After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, on May 19, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame (CLHOF) will welcome three extraordinary literary figures, including acclaimed Greek-American author Harry Mark Petrakis; Era Bell Thompson, a memoirist and trailblazing journalist who worked for Negro Digest and Ebony, among other prominent publications; and Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Lisel Mueller.
Chicago-based Author and writer Maria A. Karamitsos will induct Petrakis, who died last year at age 97. The event will take place at The Poetry Foundation, 61 W. Superior in Chicago.
The CLHOF honored Petrakis in 2014, with their coveted Fuller Award. Upon his passing the board unanimously voted his ascension to its canon of important writers.
Born in St. Louis but raised in Chicago, to Father Mark and Presvytera Stella Petrakis, the author penned some 24 books, among them fiction, essay collections, several memoirs, and biographies. His essays and short stories have appeared in numerous publications.
Among his most notable books are A Dream of Kings, which was adapted into a major motion picture starring Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas; and The Hour of the Bell, a historical novel set against the Greek War of Independence. His final book, Song of my Life, a memoir, was perhaps his most personal and most reflective.
Over the years, Petrakis received multiple accolades and awards, including the coveted O. Henry Award and the Carl Sandburg Award.
He held an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the American College of Greece, plus 5 additional honorary doctorates from Hellenic College, the University of Illinois, Indiana University Northwest, Roosevelt University, and Governors State University. From 1991-1992, he held the Nikos Kazantzakis Chair in Modern Greek Studies at San Francisco State University.
Petrakis drew inspiration from his heritage and culture, writing multidimensional Greek immigrant characters searching for the American Dream. Though his themes were universal and relatable to other ethnic groups, his work helped usher Greek-Americans into the mainstream.
Over the years, Karamitsos interviewed the author many times, and they developed a friendship.
“Harry Mark Petrakis is one of my literary idols. As a Greek-American, as a writer, he and his work meant so much to me,” she said. “After our many interviews, we had an ongoing communication. He taught me a lot. He cheered me on as I wrote my novel. How many people can say they’ve had the opportunity to interview, know, and receive encouragement from one of their idols? When I needed a strong, no-nonsense female character, I based it on his mother. He said he was honored and wanted to read it, but sadly, I didn’t finish it before he passed away.”
The author’s son, John, an associate adjunct professor in the Film, Video and New Media Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will accept the award on behalf of the family.
Featured image: Harry Mark Petrakis, shown in 2005, grew up in Chicago’s Greek neighborhoods and was a major figure on the city’s literary scene since the 1960s. (Alex Garcia / Chicago Tribune)
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