The serenity of Ragdale’s 50-acre retreat and refuge in Lake Forest called to Elizabeth Taylor, and she had to answer. It was exactly the place where one of Chicago’s leading literary figures needed to be.
Taylor has come here to work. Her fans and admirers will get a snapshot of her progress on a solo literary work of non-fiction—End of the Union—on January 23, when Ragdale Foundation hosts “Tea & Talk” from 10-11:30 a.m.
It’s a morning of pastries, tea and conversation.
End of the Union will examine grief and heartache after the Civil War as seen through the eyes of women who survived the war but not its permanent pain.
Ragdale Foundation sits on the one-time estate of architect Howard Van Doren Shaw at 1260 Green Bay Road in Lake Forest.
Since its founding in 1976, the foundation has offered artists, poets and authors a place where their intellectual gears can mesh quietly to crank new thoughts from old dreams. Eleven of them accept live-in working residencies for a month at a time while sharing meals, camaraderie and the preserved, primitive prairie on Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
Ragdale’s asked-and-answered invitation to a working, thinking sabbatical seems perfectly timed for Taylor because she has embarked on a critical personal initiative. As an influential critic and editor, she had built a resolute reputation among Chicago’s most admired women of the arts, con- necting literature with readers.
Eighteen years ago she joined old Time correspondent friend Adam Cohen in writing her first book, American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley, His Battle for Chicago and the Nation. It was the sweeping, evocative, journalistic work of a kind she often praises as a critic. The New York Times called it one of that year’s best. It was a hit.
With that success and other successes that followed as a literary arbiter and advocate, she garnered acclaim as writer and thinker, but she had one defining achievement she still reached for: She had written a million words professionally, but never her own book, dependent on no one and nothing but her own realized will and skill. No net for the high trapeze act.
Now she has launched into that first solo work at Ragdale Foundation.
Taylor will be on the literary stage alone— though not isolated. Ragdale’s strategic solitude might be useful as a tool to focus.
“I don’t think of myself as the Lone Ranger,” she says. “I have my little systems when I write. But it doesn’t really feel lonely because there are so many people who are my champions, friends and advisors; they all are constantly talking to me about this.
“So many people are in this with me.” Co-editor of the National Book Review, Taylor, in addition to her time as a Time correspondent, served as literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, Pulitzer Prize jurist and president of the National Books Critics Circle. She persuaded the Chicago Tribune to save Printers Row Lit Fest in 2003, and it stands as the Midwest’s premier book fair.
In her different personas as critic, editor and literary philosopher,Taylor intermittently has been overwhelmed by as many as 200 books a day arriving on her doorstep, all by authors seeking her approval, acknowledgment and, if they’re lucky, advice. She’s a collaborator..
“I worked on this book proposal for close to five years,” she says. “I’m slow, cautious and deliberate as a researcher and writer. My experience with American Pharaoh made me think much more about what readers want and need. It taught me.”
Visit ragdale.org for “Tea & Talk” reservations or call (847) 234-1063.