Sunday, April 30, 2006

Baldacci, Black, Gilbert, and Soloway at Roosevelt U.

On April 28, 2006, The Division Street Princess and I joined 36 other authors and their books at Roosevelt University’s Alumni-Faculty Authors Forum. Prominent Chicagoans Leslie Baldacci, Inside Mrs. B.’s Classroom, Courage, Hope and Learning on Chicago’s South Side, and Timuel Black, Bridges of Memory, kindly posed for photographs and switched books with me for variety.

And Ruth Ross Gilbert, my dear friend and Roosevelt U. alumnus, was also at my side at the Forum, just as she is in several pages of The Division Street Princess.

Enjoy the pictures – even those where my eyes are closed in that pairing with beautiful Leslie B. And that's my Ruthie, to the left.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt

That's me with Ruth Andrew Ellenson, Editor of The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt (Dutton, 2005). On April 24, Ruthie signed and read from her terrific anthology, which has been correctly described as "a hilarious, surprising, moving, and thoughful book that captures all that is complicated and wonderful about being a Jewish woman today." The event at Matilda's on N. Sheffield, was sponsored by The Hillels of Illinois, which is supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Hillel helps Jewish students and young adults "encounter, explore, and express their identity as Jews." If you buy Ruthie's book, and mine, you'll get an eye-opening view of Jewish women, from way back in the 1940s to present day. Enjoy...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mother's Day Circa 1948

THE DIVISION STREET PRINCESS will be available for purchase in time for Mother's Day, May 14! Links to booksellers are on the side of this page. To entice you to consider the memoir as a gift for your favorite mother, daughter, sister, spouse, partner, I'm including an excerpt from the book, and my parent's engagement photo. A mother's day rememberence, circa 1948, follows.

"Mom, outfitted in a gray silk shantung dress that shimmered with each of her high-heeled steps, kept her gloved hands tight on her pocketbook. With her black felt hat and veil (the “rooftops of Paris look”), Mother was the unquestionable beauty of the bunch.

She was also wearing the dark mink stole that Dad had given her the Sunday before, on Mother’s Day. Although his gift had initially caused a flare-up, I was happy to see that she had relented and would be entering the synagogue embraced in the soft fur.

The present that Ronnie and I had given her caused no problem, only delight as she unwrapped the blue leather jewelry box. My brother and I had pooled our savings to swing the $3 gift and smiled proudly as she proclaimed, “It’s perfect! I’ll put my pearls here, my earrings here, and my broaches here.” She was pointing to the box’s felt compartments, and I pictured her costume jewelry, suffused with the smells of her cosmetics and perfume, nestled happily in their new homes.

When Dad had placed a large silver box before her, his face was bright with excitement and likely greedy for a reaction one hundred times greater than the one granted our jewelry case. Mom opened the lid of Dad’s gift, removed the white paper, and lifted out the beautiful mink stole. “Irv, you know we can’t afford this,” she had said, and slowly replaced the mink in its tissue nest. “We have so many bills…”
“I bought it on time,” Dad had said, and reached deep into the silver box to retrieve the stole. “Just try it on. You’ll look gorgeous in it.” He held the mink stretched out between his two pudgy hands, smiling like a wholesale furrier flattering a dubious client. “You deserve a mink. And I’ll pay it off. Don’t worry. Just try it on.”

“Please try it on,” Ronnie and I had pleaded. At the time, I was just a little girl who adored her father and couldn’t bear his disappointment. I could not have appreciated my mother’s struggle to keep us afloat, and saw her only as an ungrateful wife who had crushed my father as surely as a runaway truck. I remember thinking to myself, Just take it, Mom, for Daddy’s sake. Just take it.

And once my mother had placed the lovely fur around her thin shoulders, and considered her stylish reflection in the bedroom mirror above the dresser -- perhaps imagining herself in the spotlight like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity -- she agreed to keep the stole and monitor Dad’s monthly installments."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mark Your Calendars

Elaine Soloway
773-478-1351 (phone)
773-220-4606 (mobile)

"The Division Street Princess" Reading and Signing Set for May 25

WHAT: Elaine Soloway, formerly press aide to Mayor Jane Byrne and School Superintendent Ruth Love, has authored a memoir, THE DIVISION STREET PRINCESS -- a coming of age story of a girl, a store, and a vibrant immigrant Chicago neighborhood.

Set in the 1940s, Soloway's memoir takes it title from the street where she lived in a three-room flat above her family's grocery store and from the pet name her father gave her. In her poignant tale of bookies, poolrooms, sidewalk playgrounds, and relatives who lived down the block, we also learn about the underside of childhood and urban life.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 25, 2006; free

WHERE: Women & Children First bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago

WHO: Joining Soloway for the book reading and signing will be her daughters, Faith and Jill Soloway, who began their show business careers at Chicago's Annoyance Theatre with THE REAL LIVE BRADY BUNCH. Currently, Faith is a musician and producer of rock operas in Boston; and Jill, who lives in Los Angeles, was a writer on the HBO series "Six Feet Under" and is the author of TINY LADIES IN SHINY PANTS.

Elaine Soloway is a public relations consultant and freelance writer whose essays have appeared in many print and online publications including New York Times Money & Business, Chicago Tribune WomenNews, Chicago Jewish News, and others. Her long career in public relations has focused on housing, healthcare, and economic development.

Soloway, who holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Roosevelt University and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois Chicago, lives in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood with her husband, Tom, and golden retriever, Buddy.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sun-Times, April 10, 2006. Yea!

Tom McNamee
Division Street, family intertwine in new memoir

April 10, 2006


This is a Puerto Rican street now. You can tell from the brilliant yellow of the apartment building on the corner, the yellow of islands and rum. No Jew from a Russian shtetl ever painted a wall a yellow like that.

For Elaine Soloway, how Division Street has changed. Her parents ran a grocery store on the street in the 1940s, on this very spot where a yellow building now stands. They sold pumpernickel and brisket on the first floor and lived on the second, bickering the whole time.

"We had three rooms," Soloway says, standing back on the sidewalk to look up at the windows. "My brother and I shared a bedroom, and our parents slept on a Murphy bed in the living room. It's a cliche, I know, but we didn't feel poor. Your parents made sure you were fed and clothed and went to school."

Soloway has written a memoir of those days, The Division Street Princess (Syren Book Company). It's a good book, a loving yet honest slice of Chicago life.

It begins when she is 4 and her father bursts in the door and says to her mother, "Let's buy the grocery store downstairs!" It ends when she is 13 and the store has gone bust and an auctioneer says, "What am I bid for the display case?" In between, a smart peanut of a girl grows up.

This is why Soloway and I, along with Sun-Times photographer Al Podgorski, are walking along Division on a chilly morning. I requested a personal tour.

'We didn't have trees'

Soloway charges off to the east, crossing Campbell. She wants to show me the Deborah Boys Club. In her book, a particularly intense scene, which I won't give away here, begins when a pervert sidles up to her on the club's front steps.

"We didn't have trees," she says, pointing at a tree, not breaking her stride.

"This is the lamppost I collided with," she says, still moving.

The Deborah Boys Club is now a church. Maybe. Or was the club next door, where there's now a parking lot? Soloway isn't sure.

"Let's find out," she says, and swoops into the church.

Ten minutes later we walk out, still not sure if the church was ever a boys club. But we leave a receptionist at the front desk charmed. She has just encountered Jewish Chicago circa 1945 in the form of a tiny woman so full of life she almost sings when she talks. And now the receptionist knows, having been told, that once upon a time a little Jewish girl lived on Division above a grocery and played on the sidewalk, like little Puerto Rican girls do now.

Soloway charges back west. She talks and points, even twirls about as she takes it all in, oblivious to the wind and cold.

We pass a neighborhood chamber of commerce. "Could have been a hardware store there," she says.

We pass Paseo Restaurant. Her brother, Ronnie, worked there when it was Sammy's Red Hots.

We pass a pregnancy counseling center. This might have been the pool hall where her father played cards.

Soloway, 67, is a public relations consultant. She was a press aide to former Mayor Jane Byrne and schools Supt. Ruth Love. She and her first husband raised two daughters. One daughter is a writer, the other a singer-songwriter.

Why, I ask Soloway, did she wait until now to write a memoir?

"My daughters are pretty audacious, and they inspired me," she says. "And perhaps I felt that at this age, 67, I could have the courage to explore that part of my life. I was missing my parents, missing that part of my life. I wanted to capture it and be there again. And maybe, now, better understand what they went through."

Soloway's father and mother, Irving and Min Shapiro, were immigrants from Russia. Irv adored Min, a real beauty, and all might have turned out fine if she had felt the same. "Romance, schamance," Min's mother had said when Min balked at marrying Irv. "Irv loves you and will make a good living for you. You'll learn to love him."

But maybe, as Soloway writes, that was always the heart of the problem -- her mother could never love her father quite enough. And, to compensate, he overate and grew dangerously fat, while she quietly wondered what she had missed.

'See, this is your street'

Just about every business we pass, Soloway wants to duck in and show people her book -- "See, this is your street." She talks to a bank officer, Dan Brandt, about long-lost delis. She talks in Spanish to a barber and dances, just a few shoulder moves, to a song on the radio.

The barbershop, Sportz Kuttz, at 2653 W. Division, was once her grandfather's fish shop. Her zadie and bubbie lived upstairs in an apartment with bay windows. I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but Soloway's memoir is full of good family feelings -- brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles all doing right by each other -- and the center of that big extended family was this apartment.

As luck would have it, the building is owned now by Stan Kustra, proprietor of Joe's Hardware Store next door. When Soloway, blowing in the door at Joe's, tells Kustra her story, he smiles and grabs a set of keys. "We're renovating that apartment, so it's empty," he says. "C'mon, let's go."

Kustra leads us up a steep and narrow flight of stairs. Soloway's Uncle Paul once painted this staircase the nicest turquoise. Her Uncle Hy once carried her up these stairs when she had her tonsils out.

Kustra turns a key and swings open the door. Soloway, her hands jammed down in her coat pockets, steps in and looks around.

"Oh," she sighs, "my goodness."

The apartment looks good -- shining floors and newly painted walls -- but what Soloway sees are memories.

She glides across the living room to the windows. "I used to sit here and watch the street," she says. "You could see everything."

She moves to the kitchen. "We had a back porch -- it's still here! We slept out here in the summer."

In Soloway's memoir, my favorite scene is a Passover dinner in this apartment. The scene comes near the end of the book, closing out a Division Street tale that reminds us that neighborhoods are both good and bad, and parents are both perfect and human.

At that Passover dinner in 1952, Soloway's father confides to her Uncle Maury that business is bad at the grocery store and he might be getting out. Uncle Maury says maybe it's for the best and, by the way, he knows about a job for a salesman. "I could put a word in," he says.

This little apartment, now so empty, must have been crowded.

"Oh, yeah, but it seemed bigger," she says. "The dining room table was right here, and we'd extend it out with card tables, end on end, right into the living room."

She is quiet now for a moment, just thinking, remembering.

"Everybody was here," she says.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tom McNamee and I are pictured in front of a five-story seniors building at 2501-11 W. Division St. It was developed by the Hispanic Housing Development Corp. to serve low- and moderate-income residents of West Town and Humboldt Park. In the 1940's, my family's grocery store, and the apartment building that housed our three-room flat, stood on this very same site.(Story due in the Chicago Sun-Times, Monday, April 10, 2006.)

Division Street is being revitalized and I think my folks would be pleased to see how this new group of immigrants are enjoying the gateway to the American dream -- just as they and their families did so many decades ago.

The highpoint of the tour was a walk through my grandparents' apartment at 2653 W. Division St. My zadie's fish store is now a hip-hop barber shop and the apartment above the store is being renovated with new stained wood floors and a brick fireplace. The bay windows remain and I recall standing at those windows staring out at my Division Street landscape. Our last Passover meal on Division Street was in this very apartment. You can read details of that evening in my book.