Regular readers know I’ve suggested Bloomington-Normal is missing a good bet by not drawing more public attention to its solid connection to David Foster Wallace. He lived here in relative anonymity for a decade, beginning in 1993, while his literary efforts were drawing international acclaim.
My notion gains some cred this week with a prominent article in the travel section of The New York Times. In “A Writer’s Peaceful Prairie,” Chenoa native Lynn Freehill-Maye essentially invites Wallace devotees (and there are lots of them) to visit Bloomington-Normal and locations linked to his life here.
She visits the fourth floor office in Stevenson Hall at Illinois State where Wallace taught. It’s now a medieval language center. She finds uptown Normal “fresh-scrubbed, with boutiques, murals, wine bars and the Marriott where ISU's David Foster Wallace Conference draws scholars from around the world each spring.” (The fourth annual is June 8-10.)
She notes Babbitt’s Books is in a different uptown location than the days when Wallace considered it his favorite bookstore. She stops by the Coffeehouse, a Wallace hangout (“a loveable establishment whose beige walls dated back decades, and some of whose crumbs might have, too.”) She even meets our own Bill Flick at the Monical’s Pizza on Eldorado, one of Wallace’s favorites. She wanted to know about the time Flick interviewed Wallace at the nearby Denny’s, another Wallace haunt.
The Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau website lists a dozen “places of significance” relating to Wallace’s life here. Unfortunately, there’s very little concerning Wallace’s too-short life in the collections at the McLean County Museum of History, or even in ISU’s archives.
ISU does have one important artifact — the original contract for “Infinite Jest,” his critically-acclaimed masterwork. Complete with notations to his publisher, the document was found in Wallace's office after he moved to California, six years before he took his own life.
Most of Wallace’s papers and books are in Austin, at the University of Texas Ransom Center, which purchased them. What Austin doesn’t have is any other connection to one of America’s most acclaimed writers. We have many.
In fact, Bill Kemp, the local history museum archivist whose “Pages from Our Past” articles appear in the Sunday Pantagraph, predicts the Woodrig Road ranch house where Wallace lived might one day be “the most visited and/or historically influential site in the Twin Cities.”
Nancy and Bruce Petersen, murdered in their rural Bloomington home four months ago, were big in the dog show and breeding world. Last weekend, their “Bug” was judged the top Irish Terrier at the National Dog Show in Philadelphia. The Petersens’ memory will be honored at the Heart of Illinois Dog Show Cluster in Bloomington next Memorial Day weekend.
This and that
That’s some sigh of relief coming from DeWitt County as legislation to keep the Clinton nuclear power plant open won approval in Springfield … I received at least eight robo-calls at home, urging me to tell legislators to vote against it … We’ve unfortunately gotten used to reports of shots being fired in parts of the west side, but when bullets fly in daylight hours outside a major east-side retailer, as they did last weekend, and near a popular south-side eatery during the dinner hour, as they did a few days earlier, expect pressure to mount on authorities to curb the violence … In case you’re wondering, 729 of the 82,052 people who voted in McLean County last month didn’t bother to vote for president … another 1,489 wrote in a name … independent candidate Evan McMullin garnered the most write-ins (548) … OK, I admit I was one of those thinking that huge white structure near Towanda Barnes Road, southwest of Ovation Cinemas, was a temporary grain storage facility … actually it’s the new Bloomington Tennis Center, which opened last month.