Writers and poets sought to depict these new urban spaces in a realistic way, picturing the failure of cities to fulfill their promised reward for hard work and the rise of city slums. Those involved felt that the realities of dirty city life had become too materialistic and had led to a loss of the traditional rural values of the exploited lower class. Their work was often a mixture of nostalgia for the small-town life the writers themselves had left and the grotesque realities of the city’s working people. This group was the beginning of American Realism and Naturalism that took hold in the 20th century.
Chicago’s newspapers played a major role in this movement serving as incubators of literary talent with writers like Dell, Anderson, and Sandburg on staff, revitalizing journalism as a literary art. Writer and journalist Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, was originally published in serial form in a newspaper. The story was based on his investigation in meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards, exposing the corrupt practices found there with wages and working conditions, earning him a reputation as a muckraker for his efforts.
Sandburg’s poetry collection Chicago Poems is regarded by many as the pinnacle of the literary renaissance with its social realism and praise to the American agriculture and the industrial working man. The poems were also featured in the Monroe’s newly founded Poetry magazine, one of the little magazines and literary groups that not only introduced these Chicago writers but also promoted an exchange with notable European writers including James Joyce and W. B. Yeats.
With World War I and consequent rise of literary modernism, however, the writers began to disperse, and by the Great Depression, the movement was over.
By April McCallum