ABOUT STUART AND THE BRENT FAMILY
In 1946, my father, Stuart Brent, founded his first bookstore, The Seven Stairs, on Rush Street in Chicago, using a GI loan and money he borrowed from his brother-in-law. He later wrote about it in his Book, The Seven Stairs. In 1952 or thereabouts, Brent moved the bookstore to Michigan Avenue, where it was eventually designated a landmark by The City of Chicago. He also wrote three children’s books about our dog, Mr. Toast. My father was fond of saying that he was lucky because his vocation and his avocation were one and the same. My father didn’t just go to work every day in his bookstore. He was always about books.
Reading and thinking and talking about books were the constant background of every moment in my parents’ house.
For seven years during the 1960’s, my father had a show on television five days a week, called Books and Brent. For two or three of those years, the format was my mother interviewing him. He read a book every night, got up and did the show live, then went to work in the bookstore. For years he made a living selling the books he had just reviewed, although the number of people who came back saying, “I didn’t see anything Kafkaesque about that book was pretty substantial.
My father had a lively literary life with Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel, Ben Hecht, Jack Conroy, and every author he could possible lasso into the store. He actually gave Nelson the title for The Man with the Golden Arm. He got arrested one night with Louis Armstrong, trying to break down the wall of his own bookstore. They needed to bring in a piano.
He taught literature at the University of Chicago, and ran the bookstore there for many years. But probably his main accomplishment was creating
a place in the middle of Chicago where people could talk about books. You can still find people in the city who will tell you that they were just walking past the bookstore, and my father would hi-jack them into the store, telling them, I have just the book for you- it will change your life! And they loved him for it.
My father closed the bookstore in 1994. To our everlasting sorrow, he passed away in June of 2010. He was 98 years old, his mind still as active as
it had ever been. He had been re-reading Herodotus’ Histories, and was amazed again how a voice so old resounded so powerfully across the
centuries. He could still recite Shelley’s Ode to the Westwind, and beat all comers at pinochle.
Hope Latta Brent
Hope Latta Brent graduated from Smith College in 1957. She interviewed Stuart on television for three years, and ran the children’s section of Stuart Brent Books until her death in 1984.
The first Saturday I was in high school, my father woke me up and said, “You’re in high school now, time to get to work.” With that abrupt announcement, my career in the book business began. I did every job there is to do in a bookstore. I ordered books, packed books, shipped books, sold books, cleaned books, reviewed books. I swept the floor, built window displays, ran book signings, calculated the payroll and taxes (before computers!), caught thieves, hired help, fired help, apologized, praised and prayed. I drove Nobel Prize winners around and fetched pens for Saul Bellow and Daniel Barenboim. When I called my father to ask if I should go to Paris for my junior year in college, he said, “ask him,” and handed the phone to Gore Vidal.
The Stuart Brent Children’s Book Club is the result of a lifetime of loving books. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than share my love of reading and my knowledge of books.
I am married and have three beautiful children.
I have been thrown from a horse while fox hunting in Ireland, and chased by an angry monkey in Vietnam. I have commandeered a motorcycle in Cambodia, slept on reindeer furs while trekking in the mountains of Norway, jumped off cliffs into the sea in Corsica, and missed the boat in Ketchikan, Alaska. I have studied Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Hebrew. I can’t tell my left from my right, I speak French fluently and have been a National Champion in Karate five times. I’ve been proud to represent my country with the US AAU Karate Team in the Czech Republic, Romania, and Malta.
I am, and have always been, a voracious reader.
- David Brent has a Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Chicago. He was an editor at the University of Chicago Press for more than 30 years.
- Jonathan Brent has a Ph.D in English Literature from the University of Chicago. Jonathan founded the literary magazine Formations, which was the first English language publisher of Elfriede Jelinek, winner of the 2004 Nobel prize for Literature. As director of Northwestern University Press, he acquired and was the only US publisher of Imre Kertesz, 2002 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. From Northwestern, Jonathan went to Yale University Press as Editorial Director. While at Yale, Jonathan created the Annals of Communism Series. He has edited The Best of Triquarterly Magazine and The John Cage Reader, written two books about Joseph Stalin, and appeared in three documentaries about him. He is a frequent contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education, New Criterion, and other newspapers and magazines. He is currently the director of the YIVO Institute in New York City.
- Frances Brent holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature. She has been a professor at Yale, and won the May Swenson Prize for her poetry. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker Magazine. She also published a volume of poetry: The Beautiful Lesson of the I. Her book, The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson was published by James Atlas in 2009.
- Jill Shimabukuro-Brent is the Design Manager and Associate Production Manager at The University of Chicago Press. She has won the American Institute of Graphic Artists Prize for book jacket design.
- Joshua Brent worked at Brent Books and Cards for many years, then ran the Kabbalah Bookstore in Los Angeles for several years.
- Susan Brent, Lisa Brent, and Joseph Brent are all veterans of Stuart Brent Books, but they have gone on to much more sensible occupations.