Chicago’s oldest surviving Ruth Apilado remains a beacon of hope at 113
Who knew when Ruth Apilado sent the first thousand copies of AIM (America’s Intercultural Magazine) from a home office on 73rd Street and Eberhardt Avenue in 1973, that she would still receive poems, short stories, and essays at the age of 113?
When I first met Apilado in 1977, she told me that she had withdrawn from teaching in order to start a publication aimed at promoting racial harmony. It had been a dream for her since the 1960s, when she drove from Chicago to Mississippi with her son, knocking on doors to tout the benefits of integration, warning young Myron: “If you see me giving a signal, run like a devil. “
I was an aspiring teacher and writer, and listened intently as she spoke about racial conflict, education, and her theories on writing and literature. She had published “The Joneses” in 1950, a novel about the plight of an urban black family which received an honorable mention at the Midwestern Writers Conference.
I found her charming, funny, bright and, although she is barely five feet tall, a little intimidating.
The last time I spoke on the phone with Ruth, when she was only 103, her intelligence was intact. But on a recent phone call with Myron, retired vice president of minority affairs at the University of Washington, I learned that her memory was failing now and that she had moved to a family home for adults near from him, near Seattle.
I was 27 when I posted my first short story to AIM. It had been rejected by Playboy, Redbook, and Esquire, and I weighed whether to invest in additional shipping costs. Then a letter arrived from Apilado, who wrote that she was interested and wanted to talk.
We met that week and she explained that she loved writing, but my story – about a man’s lost struggle with alcohol and gambling – never gave the reader a reason. to continue reading.
It was the intimidating part: she knew immediately what I had only vaguely felt.
Under Apilado’s direction, I was working on several revisions of the story, one of which eventually appeared in the July / August 1978 issue of AIM.
I can still see her face as she leaned forward in her chair, smiling brightly, telling me to call anytime as she rarely slept. She said instead she listened to Larry King’s all-night radio show, which she swore must be a black man.
Our first meetings moved to a regular Wednesday afternoon session, where I would join Ruth and several staff in publishing the magazine, proofreading the articles and judging the submissions.
Night was falling by the time I got home, and my wife, Marianne, once asked me how much time I had spent with a woman she had not yet met. So I confessed everything: that I loved my stay at AIM: the staff gossip, their stories, their laughter. And my fantasy that Ruth was like my Gertrude Stein: a 69-year-old mentor to a youngster in her twenties.
Small GOAL magazine, of course, struggled to meet Gertrude Stein’s standards, or to attract Hemingway-caliber contributors. But he got race-themed essays from notable writers such as Thomas Cottle and James Alan McPherson, and contributions from poet Henry Blakely.
Husband of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, Blakely was another writer unable to resist Ruth’s contagious optimism, and he quickly took on an active role for the magazine.
I was struck by Henry, not just because of his wife’s fame, but also because of his. Following “Windy Places”, his collection of poems depicting life in the South Chicago neighborhood, he was known as the “63rd Street Poet.” And one snowy afternoon Henry gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard on writing. I told him that after reading John Updike I felt like an impostor, exposed by the haunting prose and deep insights of a true author.
“Take a closer look at Updike,” said Henry. “All he really does is work his ass to observe every detail in the moment, and put it on paper as honestly as possible.”
I left AIM after accepting a teaching position at a college further afield. But AIM has never left me.
I remember one night in 1997 when Eddie Two Rivers, a member of the Ojibwa people whose short story “Survivor’s Medicine” was going to win the American Book Award, came to my university for our guest artist program.
After reading and Q&A in an auditorium full of students, Two Rivers said, “I wouldn’t be here without Ruth Apilado.
He had been a “person,” he said, reading poems for drinks in poetry slams at Uptown’s Green Mill. But, he said, Apilado had faith in his work when few others did, helping him build a career.
AIM would persist in her mission, even if Ruth cedes the reins to Myron and steps down as associate editor. The magazine changed from a bimonthly to a quarterly periodical, before its circulation ceased entirely in 2007. Nevertheless, traces of its existence online, such as on WritersCafe.org, continue to encourage applicants to submit manuscripts. at AIM University of Washington address.
When I asked Myron about his mother’s influence, he said his mission at the university mirrored that of AIM in many ways: “We have helped underrepresented minorities and economically disadvantaged youth to receive an education and pursue the American dream.
“I also derive my idealism from her,” he added. “Although she’s always been a lot smarter than me.”
The Gerontology Research Group lists Ruth as the tenth oldest supercentennial in the country, born April 30, 1908. She remains the oldest living in Illinois, not to mention our oldest civil rights activist, whose generosity, the hope and love for all human beings are more needed. today than ever.
David McGrath is Emeritus Professor of English at the College of DuPage and author of “South Siders,” a collection of essays. He can be contacted at [email protected].
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