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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, March 2

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Some Chicago authors just deserve their own column. Theodore Dreiser is one of them. Although every week for the past couple of months I have been featuring excerpts from works by Chicago writers, this is the third installment of an occasional series focusing on a particular Chicago author. Dip into the archives to read the previous columns about L. Frank Baum and James T. Farrell.

Theodore Dreiser only lived in Chicago for a short time, but the city plays a significant role in some of his best-known works. Drieser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1871, the ninth of ten children born to his mother, a Mennonite, and his Roman-Catholic, German immigrant father. His family moved frequently, and Dreiser grew up in various towns in the Midwest until around 1887 when he took off for Chicago, working odd jobs until he landed a position as a reporter for the Chicago Globe newspaper. His job at the Globe marked the beginning of his long and varied writing career. Dreiser left the Globe, and Chicago, in 1892 and went on to work for papers in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and New York.

Although he wrote poetry, plays, essays and numerous non-fiction works, Theodore Dreiser's best-known works today are his novels, especially his first novel, Sister Carrie. Originally published in 1900, Sister Carrie tells the story of 18-year-old Carrie Meeber, a small town girl who moves in Chicago and later rises to stardom on the New York stage. And, while the book was famously denounced for its "immoral" heroine when it was first published, it was also met with much critical praise.

Another series of novels by Dreiser also has a Chicago connection. The highly acclaimed Frank Cowperwood trilogy, consisting of The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914) and The Stoic (1947), tells the fictionalized biography of Chicago transportation magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes.

This brief introduction doesn't even begin to touch on some of the more sensational aspects of Dreiser's life -- his political activism, his membership in the American Communist Party, his work as chairman of the National Committee of the Defense of Political Prisoners, etc. Check out the resources below to learn more about his fascinating life.

Drieser eventually settled in Los Angeles in 1938. He died of heart failure in 1945 and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood.

Additional Resources

Dreiser WebSource
This digital collection from the University of Pennsylvania Library includes a complete searchable text of Sister Carrie, critical essays, photographs, and a silent film of Dreiser viewable with Real Player. The Dreiser WebSource also features an online version of the comprehensive work, Theodore Dreiser: A Primary Bibliography and Reference Guide. This site should definitely be your first stop if you're interested in learning more about Dreiser.

International Theodore Dreiser Society
The Dreiser Society was formed in 1991 to promote the life and works of Theodore Dreiser. Be sure to check out the Society's Dreiser on the Web, an exhaustive collection of links to Dreiser information and resources online.

Chicago Authors: First Lines

"When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It was August 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth."
--Theodore Dreiser, from Sister Carrie

Have a topic you would like to see in "Ask the Librarian?" Send your suggestions to librariangapersblock<.>com and it may be featured in a future column.

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Pete / July 1, 2004 9:21 AM

Terre Haute was apparently quite a leftist cradle in the 19th Century. Eugene Debs was from there, too.

anne / July 7, 2004 9:54 AM

I still have my copy of "Sister Carrie" that I read for an American Lit. class in college. It stands proudly on my shelf at home. I had neglected, however, to look for more Dreiser to read, so I'm excited to check out his trilogy! Thanks!

Alice / July 7, 2004 2:14 PM

Awesome. Happy to help. :)


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