Early this spring I sat down with CJ Martello, a long-time Chicago resident currently living in the Pullman neighborhood. We enjoyed a sunny day in Mariano’s café where CJ enlightened me about his creative writing and his performance shows as George M. Pullman, the railroad car entrepreneur.
CJ is charming and gregarious, evidenced as he smiled and greeted several different friends within the first 20 minutes of our conversation. He is a life-long Chicagoan and relayed parts of his history in the city.
After graduating high school in afterwards serving in Vietnam, CJ returned to Chicago in 1969 and attended business college. Later CJ took a Creative Writing class at Northwestern and eventually started a writing group on his own to expand his creativity. He found a local library offering space free of charge and, in order to recruit writers, posted fliers on light poles and advertised in The Reader.
In addition to founding his own clutch, CJ joined other associations including the Journal of the Ordinary Thought and the Neighborhood Writers Alliance (NWA). The authors wrote every week, reading their own material aloud at meetings. They learned by doing … write, re-write and submit.
The collective inventiveness was inspiring for CJ, who found a niche for reading his own poetry at the Green Mill on Broadway.
One work of fiction by CJ was a story about star-crossed lovers. This particular anecdote was particularly amusing to CJ since it was actually based on a dream he had one night. When he came clean to his listeners that the story was adapted, his audience was disappointed because they had become invested in the characters. CJ reminded them, “Don’t you remember Dallas? You feel for the characters and what they’ve accomplished.” This was the mark of an effective writer.
CJ went on to become the successor author of Petals From Roseland, published in Fra Noi magazine. The magazine editor was in need of a replacement columnist, since they were running re-runs; therefore, CJ submitted a piece. He was one of five candidates and was selected as the new author, writing about news from and around the Roseland neighborhoods where he was raised.
The Roseland writings sparked CJ’s interest in George M. Pullman, the railroad car industrialist. Today, CJ renews his inventiveness as he performs a one-man presentation on the 19th century visionary who brought his utopian-like dream to life when he built his eponymous city. There the townspeople lived in well-designed homes and worked in the flourishing factories that manufactured the elite Pullman train cars.
Most people are familiar with the strike of 1894 and became disenchanted with George Pullman’s reputation as a paternalistic and unwavering capitalist. However, CJ put together a script of George M. Pullman as a visionary who went on to become a successful businessman.
During his performance, CJ is often questioned about the workers’ strike. But CJ reminds his audience that “George wouldn’t talk about the strike.” Rather, for 12 to 15 years Mr. Pullman managed to create his utopian world, complete with innovative architecture and pleasing landscaping. Everyone who came to Chicago wanted to visit Pullman and view for themselves a community that met the needs and desires of its inhabitants. For years the town was famous for supplying an aesthetic and healthy environment – a radical revolution in that time period.
Abundant reading helped CJ gain his knowledge about his subject. As a regular performer at local libraries, he discusses facts and myths, while providing updates on Pullman National Monument’s current status. During the program, CJ prefers a natural approach versus memorizing a script. His vast knowledge of George M. Pullman, the town, and its current residents give him an edge when relaying interesting and informative facts.
This step back in time lets us learn more about history and the effects of idealistic versus realistic schemes. Check out a performance . . . CJ Martello regularly performs at surrounding community centers and libraries such as the Orland Park Library.