Hyde Park native pens book

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Assistant to the Editor

Hyde Park native Richard Pollak will read from his new memoir, “After the Barn,” at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18, at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave.

The 79-year-old New York City-based author and journalist, who grew up in Hyde Park between 1937 and 1952, details his memories of the neighborhood in a tale that traces his life story from childhood through the ‘90s.

“It was this intellectual hotbed. It was a time when education was for education’s sake,” said Pollak of Hyde Park during the tenure of University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins. Pollak, whose father once wrote an arts column for the Herald, said his visit this week will be his first in several years.

Since 1964, Pollak has lived in New York City. A onetime political reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun, he is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine and the author of articles in The Atlantic and Harper’s magazine, as well as several books.

Pollak’s book reads like an insider’s catalogue of neighborhood landmarks, such as Botany Pond, the now defunct Co-op supermarket and Kenwood Avenue, where he lived. About his mother, Pollak writes that she “long had loved the treble chatter that drifted up from the Ray Elementary schoolyard, the buzzer that called the kids in from recess, the bells that rang every fifteen minutes high in Rockefeller Chapel.”

But more than serving as a personal record of the Hyde Park of yesteryear, Pollak’s book offers an intimate glimpse into his childhood, marked by an epilepsy diagnosis and the tragedy of his brother Stephen’s death at age 11, when he fell down a barn hay chute while on vacation in Michigan.

“You can’t flinch, if you undertake a project like this. [To] flinch is to be dishonest,” Pollak said. “You can’t back away from the hard stuff. And there was plenty of hard stuff.”

In his book, Pollak details his quest to find out more about the death of his brother, then a student at the University of Chicago’s Orthogenic School. His parents avoided discussing the matter altogether.

“I just never spoke to them about it, and they never spoke to me about it. That is really the fulcrum of the book: the fact that I have to go back to this on my own,” Pollak said. “The process was cathartic and I think I knew when I finally was reaching the home stretch that that was going to be one of the big payoffs. And it has been.”

Like many other memoirists, Pollak’s road to publication was a long one: he began writing the book in the ‘80s and collected several interviews as research. By the time he completed a memoir to his satisfaction in late 2008, the Great Recession had struck publishers.

Finally, Pollak self-published “After the Barn” as an e-book in April 2013, followed by a hard-copy printing of 250 copies a few months later.

“I rather like having my fate in my own hands, and not in the hands of publishing houses,” Pollak said.

At Monday’s talk, Pollak plans to read from the beginning of his book and then open the floor to questions.

For more information about the event, call the Seminary Co-op Bookstore at 773-752-4381. To find out more about Pollak’s work, visit richardpollak.com.

j.bishku@hpherald.com