The Scholl Center’s NEH Summer Institute, “Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893-1955,” has already entered it’s second week, and the twenty-five participating scholars are deep in Chicago’s modernist tradition. Participant Natalia Cecire of Yale University has shared her thoughts on the institute and Newberry’s abundance of modernist materials on her personal blog, Works Cited.
What I know about Sis Willner
I’d never heard of Sis Willner (a.k.a. S. W. Philbin, a.k.a. Dorothy Dearborn), a Chicago poet, lyricist, socialite, and gossip columnist until yesterday when Paul Gehl gave me and a bunch of other C20ers a whirlwind tour of the modern print collection at the Newberry Library.
Paul put Willner’s first two books, A Lady Thinks (Black Archer, 1930) and A Gentleman Decides (Black Archer, 1931), out for us as examples of early C20 Chicago small press printing. Or rather, A Gentleman Decides, was placed in a series of Sandburgiana for its (very weird) preface by Carl Sandburg. (He calls her “a hard-boiled virgin.” What?) Paul intimated that Willner was “justly forgotten,” and I can see a way that that’s true (in the sense that any account of the period will leave people out, and better Sis Willner than, say, Langston Hughes). But paging through the books left me snorting with laughter—it’s funny, sarcastic, sometimes embarrassing middlebrow light verse. Despite not caring for the comparison, Willner writes in a breezy Dorothyparkeresque vein, often about gender and romance.