“They were the first fruits of his Big Idea — the idea that just under the edge of the news as commonly understood, the news often flatly and unimaginatively told, lay life; that in this urban life there dwelt the stuff of literature, not hidden in remote places, either, but walking the downtown streets, peering from the windows of sky scrapers, sunning itself in parks and boulevards.”
That was Chicago Daily News editor Henry Justin Smith’s description of Ben Hecht submitting the first columns of what would become “1001 Afternoons in Chicago,” a look at Chicago in the early 1920s, one personal story at a time.
Ninety-one years later, I want to do the same. I want to write 1,001 stories about the Chicago of today, with hipsters where Hecht had bohemians, with 2012 trixies instead of 1921 flappers, with cops, crooks and the working poor where Hecht talked to, well, cops, crooks and the working poor.
What’s the plan?
A story a day at 6 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Are you making these up?
No. Every word is true and every incident happened. It’s a weird city.
How can I help?
Story tips would be awesome. Email any cool stories, people or places you know to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, I’m always on the lookout for companion art to some of the pieces. Let me know if you’re interested and we’ll work something out
What else can I do to help?
If you’re really interested in helping the project, consider becoming a patron of the site through our ongoing Patreon campaign. You’ll receive cool benefits like podcasts, sneak peek stories, even coded messages from me.
Watch this video for more reasons to support experimental journalism.
Is it true that this blog won a Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism for “Best Continuing Blog, Independent” from the Chicago Headline Club chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists?
What are some things people have said about the project?
“… a delightful and artful blog…”
– Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune
“As much like Terkel as Hecht!”
– Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune
“… sweet, weird snapshots of Chicago life.”
– Niala Boodhoo, WBEZ’s “The Afternoon Shift”
“Scheherazade of the City”
– Andrew Huff, Gapers Block
“… we’re interested in the possibility that you are, in fact, a dick.”
– Mat and Adam, Industry of the Ordinary
Did Ben Hecht make it to 1,001 stories?
Hecht never matched Scheherazade’s record — he was fired from the Daily News before could finish, a result of federal obscenity charges against his 1922 novel Fantazius Mallare.
He continued the column in the Chicago Literary Times, a newspaper he started with the backing of the Fantazius Mallare publishers. Between the two newspapers, Hecht scholar Florice Whyte Kovan could only find 425 stories. Hecht didn’t even make it halfway.
Don’t feel bad for Hecht — some modern writers think Fantazius Mallare, including the seven-page, penis-laden dedication to his enemies, was an attempt at a test case on American obscenity law. Biographer William MacAdams wrote Hecht and illustrator Wallace Smith added the dedication and seven pages of cocks after people who read early versions weren’t offended enough.
Either way, Hecht landed on his feet.
Where can I buy Ben Hecht’s books?
You can buy Ben Hecht’s books — including reprints of the 1922 collection A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago — online from the University of Chicago Press, from Powell’s Books and from Snickersnee Press, which only publishes books by and about Ben Hecht.
IndieBound.org can help you find independent bookstores near you.