CARL THE COLUMNIST
by Bill Monson
This is the weekend when Galesburg celebrates its most famous native with "Carl Sandburg Days." I'll be taking part. On Saturday at 9 a.m. I'm scheduled to do a writers' workshop at the Ramada Inn on Writing Columns and Articles.
In his lifetime, Carl was many things: poet, Lincoln biographer, lecturer, folk music collector and performer, novelist, children's writer, war correspondent, Socialist recruiter and propagandist, pamphleteer and reporter.
But the one trade he returned to again and again was as a columnist.
He began to write columns and opinion pieces while still at Lombard College, where he did a column called "Sidelights" under one of his many pseudonyms "Karl August."
While a fireman at the Brooks Street station, he wrote an occasional column "Inklings and Idlings" for the GALESBURG EVENING MAIL as Charles A. Sandburg. He also did unsigned editorials for the GALESBURG LABOR NEWS.
When he moved to Chicago, he did a column called Views and Reviews" for the journal TO-MORROW and later became its editor. He was also assistant editor and a columnist for THE LYCEUMITE, a journal of platform entertainment circles. He did Socialist articles and editorials for THE CHICAGO DAILY SOCIALIST and a weekly column on the Chicago theater scene for THE BILLBOARD.
While a party organizer for the Wisconsin Social Democrats, he wrote articles and columns for their weekly, THE SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC HERALD. He did prose pieces, editorials and columns for several Milwaukee newspapers--some under pseudonyms.
After the Social Democrats began to decline, he returned to Chicago where he became a reporter for the liberal paper THE DAY BOOK and wrote articles for SYSTEM: MAGAZINE OF BUSINESS as "R.E. Coulson." Later, he took a job as associate editor of SYSTEM but came to regret it. As a socialist at a capitalist journal, he was a fish out of water--and was eventually fired. To fill the gap, Sandburg edited THE AMERICAN ARTISAN AND HARDWARE RECORD. There, he wrote a column "Random Notes and Sketches" on hardware interests as "Sidney Arnold."
All this time, he also worked on his poetry, refining it into his own style of free verse. When Harriet Monroe published nine of his Chicago Poems in the March 1914 issue of POETRY, Carl was on his way to fame. Still, he returned to THE DAY BOOK as a journalist to keep a steady salary. Even as his poetry became nationally known, he kept his newspaper work going--writing articles and a column "Lookin' 'Em Over" for the INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST REVIEW-- some under his own name, some as "Jack Phillips." In April 1916, Holt and Co. published his book CHICAGO POEMS but poetry could not bring in a regular income so he stayed at THE DAY BOOK and wrote a column called "War Notes." In July 1917, the paper closed down, and Sandburg wrote editorials for the CHICAGO EVENING AMERICAN, owned by William Randolph Hearst. But eventually Hearst tried to control his editorial content, and Carl moved to the CHICAGO DAILY NEWS (at half the salary) whose more lenient management allowed him to finish his second book of poems, CORNHUSKERS.
He joined the Newspaper Enterprise Association briefly as a war correspondent in Stockholm, then as a midwest stringer, but returned in June 1919 to the DAILY NEWS where he stayed for 13 years, his longest tenure at any salaried job.
There, in 1920, he gave up reporting and writing editorials to become motion picture editor for the next seven years--reviewing six films a week--which allowed him time to work on his own writing projects like his Lincoln biography and THE AMERICAN SONGBAG. He could also travel as a lecturer.
Even as these outside efforts made him nationally known, he continued to work at the DAILY NEWS, giving up film for a column called "Carl Sandburg's Notebook"-- a free-ranging commentary on people, events and ideas. He continued it through all the hard work of the late 20s and early 30s, even a nervous breakdown. In May 1932, the Depression-strapped DAILY NEWS cut all salaries in half (reducing Carl's weekly salary to $37.50), and Carl resigned.
He continued to write occasional pieces for various periodicals but did not do a regular column again until the spring of 1941, when he began a syndicated column for the CHICAGO TIMES which gave him a weekly national podium for the next two years. He quit in 1943 to order to give more time to his war work and own writing. Never again was he to be a regular columnist. There is no question that his DAILY NEWS columns gave him the time he needed for the mammoth biographies of Lincoln. Without his work as columnist, we might never have had them or the Rootabaga stories or THE AMERICAN SONGBAG. The columns supported his growing family while his other work was producing scant income. But even after he could live comfortably on his books and lecturing, Sandburg continued to write columns because he enjoyed the pulpit they gave him, because of the people he met and wrote about, because the columns helped him focus his thinking--and thus helped his other writing.
That's why it's appropriate, I think, for this columnist to do a presentation on Column and Article- Writing for "Carl Sandburg Days." My first published work of note was as sports editor/columnist of the GHS paper, which was printed at the LABOR NEWS; and I did articles and was eventually Galesburg plant editor for the Butler BEE magazine to help pay my way through Knox College. I've never stopped writing since; and though I've not become as successful or as famous as my fellow townsman Carl, I understand the thinking and spirit of Sandburg the columnist.
Use a good picture of Sandburg with this.
Do you suppose you could use one of his movie columns from that book you have? That would make a nice companion piece on a page with my column. What copyright problems would there be? Or is there a column at the library that might work? Just an idea.
You asked me to remind you to save 40 papers for my workshop--you are hereby reminded. I will pick them up Friday afternoon.
Are you planning to cover any "Sandburg Days" activities? Seems like they have a lot going--but I don't know how pictorial they would be.
I look forward to seeing you.