To the editors.
As a writer and sometime contributor to the Reader, I have been following the debate over “Tina and Rosie Don’t Live Here Anymore” [April 22] with increasing annoyance. In the name of fairness, to say nothing of professional loyalty, I feel I must come to Marion Karczmar’s defense.
I’m not sure what the people who have attacked Ms. Karczmar for writing a “journalistic attack on two little old ladies” in a “slanderous, malicious article” were reading. I found her piece to be a delightful, bittersweet, and somewhat angry portrait of the effect of gentrification on a Chicago community, as illustrated by the forced departure of two women who personified what many of us love most about Chicago and its neighborhoods.
Ms. Karczmar portrayed two complex, sometimes difficult personalities, misunderstood and shunned on occasion by neighbors but still imbued with hard-won joy, generosity, and kindness. They were an irrevocable facet of their neighborhood’s character and life. To record honestly the occasional tension among Tina and Rosie and their neighbors, to admit that their presence was sometimes abrasive and intimidating as well as generous and warm, to portray their eccentricities as well as their exuberance, and finally to show eloquently the empty space that has replaced the source of energy and vitality that was Tina and Rosie’s household–irrevocably diminishing the soul and livability of yet another “up-and-coming” Chicago neighborhood–all of this was top-flight journalism, told with wit, honesty, and an unabashed feeling of love for her subjects.
Readers who want one-dimensional, sappy portraits should avoid writers like Marion Karczmar and, for that matter, should probably avoid Chicago altogether. The literary history of this town is filled with irascible, gritty, life-hardened souls who’ve learned to live lives of spirit and meaning in the face of the myriad oppressions and stressors that accompany working-class urban life. People such as this can be eccentric, difficult to understand, and are often loved more in reminiscence than while they’re alive. They’re the heart and soul of Chicago, according to the vision of writers from Sandburg to Algren and beyond. Ms. Karczmar stands honorably in a great literary tradition with her portrayal of Tina and Rosie.
To Marion Karczmar, keep up the good work. To her critics: If you can’t handle portraits of people that show their complexity as well as their generosity and kindness, I’d suggest Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood or Mayberry, R.F.D. Those of us who love real cities, real people, and real writing about them can do without your simplistic readings and criticisms.