Lincoln McGraw-Beauchamp is standing in almost the exact center of the room, greeting his guests. He is a big black man; his approximate six-and-a-half feet and 280 pounds are hard to miss in the small gallery at Water Tower’s Rizzoli bookstore. There is a patch of tan fuzz in the middle of the black fuzz, covering his head and face, and his tan jacket and pants match it.
He is here to promote his new literary magazine, Literati Chicago. Stacks of the magazine and plastic cups of champagne are laid out neatly on the glass display cases that fill the room. Bright paintings and pencil drawings cover the walls.
“The idea of starting a literary magazine has been in my mind for at least ten years,” Beauchamp says. He has a resonant voice, made for poetry readings. Maybe that’s because he’s been a blues singer and harmonica player for 20 years. (His stage name is Chicago Beau, and he plays regularly in the Field Museum’s series on world music.)
He also writes: he published his first book of poetry 17 years ago in England. And he’s traveled around the United States, West Africa, and Europe, where he met some of the contributors to Literati Chicago. From 1976 to 1983, in an effort to moderate his own idealism, he worked as a commodities broker.
There are only about seven people at the reception so far, and Beauchamp circulates among them, smiling. Cecile Savage, an occasional bass player with Beauchamp’s band, offers to submit some of her poetry to him. She is French, with long, black hair and bright red lips, but she writes her poetry in English. Beauchamp is enthusiastic, but apparently he wants an international tone to his magazine. “Could you translate it?” he asks.
Gradually more people wander in. Among the new arrivals are Sharese Locke and Tamara Madison, two of the contributors. Locke has her hair wrapped in a white scarf, but a few long wisps hang out dramatically. She is a poet. So is Madison, although her hairstyle is less dramatic.
Marta Nicholas, who did most of the copyediting, is standing next to the champagne table, talking about the finer points of editing poets and short-story writers. It isn’t as touchy as people might think, she says, but “next time I’d like to meet the poets before I edit their stuff.”
Most of the crowd–about 20 people–seem to know each other, but Pam Cooper, the Chicago sales rep for Capital City Press (which printed the magazine) stands off to one side.
“It’s gratifying to see people actually picking up the books and looking through them,” she says. “I don’t usually get to witness this part.” She explains that Literati Chicago imitates the Paris Review, which her company also publishes.
Beauchamp started the project last August by approaching book stores, blues clubs, and arts organizations to see if they would buy space, though his magazine then was still just an idea. “Other people call them ads,” he says, “but I call them graphic endorsements.”
Another person sitting off to the side is Beauchamp’s wife, Anne-Cressey McGraw-Beauchamp, a pretty, ruddy blond. She cradles their five-week-old daughter, Honore. “We want the ads to represent a multicultural mix,” she says, then adds that what they really want are “backers who believe in what we’re doing.” One of the ads she points out is for Preferred Maintenance, a service that provides gardeners, maids, and chauffeurs. “They really support the project,” she says.
Most of the contributors to this issue are black, but Beauchamp insists the magazine is not targeted to a black audience. His purpose, he says, is to appeal to people who aren’t usually interested in literary magazines, to bridge the gap between the literary world and the masses. In fact he plans to donate copies of Literati Chicago (which is to be published quarterly) to the public schools.
Although Beauchamp claims his magazine is different, a lot of what it includes is the usual stuff: poems, short stories, essays. But there are several humor pieces by J.P. Donleavy that verge on the outrageous (“Under no circumstances whatever, fart in your wife’s presence”) and interviews with classical music conductor Paul Freeman and bluesman Johnny Shines.
Literati Chicago’s cover features a photograph of cars on Lake Shore Drive (taken by Beauchamp) overprinted with orange type and lettering (the design by friends of the Beauchamps). It lists three prices: five dollars, 50 francs, and 13,000 lira. Beauchamp says the book is to be sold in Rome, Florence, Paris, and London, as well as Denver, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Winston-Salem, Madison, Tucson, and Saint Louis.
“I’ve got my henchmen everywhere,” he says. “If a person’s got knowledge, he shouldn’t be so elitist as to keep it for himself.”
It’s getting late, and Beauchamp shushes everyone and introduces Sharese Locke and Tamara Madison. One by one, these three read their own poems, and for a few moments the audience remains motionless and silent, hypnotized by champagne and the rhythmic voices.
Then the trance is broken, and Beauchamp goes back to his guests.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.