Let the 50th Celebrations Begin: Guild Books Remembered, Lit Forward
We are kicking off the 50th anniversary celebrations of Guild Books’s beginning.
When, you ask? Sunday, May 21, 2017! 2 to 4 pm
Come, celebrate the vitality of independent literature and appraise how literature continues to contribute to social transformation at a time so different from when Guild began.

“I consider the birthday of the Guild to be May 21, 1967, for that is the day we signed the lease and paid the first month’s rent of $60 for the storefront at 2136 N Halsted.”  So wrote Robbye Lee in a letter to Richard Bray, who had bought the bookstore in 1979.  In 1987 Lew Rosenbaum came to Chicago to help manage the store.  And in 1993 the store closed.    

Panelists will include Eric Yankee, Jo Ann Capalbo, Carolos Cumpian, Juan Carlos Perez, and Diana Berek, moderated by who else? Lew Rosenbaum of course!

This event is free and open to the public, and we sure hope you can join us to kick off the celebrations of Guild Books’ 50th anniversary.

Lunt Lake Co-op Community Room
1138 W Lunt @ Sheridan in the basement, down the stairs at the south end of the building.

Paid parking available in the parking lot at the east end of the block
Accessible by public transportation on the Morse stop of the Red Line and the 147 bus

Yes that is James Baldwin at Guild Books: photo copyright, Steven Gross 1987, Artists for Washington celebration with (left to right in the front row) David Hernandez, Carol Becker, Richard Bray, James Baldwin, Jose Gonzalez, and Phil Cohran behind Jose Gonzalez.

One Comment

  • This is an excerpt from a chapter about my coming to Guild Books in 1987.

    Some people maintain that there is no bad time to leave Los Angeles. We picked the worst time.
    Wednesday, November 25, 1987. Rush hour on the San Bernardino Freeway, heading east, out of town at 4 pm. The day before Thanksgiving. The Toyota station wagon packed full, the rear view mirror useless, then more added to the carrier rack on top. My wife, Lee, her sister Marie, and I squeezed inside, Marie wedged in among packages and clothing in the back.
    That morning I said good-byes to our Chinatown neighbors, people we had known for many years. The people in our building still thanked us for fighting the landlord to keep him from doubling the rents in violation of rent-control. By early afternoon, irritation at our delay had reached mountainous proportions. When we finally piled into the car and I started the engine, the irritation began to recede. By the time, 15 minutes later, when we’d entered the freeway off Mission St. and inched our way across four lanes to go toward San Bernardino, we had resigned ourselves to baking in slow moving traffic, millions of Angelenos leaving for the holiday weekend.
    * * * * * *
    My road to Chicago began 8 years earlier, though I did not know it. In 1979, Richard Bray called me and told me he had just taken over Guild Books and asked me if I would answer questions as they came up. We’d met in Los Angeles and worked together on a number of projects including a school for workers for which the Midnight Special had provided books. Richard and I would meet for a lox, eggs and onion breakfast at an out of the way diner, plopped along industrial Gage Avenue. There we’d go over prospective classes at the L.A. Labor Education Center and the books needed for the curriculum. We’d plan which classes in political economy and politics I should lead.
    We continued to collaborate and developed a network of bookstores that would meet at annual bookseller conventions, as we developed our own identities in our own cities. In the spring of 1987, things began to take an unexpected turn. Guild had cultivated a relationship with writers connected with The Nation magazine. They pressed Richard to consider opening a branch of Guild in New York. Richard objected that Guild itself was not profitable and he did not have the funds to expand. But, the New Yorkers asked, how much would it take to open a store in New York? They prevailed on Richard to come to New York and explore the feasibility. That led Richard and my political mentor, Nelson Peery, also located in Chicago, to call me and convince me to consider moving to Chicago, at least for the period of Richard’s New York absence. We expected that would be perhaps 6 months, maybe more.
    * * * * * *
    So there we were, car loaded to the gills, baking on the San Bernardino Freeway, while 80 miles to the east towered the peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, 10,000 feet above the desert floor. We might be lucky and make it through Banning and into the San Gorgonio Pass in 2 hours. By then, once the sun had set behind us, the drive would be tolerable, even as we entered the desert. Resignation didn’t stop us from blaming each other for the late start, but soon that became old. We listened to music for a while, nothing to seize our attention. As we passed Pomona, we turned on the all news station. “Give us 20 minutes and we’ll give you the world.”
    We didn’t need KFWB to give us the traffic report. It was all around us. We weren’t prepared for the world. Sports and weather yielded to the big story of the day. Harold Washington, mayor of my new home, Chicago, had suffered a massive heart attack, or so it was thought. The news confirmed that he was dead. There may have been other news. There probably was. Lee and I stared open mouthed at each other. Marie, who had not known the significance of Washington’s election against the machine, the significance of his program, couldn’t fathom the grief we showed.
    I turned the radio louder, expecting to hear more if I turned it up. When the radio refused to divulge new information, we started switching stations, Lee turning the buttons. We needed to be sure that what we had heard was true.
    Then, when finally we hit the vivid loneliness of the desert, the news story sunk in, as if, in the noise of the horns and the rubber against cement, it had been impossible to come to grips with the truth. The sun had set and the mood was blacker than midnight when we stopped at a diner in Indio. Silently we ate burgers, gassed up the car, and crossed into Arizona. It was late when we reached Phoenix, pulled up in the driveway outside the Yue family house, and, physically and emotionally exhausted, fell into bed.
    Thanksgiving came and went, we stayed through the weekend, and then packed up again, saying good-bye to family. It might be my last time in Phoenix, I thought. Marie stayed behind, Lee and I headed to Chicago. We stopped with Lee’s friends in Edmond, Oklahoma; then in Rolla, Missouri we stayed over in a motel. Late afternoon the next day, Thursday, December 3, we drove into Chicago as the somber daylight was fading, temperature in the rainy, nasty, bone-chilling forties and going down. As we came in, thousands had gathered in the University of Illinois pavilion, at a memorial for the mayor the people called “Harold.”
    Jo Ann and Mike made us a bed in their living room, a second floor apartment in Humboldt Park. Desperate to get a feel for my new city, we walked in the rain for a couple of blocks, got a bite to eat at the first local dive, and then went back to unpack. As soon as I got my bearings, I moved a mile east to Wicker Park, the front room of the first floor of an old three-flat at 1248 Hoyne. But I’d come 2,000 miles east, left the life I’d known for 27 years, made plans to move my family to a new city, to take up a position for which I’d been recruited. So, I felt obliged, anxious, needed to look again, even though I knew the surroundings, to see where I would be spending the next section of my life. So that’s what Lee & I did. We went to Lincoln Avenue, went to see Richard Bray, went to Guild Books.
    * * * * * * * * * * *
    Mr. Sourwine, Mr. Feely, and Mr. Port are not names from the pages of Dickens novel. They speak from the pages of a transcript of hearings before a subcommittee of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearings, held August 3, 1970, investigated the “Extent of Subversion in the “New Left.” Senator Marlow Cook presided over these hearings. J.G. Sourwine was the chief counsel. The subcommittee met in Washington, D.C. and took the testimony of Hugh Patrick Feely and Harry Port, both board members of the Lincoln Park (Chicago) Conservation Association. Feely & Port had conducted “investigations” of revolutionary organizations operating in Lincoln Park in the 2 years prior to the hearings. Early in the testimony Port brought a list of “revolutionary organizations” and organizations supporting them, to the attention of the committee. He mentioned churches, youth gangs (these included the Young Lords and Young Patriots organizations), underground media, a coffeehouse, the Student Health Organization, and Guild Books, characterized as a “radical information center.” I’m proud to know, years later, that I helped found the Student Health Organization in Los Angeles, the predecessor of this Chicago “revolutionary organization”!
    Much later in the transcript, p 1096, the following exchange occurs between Mr. Sourwine and Mr. Port:
    Mr. Port: The other thing, what I call radical information centers which handle not only the underground newspapers from Chicago but material which is Communist material which is printed in China, and so forth, which are the Guild Book Shop, and the People’s Information Center, located in the Lincoln Park area.
    Mr. Sourwine: Tell us a little about each one.
    Mr. Port: The Guild Book Shop, as well as acting as a bookshop also is the publisher of the Second City newspaper, which is an underground newspaper purporting to deal in matters of revolutionary activities.
    Mr. Sourwine: Is the Guild Book Shop in fact a book shop?
    Mr. Port: It acts as a bookshop, yes.
    Mr. Sourwine: Where is it located?
    Mr. Port: It is located on Halsted Street, 2136 North Halsted . . .
    Mr. Sourwine: What is the Guild, so-called, in connection with the Guild Book Store?
    Mr. Port: I have no idea.
    Mr. Sourwine: Do you know who owns the Guild Book Shop or runs it?
    Mr. Port: I do not.
    Mr. Sourwine: What goes on there that is subversive, or violent, or contributes to subversion or violence?
    Mr. Port: I would say it is the distribution point of most of the radical literature in the area.
    Mr. Sourwine: You understand, I am not arguing . . .
    Mr. Port: Right. In other words, their ad would read, you know, “Open 7 days a week, Marxist and other radical literature.”
    Mr. Sourwine: Are you in fact reading from one of their ads?
    Mr. Port: Right . . .
    Mr. Sourwine: Should the text of that ad go into this record, in your opinion?
    Mr. Port: I would say that, since they mention Marxist and other radical literature, Lenin, Mao, underground press, et cetera.

    The testimony hints at what Lincoln Park was like then. Two years prior to these hearings, the 1968 Democratic Party convention had taken place in Chicago. Much of the protest activity and leadership emanated from organizations in Lincoln Park. In between then and October, 1969, according to Mr. Port’s detailed “research,” the Young Lords Organization initiated many protests and takeovers in Lincoln Park, often with the help of SDS, the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots, and others. Lincoln Park was the foundation and stronghold of the Young Lords, based among Puerto Rican youth. The immediate cause of the investigation was the October 8 to October 11 “Bring the War Home” rally scheduled for Lincoln Park, that turned into what the committee termed a riot. Fred Hampton’s name appears in the records, mainly as a speaker at a number of northside rallies. No one mentions, in the hearings, the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, leaders of the Black Panthers, on December 4, 1969.
    Reading this testimony more than 40 years later feels almost prurient, voyeuristic. Of the names mentioned, some continued for many years as key activists in causes for social justice. Among them are people who own businesses today, teach university classes, offer art classes to south side young people. But there it is, the Guild Book Shop, then on Halsted Street, the center of distribution of all this dangerous material that foments violence and subversion. What a wonderful pedigree to inherit, to explore.

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