Posts Tagged 'Oak Park'

Touching moments in architecture

Remember that post I wrote about the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust offering touch tours of its historic sites this year? My friend Linda Downing Miller lives in Oak park, Ill., and last Saturday she accompanied me on a special tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio there .

Linda earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte — her fiction is forthcoming in Fiction International and appears in the current issue of Crab Orchard Review. She’s a fine writer, and I was delighted when she offered to write this guest post describing our tour from her point of, ahem, view.

by Linda Downing Miller

Twenty years ago, I was infatuated with the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Moving to Oak Park, Ill., can do that to you.

Beth checking out the entry .

Beth checking out the inscription.

The village has a wealth of Wright-designed spaces, and I toured as many as I could in my first years here. My husband and I must have taken every visitor we had through Wright’s Home and Studio, restored to its appearance when he last lived there in 1909.

When Beth invited me to go with her on a Touch Tour of the Home and Studio last Saturday, I said yes mostly for the chance to spend time with her. I figured I’d already seen and heard enough about Wright’s work: his horizontal lines and ribbon windows and half-hidden entrances, reached by walking a “path of discovery” that usually includes a turn or two.

The Touch Tour took me on a new path. I was one of a handful of people accompanying friends or family members who are blind or have low vision. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust offered the tour in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, part of ADA 25 Chicago — a larger project to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Being Beth’s companion on the tour, alongside her Seeing Eye dog, Whitney, allowed me to “re-see” Wright’s spaces and consider the challenge of making them accessible through other senses.

Fellow writers might appreciate this observation: details, creative comparisons, and specific word choices helped to convey Wright’s work. Our tour guide, Laura Dodd, explained the position of design elements in relation to bodies (“about neck high”). She used similes (wood beams arranged “like an asterisk”). I told Beth that Wright’s intricate, wood-carved designs on the dining room and playroom ceilings were a bit like the wooden trivets she’d felt in the gift shop. A tour volunteer described the vaulted ceiling in the children’s playroom “like a whiskey barrel.”

After thinking about Laura’s description of the way the Wrights’ piano sat in that room with only the keyboard showing, the back half hidden behind the wall, one of the visitors who couldn’t see articulated it more clearly for all of us: “You mean, it’s embedded in the wall.” Yes.

Enthusiasm, curiosity, puzzlement and understanding moved across people’s faces as they listened and asked questions, and as they touched things: fireplace tiles, wall coverings, sculptures, spindles, glass windows and Wright’s famously uncomfortable straight-backed dining chairs. Some people lingered over each touch opportunity. Others eagerly applied their fingers and moved on. (Guess which style was Beth’s?)

She and I talked afterward about the different frames of reference people might have brought to the experience. Beth knew something about architecture before she lost her sight. Other visitors may have been born blind. Laura is the Director of Operations and Guest Experience for the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, and she asked us for feedback during and after the tour. (The Trust plans additional Touch Tours, and American Sign Language Tours, at its historic sites.)

Our group’s consensus was that she’d done a wonderful job. I thought the three guide dogs in the group also handled themselves well in close proximity.

Frank Lloyd Wright played here. And now, so has Beth.

Frank Lloyd Wright played here. And now, so has Beth.

One of the highlights for me and Beth was when Laura invited her to sit at the piano in the children’s playroom. After instructing everyone else not to pay attention, Beth put her fingers on the keys and ran through a short, jazzy tune. When she’d finished, she and I exclaimed over the fact that Frank himself no doubt played those keys. I felt the ghost of my old infatuation. On our way downstairs, Beth reached up to touch the back end of the piano, suspended over our heads, and continued on her path of discovery.

Photos courtesy of Christena Gunther, Founder & Co-Chair of the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium.

Feeling Frank for free: Frank Lloyd Wright touch tours

I just got word that in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is offering special tours for people with disabilities free of charge in 2015. Who knows? Maybe these Chicago ADA presentations I’ve been participating in are really making a difference!

Robie House

Robie House

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is an ADA 25 Chicago program partner, and three of the special tours will take place in Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Chicago: the Frederick C. Robie House, The Rookery Building lobby and the Emil Bach House. The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Ill., will be offering a free special tour, too. More information on these four buildings:

  1. Frederick C. Robie House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908-10) A masterpiece on 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave, Chicago is said to be the most innovative and forward-thinking of Wright’s Prairie houses.
  2. The Rookery Building Lobby (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1905) is described as a “dramatic and stunning remodeling” of Burnham & Root’s original design. At 209 S. LaSalle, it’s just blocks away from our apartment in Chicago.
  3. Emil Bach House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1915) is a Prairie house at 7415 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago. I’d never heard of this one before, but The Frank Lloyd Trust says it “looks toward Wright’s future stylistic direction.”
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1889/1898) is where it all started –t he birthplace of Wright’s vision for a new American architecture, and it’s just an el ride away at 951 Chicago Ave, in suburban Oak Park, Ill.


The American Sign Language tour date for the Rookery Building Lobby is Wednesday, September 23 at 1:30 pm, the Emil Bach House ASl tour will be on Sunday, October 4 at 9:30 am, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio ASL tour is on October 2, at 12:00 pm.


Touch tour dates :

  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio on Saturday, September 19 at 4:30 pm
  • Emil Bach House on Thursday October 8 at 2:15 pm
  • Frederick C. Robie House on Sunday, October 25 at 4 pm
  • The Rookery Building Lobby on Friday, November 6 at 12:30 pm

I’m told space will be limited on these guided tours, and that if you want more information, you should contact Laura Dodd by phone at 312.994.4005 or by email at

In some of the presentations I give, I try to point out some bennefits of being blind: I bring my dog along wherever I go, I walk arm-and-arm with friends when I want, and I can’t judge people by what they look like. Soon I may be able to add one more benefit to that list: I got to touch Frank Lloyd Wright artifacts when I toured his buildings!

The Shameless Art of Self Promotion

Thursday was Elmhurst Academy Day. Tomorrow, the world. Or at least, Longfellow School.

Thursday was Elmhurst Academy Day. Next, the world. Or at least, Longfellow School.

You read this blog. So you already know. I’m a shameless self-promoter. And now, sound the trumpets, ta-da, I’m taking the shameless art of self-promotion to a new level. On this day, in this post, I am promoting an article my children’s book publisher wrote about my skills at, you guessed it: shameless self-promotion!


The brilliant, not-to-be-missed article, written by Francine Rich from Blue Marlin Publications, appears in the new issue of The Bulletin, — a bi-monthly publication of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

An Insider’s View (subtitled “A Small Publisher’s Perspective on Why It’s Important to Promote Yourself as an Author AND a Promoter”) is only available online to SCBWI members. If you don’t have an SCBWI membership, though, don’t despair! I’m a member and will sneak in a few “teasers” from the article here.

In 2003, Beth had had an adult memoir published through the University of Illinois Press. Now, in 2006, she was ready to use all her connections to create a marketing campaign for her picture book. And create she did. The minute she signed the Blue Marlin Publications contract, she turned herself into a human network. As the weeks progressed, I learned there was very little Beth wouldn’t do to promote her book.

At this point in the article, Francine mentions an idea she came up with after learning Hanni and I would be staying at the same hotel independent bookstore owners were staying at during Book Expo America last year. Francine thought it might be good to paste the book’s cover image on my butt as I walked around the lobby. Shameless as the idea was, I had to decline. I definitely do have enough room back there to advertise, but trust me, that wouldn’t be a good promotion of my “self.”

In a section of the article dedicated to school visits, Francine wrote:

Since Beth comes from a large family, she offers to visit the schools of her nieces and nephews, cousins’ children, and their friends. She offers the schools the option of purchasing books.
And always, she totes her postcards, extra fliers about her school visits, bookmarks, and announcements about future appearances. Every event is a networking opportunity for a future event.

True to form, Hanni and I will have appeared at three different schools this week, the very week the shameless self-promotion article appeared in the SCBWI Bulletin. Last Tuesday we were at Baranoff Elementary School in Austin, TX; on Thursday we were at the Elmhurst Academy in Elmhurst, IL; and this Tuesday we’ll visit Longfellow School in Oak Park, IL. I never know what future gigs might come from school visits like these, and I get a kick out of tracking it all.
The article concludes with some flattering compliments from Francine:

The bottom line is that Beth is a dream for a tiny publisher like me. In return, I am willing to put more time, money, and effort into promoting Beth’s book than I ordinarily would because I just know my investments will not be wasted. I know full well that authors who promote themselves and their books as wholeheartedly as Beth Finke are not easy to find. But authors wishing to work with small publishers must understand
that a great piece of writing will appear even greater if the author offers specific plans for getting that story into the hands of readers.

Aw, shucks. Thanks, Francine. Truth is, you are the one who is a dream come true for a tiny children’s book writer like me. Happy Thanksgiving!

Smelling Like a Rose

You might remember my “Papa & Me” blog about a presentation I gave at the Oak Park Public Library? A small independent children’s bookstore in Oak Park called Magic Tree was kind enough to bring books to the library for me to sign after my presentation. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a whole lot of takers.

As I put on my coat to leave the library, I could hear Rose, one of the Magic Tree owners, shoving unsold books back into a box. “Sorry we didn’t sell more books!” I called out in her direction. The temperature was one degree – yes, you read that right, one – outside. I hated to have dragged her out on such a cold night for such little reward.

Rose was unfazed. “No problem!” she exclaimed. “Now you can come to our store and do a presentation –we already have a stack of books!”

And so, this afternoon Hanni and I did a presentation at Magic Tree. Rose read “Safe & Sound” aloud, and I explained three rules to keep in mind if you happen to see a guide dog with a harness on: don’t pet the dog, don’t feed the dog, and don’t call out the dog’s name. “Those things can distract a Seeing Eye dog,” I told them. “It’d be like if someone nudged you or kept calling your name wile you were working on your spelling words at school. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate on your work.”

I suggested we come up with a fake name for Hanni. “If you use her fake name to say hi to her, she wont’ notice,” I said. “She’ll think you’re talking to someone else!”

“For today, let’s call the dog ‘Rose,’” I said. “You know, after the lady who invited Hanni and me to Magic Tree.

The kids liked the idea. The bookstore owner liked it, too. Until it came around to question and answer time, that is. There were some of the usual questions – how do you know where your food is on the plate, do you have to pay for a seat when the dog goes on an airplane with you, things like that. But then came the zinger. “How do you pick up Rose’s poop?”

I looked in Rose-the-human’s direction. She was quiet for a second. Then she burst out in laughter. I answered the question, but decided to refer to Hanni as “the dog” rather than “Rose” for this explanation.

It was a great event. When it was over, Rose didn’t pack any leftover books away in boxes. Instead, she asked me to sign them so she could bring them to a presentation she’d be giving to West Forty next month. “It’s an organization of 40 different public school districts in western Cook County,” she explained. “A lot of reading specialists are involved, I give presentations to them about books they might be interested in using with their kids.” She said she is especially pleased when she brings good books to their attention that they might not have heard of otherwise. “Yours is one of them.”

Papa & Me

The Oak Park Library and its many faces.  I’ll be heading to the first building on the left!    This Thursday at 7 pm I’ll be speaking at the public library in Oak park, Illinois.
Oak park is the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway. I like to think that the Nobel Prize winner and I have a special bond.
It’s not true, of course, but I like to think it.
After all, Ernest and I were both born in Chicago suburbs. We’re both writers, and both of us thought it’d be cool to live in Paris someday.
But wait. There’s more. The company that published my children’s book is called Blue Marlin Publications. Get it? BLUE MARLIN? They’re named for the fish in “The Old man and the Sea.”
And so, considering this tight bond, it will be a special honor to speak at the Public Library in Ernest’s hometown. Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park in 1899 and stayed there until his teens. From there he moved to Kansas City to write for a newspaper, then he sailed to Europe to drive an ambulance for the Red Cross in Italy. He was injured there and was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor.
I got the rest of the story from a web site describing the Hemingway House in Oak park.
“Not long after, he would return to the Chicago suburbs to nurse his wounds, and shortly after he was healed, moved on to Paris and a more spectacular life.”
And that, of course, was the beginning of Hemingway’s demise. After all, how could anything be more spectacular than life in Oak park??
Here are details about my spectacular event this Thursday. Magic Tree Bookstore will provide books for me to sign after the event:
January 24 (Thursday), 7 p.m.
Oak Park Public Library
Session: From Memoir to Doggoir: Creative Ways to Get Personal Essays and Stories Published
834 Lake Street
Oak Park, IL 60301
Contact: Deborah Dowley Preiser, Public Information Officer, 708.697.6915

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