Dozens of Chicago writers can now be found standing together, big shoulder to big shoulder, at a new branch of the Chicago Public Library system in Irving Park. In a painted mural, famous faces from the past such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Ernest Hemingway, and Richard Wright loom with equal prominence to more contemporary writers such as Kevin Coval and Eve Ewing.
Local artist Don’t Fret created the mural, drawing from his own literary inspirations as well as a few names that the library suggested. Don’t Fret has created art inspired by Chicago’s lit scene in the past — you can find his giant mural depiction of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” poem in the West Loop. Once you know what to look for, you can also spot his work on walls all over the city, particularly in bars along the Blue Line.
The Independence branch (and the mural) debuted on Jan. 22. The mural can be found in a section of the library called the YouMedia teen space, where young students can play video games while writers such as Shel Silverstein and David Sedaris stare at them. The library also hosts Chicago literary themed events, including at least two separate events focusing on Nelson Algren throughout the Spring. (Algren is, of course, on the wall.)
I had the chance to enter the special YouMedia teen space (while it was teen-less) and take a few photos, which you can see below. Heads up — if you want to see the mural for yourself, you’ll need to ask for special permission.
Following the photos you’ll find a short Q&A I did with the artist over email, along with a full list of all the writers featured in the mural.
CHIRB: The mural mixes both writers from Chicago’s past “renaissance” and the contemporary scene with Eve Ewing and Kevin Coval. Can you talk about the impetus to celebrate the newer faces along with the ones already with a place in the “history” of the city?
Don’t Fret: It seemed important to the project to obviously pay homage to the great history of writers and journalists in Chicago, but given the nature of the library (the wing I painted in is intended for teenagers), it seemed appropriate to reference contemporary writers that kids could relate to, hell, maybe even meet in person. They can’t talk about Instagram with Saul Bellow after all.
You also have a giant mural interpretation of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago.” How have Chicago writers influenced or inspired your desire to create art?
Well, Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” made an impression on me at an early age and has stuck ever since. Growing up in Wicker Park, as a high school student I started learning about Nelson Algren and how his work reflected my neighborhood and its past grittiness, a grittiness I saw the very end of. In college I was a bike messenger and would often hang out at The Billy Goat [on lower Michigan Avenue], where Studs, Mike Royko, Algren, Ebert, would frequent. That’s how I started to learn about their work and it began to influence my thoughts on Chicago and making work in Chicago.
Will people be able to see your work in the upcoming third/last season of “Easy?” [Note: Don’t Fret designed logos for a brewery in the Chicago-based Netflix show “Easy”]
No spoilers. haha.
Anything else you want to add?
I hope the mural engages with kids and maybe exposes them to authors past and present that I wish I had had the opportunity to engage with when I was that age.
The full list of names on the wall:
Top Row, Left to Right:
Eugene Field Sr.
Bud Billiken (Willard Motley)
Frank Marshall Davis
Henry Blake Fuller
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Bottom Row, Left to Right:
Ida B. Wells