whose advice is quietly sought by many townspeople (Time Will Darken It).
A third example is Lincoln College biology Professor Chris Oglevee, who ably
mentors the Cub Scout troop of the First Presbyterian Church ("With
Reference to an Incident at a Bridge" [For Eudora Welty] in All the Days
and Nights 265-269).
Other characters are less pleasant, even domineering (including his father)
and sometimes eccentric. One of the eccentrics is his religion-obsessed
Grandmother Maxwell, who selfishly convinced her son to let her raise his
five-year-old son, Blinn, when Mr. Maxwell moved his family to Chicago (Ancestors
288) and who "never stopped talking about immersion, or thinking about it.
She kept track of who was and who wasn't. She had the makings of an
evangelist" (Ancestors 144). Another less-than-sympathetic character
is Mrs. Sinclair, owner and manager of the town's newspaper, the Evening
Star ("What Every Boy Should Know" in All the Days and Nights
67-83). Rather than implementing a policy to suspend delivery to customers
delinquent in payment, she compels paperboys to turn in money to pay for
each paper, thus making them extend credit to customers. The paperboys
strike, but she bullies them to return, berating them individually. When
Eddie Gellert (fictional counterpart of the author) parks his new bicycle on
the curb in front of the newspaper building and a driver runs over it, Eddie
cries, but she tactlessly tells him, "You're not supposed to leave your
wheels in front of the building" (All the Days and Nights 81). A
third example of an unsympathetic character is Mrs. Pearl M. Donald, the
wife of the popular horse veterinarian: "for many years my mother's best
friend and our next-door neighbor, a beautiful woman with a knife-edge to
her voice and a grievance against her husband (What? What on earth could it
have been? Everybody loved him.)" ("A Final Report" in All the Days and
Maxwell does not usually treat unsympathetic characters harshly. He
explains, "I am aware that Sherwood Anderson writing about a similar though
smaller place saw it quite differently. I believe in Winesburg, Ohio, but I
also believe in what I remember" (Ancestors 190). In a remembrance of
Maxwell, John Updike notes that Maxwell's "disapproval sought no stronger
terms than 'small-minded' . . .[;] he had a gift for affection" ("Maxwell's
Touch" 29). Biographer Barbara Burkhardt praises Maxwell for his "power of
restraint" (William Maxwell 249), his "wise and empathetic approach
to human experience" (251).
The following passage from "The Value of Money" captures Maxwell's attitude
toward middle-class Lincolnites:
From the Franklins', they [the autobiographical main character and his
father] drove downtown again, to join Helen's family in the cafeteria of the
New Draperville Hotel [Hotel Lincoln on Pulaski Street]. With several drinks
under his belt, Edward [the main character] looked around the noisy dining
room. The faces he saw were full of character, as small-town faces tend to
be, he thought, and lined with humor, and time had dealt gently with them.
By virtue of having been born in this totally unremarkable place and of
having lived out their lives here, they had something people elsewhere did
not have . . . . This opinion every person in the room agreed with, he knew,
and no doubt it had been put into his mind when he was a child. For it was
something that he never failed to be struck by -- those sweeping statements
in praise of Draperville [Lincoln] that were almost an article of religious
faith. (All the Days and Nights 183)
Teachers could use Maxwell's "Lincoln" characterizations as counterpoint to
such harsh psychological realism as that seen in Sherwood Anderson's
Two of Maxwell's later works feature key roles for their author-narrator
personas: So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980) and "The Front and Back
Parts of the House" (1991). These personas reflect the author's
strong interest in social and psychological realism. In So Long, the
narrator closely corresponds to Maxwell (Burkhardt 206), whose personal
experience frames the main story of adultery, murder, and suicide in rural
Lincoln of the early 1920s. Maxwell convincingly describes the tedious,
exhausting farm life that first bonds neighboring tenant farmers Lloyd
Wilson and Clarence Smith as friends who help one another with difficult
farming tasks. Lloyd Wilson and Smith's wife, Fern, however, are
disillusioned with their marriages and become lovers. Fern Smith divorces
her husband, and the court ironically gives the adulteress custody of the
children and a large settlement. Despondent, Clarence Smith kills Lloyd
Wilson and then commits suicide. Maxwell and the murderer's son, Cletus,
were playmates, and So Long skillfully blends the author-narrator's
memoir of this friendship with the domestic tragedy. So Long earned
the American Book Award and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of
Arts and Letters. "The Front and Back Parts of the House" explores
the intertwining social and psychological factors between the author and one
of the black servants who had worked for his parents. Specifically, the
author-narrator comes to realize his own prior insensitivity toward the
black servant and her husband.
Robert Wilson (1928-1983) was born in Lincoln and lived there until
early adulthood. After being discharged from the Army in 1954, he lived in
Hyde Park, earned a master's in sociology from Roosevelt University, and
edited trade publications in the Chicago area. After losing his job and
divorcing, he returned to live in Lincoln in the 1970s, where he wrote and
taught part time at Lincoln College. In 1975, he published Young in
Illinois as a special 112-page issue of December magazine, a
leading independent American literary journal of the twentieth century. I
discovered Wilson when I bought a copy of Young in Illinois on eBay
in 2003. Wilson was also the movie critic for December, and he
co-edited scholarly works titled The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson
(1971) and The Otis Ferguson Reader (1982). Publisher Curt Johnson
describes Reader as "the only December Press book to get reviewed all
over--The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper's,
The Village Voice, Downbeat--and favorably, and the only book in
25 years to make a nickel for the Press" (Green Isle in the Sea 264).
Young in Illinois develops the theme of small-town youth attracted to
Chicago, a theme earlier seen in such writers as Hamlin Garland (Rose of
Dutcher's Coolly 1895), Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie 1900),
and Carl Sandburg (Chicago Poems 1916). Yet Young in Illinois
extends the theme by showing its autobiographical persona returning to his
small hometown after suffering the devastation of job loss and divorce in
the big city. Several selections in Young in Illinois treat problems
of growing up. The first two selections are short stories showing young
characters struggling for peer acceptance.
The first selection is a short story titled "Winner's Take" (1956), set in
the 1930s. Twelve-year-old Jack lives near the rough coal-miners'
neighborhood of north Elmsville (Wilson adopts Maxwell's fictional name for
Lincoln) and struggles for peer approval. Trying to impress the older Mike
and Roy, Jack beats the younger Finch in a fistfight, but fails to impress
the older boys. In the end, Jack is alone and tearful with remorse.
"Young in Illinois" (1954), a short story, is the second selection. Set in
the 1940s, it shows high school sophomore and junior boys playing basketball
on the playground of St. Mary's Catholic Grade School in Lincoln. Sophomores
George and Paul (the author-persona) are friends as the story opens. Then,
varsity star Ed, a junior, insults George with hints at the promiscuity of
George's girlfriend; and Paul becomes angry with George for failing to
defend himself and the girl against the bully. As Paul and George scrimmage
on opposite teams, they compete fiercely, lose their tempers, and play
rougher and rougher. Finally, George knocks Paul to the pavement. Getting to
his feet, shaken and bleeding, Paul hesitates, then says with dramatic
tough-guy understatement, "You fouled me. . . . "It's my out" (40). Readers
are left wondering what effect this experience will have on the characters'
"The World Outside Illinois" (1965) is a memoir of the author's life in
Chicago as a young man becoming involved in a worldly urban lifestyle. The
central scene is in a bar where the girlfriend of a wealthy, irresponsible
male friend is a stripper.
"Life and Art in the Thirties" (for William Maxwell) (1972) is a memoir of
childhood in the coal-mining area of north Lincoln, Illinois, during the
Depression. The author describes the bleak lives of children who, like their
parents, grew old at thirty because of the hard work. Some men followed
their alcoholic fathers into abusive relationships and early death. Children
escaped the unpleasantness of life by listening to the radio and by going to
the three movie theaters: "In the dreamlike, violent world of childhood we
looked to the movie screen for an opening into the future. The kid who had
been knocked down by his father could find in Cagney the possibilities of a
tough, jaunty grace at thirty and not a mean-spirited alcoholism" (77). The
essay includes brief, endearing portraits of his parents and grandfather.
"Chicago" (1975) is a memoir of living and working in Chicago, including the
unreasonable demands of the author's job as editor, bouts with depression,
losing his job, divorcing, and returning to Lincoln to write. Then, he
observed, "The years have been kind to Lincoln" (111).
Robert Wilson had written William Maxwell to tell him about Young in
Illinois, and they occasionally corresponded until Wilson's death in
1983. Wilson's only child, Sue Young Wilson, formerly an editor of Lingua
Franca and now a freelance writer and editor in New York, provided me
with copies of Maxwell's letters to her father, and Maxwell's first letter
(October 31, 1977) says in part:
Wilson: Why on earth did you wait so long to make yourself known to me? I
don't know whether, as an editor, I could have been of use to you but I
would certainly have wanted to. I like your book very much indeed, and am
proud to find my name in it. It is the real thing. And very moving. And so
well written. I particularly admire the trick of offering facts that would
stop a clock in such an offhand way that they cannot fail to make the effect
you intended them to make . . . .
particularly struck by "In a prairie town there is only one season--a season
to be young, to play football or basketball, to fall in love and marry. This
season must warm you each day of your life as the past inevitably recedes
into dim memories and the pictures in a class album." My bones tell me that
this is correct, and surely all you would need for a novel.
The theme expressed in the passage quoted by Maxwell suggests the relevance
of Wilson's material to the English curriculum.
Wilson's colleague, Curt Johnson, editor/publisher of December
magazine and December Press, experienced the appeal of using Young
in Illinois in the classroom:
Illinois is a beautiful book, steeped in bittersweet nostalgia,
beautifully written. I once had to give a talk to high school student
writers in Crete-Monee and asked them to read an essay from his book, "Life
and Art in the Thirties," as preparation. These writers were born at least
25 years after the time Bob spoke of in his essay, but so evocative and
skillful was his prose that when we discussed it they told me--at
length about all the many good things the essay had and did. (Green Isle
in the Sea 263)
Curt Johnson's experience testifies to the ability of Wilson's material to
bridge generations. Mr. Johnson has given me permission to include "Young in
Illinois" and "Life and Art in the Thirties" on a Web page that I have
created as a tribute to Robert Wilson (letter to author). Sue Young Wilson
has provided much information about her father for use on that page, a major
addition to the Lincoln Web site.
William Childress published a poem titled "Lincoln, Illinois (Circa 1970)"
in West Coast Poetry (1971). This poem came to my attention during a
phone conversation I had with my Aunt Mary (May) Wilson in Lincoln in the
fall of 2002 when I told her about my Lincoln history Web site project. She
sent me a copy of Childress's poem, which she had found among her mother's
papers. My aunt knew nothing about the poet or the circumstances that led to
the poem. It is an exposť of the narrow mindedness, smugness, and social
problems he had experienced or observed there, including the scandal of
sexual disease among high school students and the racial prejudice of some
Curious to know about the source of this poem, I used the Internet to locate
Childress's e-mail address and began corresponding with him. I discovered
that he had retired in 1997 as a columnist for the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch and that he had published Out of the Ozarks, a
popular collection of some of his columns about living in rural southwest
Missouri. Early in his career he had taught journalism at Lincoln College
one year (1969-1970), and his "Lincoln" poem stemmed from disappointment in
living there: "As a writer and poet, I brought a keen eye to the study of
people and their hypocrisies, and soon grew disillusioned with Lincoln
society" (E-mail to author). Childress's poem cites experiences that led to
his disillusionment, for example: "The woman in the camera shop is a bigot,
saying: I WISH THIS TOWN WERE NOT NAMED / LINCOLN. / WHAT DID LINCOLN EVER
DO / BUT FREE THE GODDAMN NIGGERS?" Mr. Childress gave me permission to use
this poem in my Lincoln Web site, and it appears at "Introduction to the
Social and Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois."
Mr. Childress's poem could be used in the English curriculum as an example
of the "village virus" theme seen in the work of Edgar Lee Masters and
Sinclair Lewis. Of course, using literature criticizing the local community
can be controversial. Thus, other local literature could be used to show a
balanced perspective. On the Web page presenting Childress's poem about
Lincoln, Illinois, I use brief memoir of other Lincolnites to show that some
were racially tolerant. For example, the memoir of Pete Andrews tells how
his restaurant was one of the first businesses in Lincoln to welcome black
customers. Andrews and his partner, Tony Rufogales, were Greek immigrants
sympathetic to "outsiders," so they moved their African-American customer
Lee Townsend, a janitor, from the back room to the front of the lunch
counter. Andrews recalls, "It didn't go good with a couple of guys. They
threw one of those old-time coffee mugs and almost took his head off. We
continued that practice. Some people didn't like it, but most people
accepted it" ("From Greece to America" 5).
James A. Knecht
James Knecht is a native of Lincoln, a 1968 graduate of Illinois State
University with an English major, and presently a Justice of the Illinois
Appellate Court (office in Bloomington). He had been raised by a
single-parent mother in an apartment above a tavern on Sangamon Street in
the business district of Lincoln. Judge Knecht, who had sent me the Kindred
story cited earlier, composed some memoir specifically for the Lincoln
history Web site to help me offset Childress's criticism (see
"Introduction to the Social and Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois").
Judge Knecht later sent me his short story, "Other People's Money,"
originally published in the Southern Indiana Review.
The setting of this story is Hickey's Billiards, located in downtown Lincoln
on Chicago Street in the early 1960s. In the story, a local gambler wants to
send a city slicker back to Peoria with a "thinner wallet," but is too drunk
to take his money at billiards. The local gambler hires the young
autobiographical pool player to do it. In the decisive game, the local
gambler scolds his young hire for taking risky shots (but successful ones).
Quietly angry at this ingratitude, the young player sets up the table so his
opponent can win, but does it with such skill that his "stakehorse" (Knecht's
term for the backer) does not suspect the game has been thrown.
With permission from Judge Knecht and the Southern Indiana Review, I
re-published his story on a page in Mr. Lincoln titled "The Honorable
James A. 'Jim' Knecht: Memoir and Short Story Set in Lincoln, Illinois."
This page includes period photos of Hickey's Billiards and the apartment
building that was home to the Knechts. Also on this page is Judge Knecht's
account of how growing up in Lincoln's business district led to his interest
in a legal career and influenced his work on the bench.
Other Sources of
Memoir About Lincoln, Illinois
As a literary genre, memoir encompasses diverse experiences and
perspectives, broadening the scope of material that an English teacher can
draw upon to teach literature and composition. Memoir may be found in
published histories of local communities and counties. For example, much
memoir of residents of the Lincoln area is found in Paul Beaver's History
of Logan County 1982 and Nancy Lawrence Gehlbach's newsletter titled
Our Times, and these publications are in the Lincoln Public Library.
Memoirists in Beaver's book recall life from the 1910s through the 1970s.
Those cited in Gehlbach's work reflect on such various historical topics as
farm life, factories, outdoor recreation, movie theaters, other businesses,
schools, hospitals, and other well-known local institutions. In addition,
local citizens may be asked to write memoir. To help develop the Lincoln Web
site, I used e-mail to solicit memoir from more than two dozen
mid-twentieth-century alumni of Lincoln Community High School scattered
across the nation, and this collective memoir adds a great deal to the
This essay suggests that creative writing and memoir of local authors can be
a rich resource for the English curriculum. The following classroom
experience supports this view.
In April, 2004, James Knecht e-mailed me that Judy (Malerich) Cortelloni,
one of his Lincoln Community High School classmates, had e-mailed him to say
she had used the online version of his story in one of her courses at
Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois. Ms. Cortelloni, who earned a master's
in English from Illinois State, responded to my request for information
about her use of this story (quoted here with her permission):
When I am
teaching ENG 102, which is the second part of freshman composition, I like
to introduce a segment of reading and critical thinking with the
documentation of MLA. However, many of todayís students are not that
familiar with even the basic readings of the classics or even good short
stories. Literature offers so much about life experiences for every student,
so I refuse to completely abandon it and only teach argument.
for the big paper, we begin by reading and discussing several stories
together in groups and finally share as a class. With the diversity of
students, sometimes it is difficult to find stories to which they can all
relate. Some stories in anthologies are either beyond their experiences or
not relevant to their lives. After encouraging them to complete more than a
single reading, we analyze the story using New Critical methods to
familiarize the students with terminology and structure. They are encouraged
to write a response to the story. These usually fall under reader responses
in which they recall similar experiences from their own lives.
Money" was a perfect subject for this introduction. The story appeals to all
the students in my classes. Many students who have seemed resistant really
like the conflict. They argued over fifty minutes and kept finding more
meanings for the text. [Three] of the initial student written responses
[were]:  "I got a feeling of how the power of money influenced the game
of pool. I learned how it feels to play the game."  "I liked how he kept
winning all the money, and on the last game, he lost. Thatís how life really
is. We canít always be perfect. This story shows us that."  "This story
was easy to follow. Pool is a common activity in my generation. I found the
story interesting because of the way the characters played."
After we spent
more time discussing the story, the students focused on how the
protagonistís losing is not important once he gives the money away. They
felt that this demonstrated a moral code that was more important than
winning. Some of the athletes termed it "for the love of the game." Since
todayís students always want points or some reward for their work, I found
it pleasantly surprising that they were able to think in higher terms. Maybe
someday they will actually complete assignments without wondering what the
payoff will be. I think reading this short story brought them a little
closer to that day. (E-mail to author)
When Judge Knecht wrote to tell me of Ms. Cortelloni's use of his story, his
language implied that he may be thinking about a second career as a creative
Cortelloni teaches literature at Lincoln College--she read my story and the
web page and more of your site as well and wrote me a few e-mails--just this
morning she told me she had her students read my story online and then
discuss in class--with a little detail about how they related to the
story--I think she was interested in the story because she thought young
men--with no particular interest in literary analysis, would nonetheless be
drawn to the story and the protagonist--she then wrote what every writer is
thirsty for--the boys/men asked if he (the writer) had any more stories like
that--here it is Saturday morning and there are three girls sleeping in the
family room on the floor--granddaughter and friends, and my grandson running
around the house and my wife is on the cell phone to her sister in Florida
giving her the address of your site and I am lusting for pen and paper and
rough drafts in my office so I can give them more stories. (E-mail to
The population of Lincoln, Illinois, has never exceeded 19,000; and for its
size this community has been the subject of an extraordinary amount of
literature. Yet creative writers have probably treated many other
communities; and as the current article suggests, this kind of literature
can usefully supplement the English curriculum.
Let me offer a couple of suggestions about finding the literature of local
writers. Sometimes newspapers as well as books of community and county
history include memoir and poetry written by native citizens, and sometimes
small presses publish local authors and poets. These publications often find
their way to local public libraries, the libraries of nearby colleges and
universities, and the offices and museums of local historical and
genealogical societies. The published work of locals is typically little
known or obscure, so teachers and students will need to enlist the help of
librarians to discover writers' names and titles of works. Vertical files
often contain buried literary curiosities.
By actually going to libraries and librarians, students will realize this
activity can be an essential step in the research process. Library research
is necessary to get the kinds of information that can then be used for
keywords to search online indexes and such online used booksellers as
Abebooks.com. Searching Google or Yahoo! could also lead to interesting
information unavailable anywhere else.
Students could be assigned to ask family members for names of local authors
or poets (and some relatives may even be willing to compose memoir for young
readers). Many communities have writers' clubs, and some of their members
may be published. Students would find it useful to interview local writers
for insight on how place can influence writing. Local writers might also
share work in progress or agree to speak to classes. Having students
research, discuss, and write about literature from local areas offers fresh
opportunities to increase connections between students and literature and
between schools and communities.
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Letter to Ethel F. Welch. Lincoln Evening Courier 31 August 1953: 9.
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Letter to author. 11 October 2003.
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and Curt Johnson, eds. Green Isle in the Sea: An Informal History of the
Alternative Press, 1960-85. Chicago: December Press, 1986.
Ancestors: A Family History. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.
---. All the
Days and Nights: The Collected Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
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Robert Wilson. 31 October 1977.
Long, See You Tomorrow. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.
---. Time Will
Darken It. New York: Vintage Books, 1948.
F. "Dream Deferred." Illinois Issues Online. 2001. 15 December 2003.
Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932.
Nature and Destiny of Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943.
Chicago Poems. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992.
Updike, John. "Postcript:
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Darold Leigh Henson received bachelor's (1964), master's (1969), and
doctoral (1982) degrees in English from Illinois State University. He taught
English at Pekin Community High School for thirty years (1964-1994) before
going to teach technical writing at Southwest Missouri State University,
where he is an associate professor of English.
Note: since this article was published, Darold Leigh Henson was
promoted to professor of English. Also, on August 28, 2005, Southwest
Missouri State University's name changed to Missouri State University.
Henson has published refereed articles in
several areas of English studies: the theory, practice, and pedagogy of
technical communication; rhetoric and composition; the pedagogy of
literature; and twentieth-century American literature.
The Illinois Association of Teachers of English (IATE) has more than 1,000
members: mostly they are faculty at the elementary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary
levels. Please visit the Web site of the IATE at
The address of the Web site of the Department of English at Illinois State