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Author James Thomas Farrell was born on February 27, 1904 in Chicago and raised on Chicago's South Side. He grew up in a house on the 5700 block of what is now South Martin Luther King Drive, then known as South Park Avenue. It was a thriving working-class Irish Catholic neighborhood, and his experiences growing up on the South Side formed the basis for the gritty realism that characterized much of his writing.

Farrell was a prolific writer who produced an extensive body of work that consists of more than 50 volumes of fiction, poetry, memoir and criticism, including nearly 250 published short stories and novellas. Yet despite this enormous literary corpus and the popularity of his writings in his own day, today Farrell has been nearly forgotten.

His best known work, however, is the Studs Lonigan trilogy, considered to be a classic of American fiction. The trilogy is made up of the novels Young Lonigan: A Boyhood in Chicago Streets, first published in 1928, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, which appeared in 1934, and Judgment Day, completed in 1935. Together the story traces the life of the title character on Chicago's South Side and "chronicles the breakdown in the twentieth-century city of the previously directing institutions of family, school and church" (Kamp, 304).

James T. Farrell died on August 22, 1979 at the age of 75 after a writing career that spanned 50 years. He left many works unfinished and his last novel, Sam Holman, was published posthumously in 1983. Farrell died in New York, where he had lived for many years after leaving Chicago around 1930, but he is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, IL.

Finally, despite Farrell’s marginalized place in current literary history, the Newberry Library is celebrating the centennial of his birth this Friday and Saturday, May 21-22, with a special "James T. Farrell Centennial Symposium and Bus Tour." The bus tour of Farrell's South Side neighborhood is sold out, but admission to the symposium is free, and no reservations are required. See the Newberry Library website or our own Slowdown listing for more information.

Bibliography

Holden, Greg. Literary Chicago: A Book Lover's Tour of the Windy City. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2001.

Kamp, Jim, ed. Reference Guide to American Literature. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994.

Chicago Authors: First Lines

"It is raining outside; rain pouring like bullets from countless machine guns; rain spat-spattering on the wet earth and paving in endless silver crystals. Studs' grave out at Mount Olivet will be soaked and soppy, and fresh with the wet, clean odors of watered earth and flowers. And the members of the Studs' family will be looking out of the windows of their apartment on the South Side, thinking of the cold, damp grave and the gloomy, muddy cemetery, and of their Studs lying at rest in peaceful acceptance of that wormy conclusion which is common fate."
--James T. Farrell, from "Studs" in The Short Stories of James T. Farrell.

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Comments

Andrew / May 21, 2004 10:55 AM

I just heard on WBEZ's "Eight Forty-Eight" show this morning a piece by Studs Turkel about Farrell's centennial. Studs explained that he got his nickname (his real first name is Louis) because of the Studs Lonigan books. If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

Alice / May 21, 2004 1:23 PM

Yes, indeed. I just attended the first two sessions of the symposium at the Newberry and can probably add a lot more to what I've already written above.

But, since you've brought it up, what I will add is that not only was Studs Turkel deeply influenced by Farrell's writings, but farrell also influenced Chicago writers from Nelson Algren to Kurt Vonnegut to Stuart Dybek and Tony Ardizzone today.

Farrell's stories, especially the Studs Lonigan trilogy, cannot be more highly recommended. Add it to your summer reading list. You won't regret it.

Pete / May 21, 2004 1:51 PM

Given the immense size of my to-read pile, that will have to be my summer 2005 reading list!

Noel E. Parmentel jr / June 18, 2004 7:00 PM

Does "Studs" Terkel's name--or nickname]-- have anything to do with James T. Farrell's
famous character Studs Lonigan ?
Please advise. s/ Noel E. Parmentel jr
Email: NoelJr@Optonline.Net

 

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