Photo: Don Seely
Written by: Lilac Burrell
A spacious black-walled theatre room held cold, white LED lights that backdropped visitors in the City Lit Theater on Bryn Mawr Ave. The ethnically and generationally diverse attendees joined the 13th Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Induction ceremony on Thursday to acknowledge Fuller award acceptances on behalf of larger-than-life Chicago literary legends: Ethel L. Payne, Carol Shields, and Ray Bradbury.
“The inspiration was that for as great a literary city as Chicago is, it didn’t do enough to honor the heritage of Chicago writers who have been important and innovative writers who paved the way for future writers,” Founding Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Don Evans said. “When you look at these three, I think each of them made unique contributions to both the art of writing and to the way we think about important societal issues.”
The night balanced emotional reminiscing and bold calls to action for continued social advocacy against regressive politics and fascism. At the platform accepting Fuller Awards, indicating induction, each speaker promoted the advocacy of their respective inductee.
The ceremony welcomed not only literary lovers, but also the family of journalism giant Ethel L. Payne. Payne’s niece, the Knoxville art collector, Sylvia Peters, accepted the award on Payne’s behalf and, without prompt, championed strengthening the United States democracy through intergenerational storytelling and education.
Peters was preceded by journalist Chicago Defender writer, author, and travel blogger, Tammy Gibson. Gibson not only gave context to the importance of Payne but rose how civil rights and social progress rely on writers and thought leaders like Payne who aren’t given their flowers in life or posthumously.
“We should be honoring her tonight because it’s about time. It’s passed due,” Gibson said. “We need to expand our knowledge of African American history. Black history starts at home and it’s important to us as people in the community to teach Black history.”
Peters’s lineage in education and teaching stepped into Gen-Z through her niece Hailey Peters, 21, a Loyola University senior who’s currently studying multimedia journalism. She mentioned the role of her great aunt (Payne) in her pursuit of post-secondary education and considering graduate school.
“I think that everything that she did in her career shows me like it’s okay to take up space and belong,” Peters said. “I have things to say and actually use my voice as I enter different spaces.”
Her educational aspirations not only highlight her great aunt’s influence, but the legacy of women who fought for women’s education: one of which was Carol Shields.
Shields was a Chicago-born author whose stories about family and work captured comedy and tragedy with melodramatic prose that made the mundane marvelous. She also wrote plays and anthologies, and won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1995 novel “The Stone Diaries.”
“Stone Diaries tracks feminism through the century through the life of one woman,” the Executive Director of Random House Canada said. “When we decided to start a prize for women’s fiction, in Canada in the US, we naturally thought of naming it after Carol because she represented brilliant work as a fiction writer, and also a brilliant champion of women.”
The woman literary inductees to the hall of fame, centered aspects of their identity — blackness and womanhood — in their education advocacy by sharing their stories. In a similar way, Ray Bradbury advocated for public education but shared stories in science fiction and prose outside of a personal context through novels and short collections that spanned over six decades.
Reading about the first morning of Summer in Green Town, Illinois, from Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine”, actor Jason Aukerman showed the subtle intensity behind Bradbury’s sentimental world-building. He spoke about how Bradbury strove for immortality through intimate storytelling.
Now including the Fuller Award, Bradbury has won an Emmy for the “Halloween Tree” screenplay, a Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame induction, and multiple awards for his 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451”. Bradbury’s posthumous recognition certified the success of his lifetime goal and contributes to his advocacy for supporting public libraries and championing the relevance of a strong U.S. public education system.
The podium shared the message for social progress among esteemed guests. Throughout their lives, the Fuller Award recipients influenced change through action, consistency, and giving back through writing and therefore, teaching.
“If there’s going to be any change in this world, such change that aunt Ethel gave her life for, it’s up to us to keep our minds stayed on freedom,” Sylvia Peters said. “If you’re worth your salt on this Earth, either you’re learning or you’re teaching,”
Lilac Burrell is a multimedia artist, journalist, and curator. Admitted to Northwestern University’s MSJ program for Media Innovation and Content Strategy.