Charles Simic on American Identity

by Joseph McKeown

"Chicago was like a coffee-table edition of the Communist Manifesto, with glossy pictures of lakefront mansions and inner-city slums. On one side you had Michigan Avenue with its swanky hotels and luxury stores and, a few blocks away, the rest of the city wrapped up in smoke where factory workers, their faces covered with grime, waited for buses. An immigrant’s paradise, you might say. Everyone was employed. There were huge factories humming twenty-four hours a day short distances from beautiful beaches where beautiful young couples sat reading Camus and Sartre. I had Swedes, Poles, Germans, Italians, Jews, and blacks for friends, who all took turns trying to explain America to me. Chicago, where I only spent three years, gave me my first American identity."

- Charles Simic, The Paris Review