No Bellow Street in Hyde Park
By Jess D'Amico in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 5, 2007 8:37PM
A request for a street named in honor of Chicago author Saul Bellow was denied due to controversial remarks and writing by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Bellow's University of Chicago colleague and friend, Richard Stern, made the request to Ald. Toni Preckwinkle. Stern told the Chicago Tribune that Preckwinkle sent him a letter saying she had heard Bellow made racist comments and so would not endorse a memorial to him.
Raised in Humboldt Park from the age of nine, and then a Hyde Park resident for many years, Bellow was cautious of the transformations of those neighborhoods from mostly European immigrants to Puerto Rican and African-American, respectively, and believed the work ethic of the latter groups was not as strong as the former. Bellow was, however, close friends with African-American novelist Ralph Ellison. Bellow died in 2005 at age 89.
He is also famous for saying in the New York Times Magazine, "Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papauns? I'd be glad to read him." Bellow claimed he was misquoted, and then retorted by saying he was pointing out the differences between literate and preliterate societies.
Studs Terkel commented to the Chicago Tribune: "I don't think he was a racist; I think he was a bit more scared of black-skinned people than he should have been."
This isn't the first time a controversial name has been brought up or awarded a street name. There's the honorary "Hugh Hefner Way," for example, which was protested by feminist groups, and Balbo Drive is named for Italo Balbo, the fascist Italian air minister in 1933, which was also protested.
What are your thoughts? Should someone still be honored for their work even if their worldview is possibly racist?
Image of Saul Bellow from the U of C news office.