Margaret Anderson: A life in my South Loop stomping ground

Margaret Anderson:  A life in my South Loop stomping ground
That's me on the set of "Life Without Roses" photo/Bruce Oltman

I'd sort of heard of Margaret Anderson through the years.  She started a literary magazine in Chicago 99 years ago called The Little Review.  Friday night the whole story came alive for me via the latest work of South Loop author and playwright June Skinner Sawyers at the Fine Arts Building.  Cynthia Judge played Anderson in Scottish-born Sawyers' one-woman show.

The play took place in a studio on the eighth floor, in the very building in which the magazine began in 1914, under Anderson's guidance and leadership.  In fact, there's a plaque in the building--located at Michigan and Congress--adjacent to Room 917 that commemorates the fact that the magazine was edited by Anderson in that very room.

The Little Review was a big deal back then.  And Judge's portrayal of Anderson Friday night demonstrated why.  She was committed as a writer.  As an editor.  As an engaged human being.  As Sawyers says about the 23-year-old Indiana native and former book reviewer for the Contiinent, staff writer for the Dial (another literary review)--and book critic for the Chicago Evening Post, "For a few brief but colorful years. Anderson was the toast of the town and the undisputed queen of the city's bohemian community."

The first issue of The Little Review contained articles about Nietzsche, feminism and psychoanalysis, according to Sawyers.  The magazine vowed not to make any compromise with "public taste."  And get this...the magazine introduced the following writers to the public on its pages:  Hemingway, Joyce, Yeats, Sandburg and Eliot.  Not to mention Gertrude Stein, Emma Goldman and Amy Lowell, among many others.  Ezra Pound was its foreign editor.

Anderson eventually moved her operations to New York, where she faced obscenity charges upon serializing Ulysses.  She eventually moved to Paris, and she died in France in 1973.  The magazine ceased publication in 1929 with a final edition published in Paris.

I wish I could have known her.  But in a way I did on Friday night--as Judge spoke to her audience, channelling Anderson all the way.  In the very building in which Anderson did her thing.  One floor above.


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