Blog—Donor Digest

Exhibition Spotlight: Chicago Style: Mike Royko and Windy City Journalism

Mike Royko 1920 x 1080

“Did you read Royko today?” That once-common conversation starter is being brought back to life in our new exhibition, Chicago Style: Mike Royko and Windy City Journalism, as the Newberry celebrates the legendary career of Mike Royko.

Most known for his daily columns on topics ranging from local politics to personal inconveniences, Royko thought of himself as a reporter first and foremost. His distinctive perspective on local politics and issues that mattered to his fellow Chicagoans made him a trusted voice in the city from 1959, when he started writing for the Chicago Daily News, until 1978 when the paper folded. He then worked for the Chicago Sun-Times up until it was bought by Rupert Murdoch, whom he vowed he would never work for, in 1984. Out of options, he spent the rest of his career, up until his death in 1997at 64, writing for the rival newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. Towards the later years of his career, his opinions reached a wider audience as readers from all over America were able to access his columns thanks to national syndication.

In 2005, Royko’s widow, Judy, was considering where she wanted to gift Royko’s archive. After visiting several museums and libraries around the city, she ultimately choose the Newberry, impressed that our collection has so many other journalists’ papers. She felt that Royko would be in good company here alongside some of his heroes and former colleagues, such as Ben Hecht and Herman Kogan.

This exhibition has been in the works for several years, with the original hope to open it in 2022 to mark the 25th anniversary of Royko’s death. Although the Newberry has held the Royko papers for almost 20 years, the library has not yet mounted a showcase dedicated to Royko’s full career and legacy.

In the Newberry collection, we have a copy of every column Royko wrote, some of his manuscripts, and personal items that were in his office such as his jacket, an ashtray, and his personal rolodex.

Chicago Style showcases many examples of Royko’s work, including several of his daily columns, personal items from his office, and artifacts that trace the significant changes in the newspaper business over the second half of the 20th century, including the last tin printing plate of the front page of the final issue of the Chicago Daily News. Visitors will also find research material related to Royko’s enormously popular and controversial book Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (1971), a critical examination of the six-term Chicago mayor.

Among those artifacts is a hand drawn political cartoon depicting a grocery store clerk dumping copies of Boss onto the street. The cartoon parodies an incident where Daley’s wife Sis walked into her local grocery store and was appalled to see copies of Boss being sold there, demanding that they be thrown out immediately. With no evidence that this cartoon was published in any major newspapers, we can speculate that it was made specifically for Royko himself to enjoy.

There is also an interactive part of the exhibition where visitors are encouraged to share who they think the Royko of today might be, and to think critically about how we get our news now and the voices we trust to tell us about what’s going on in our community.

Chicago Style: Mike Royko and Windy City Journalism is open now through September 28 in the Hanson Gallery. It’s co-curated by Newberry’s Director of Exhibitions, Sarah Boyd Alvarez; Newberry’s Director of Governance and Strategic initiatives, Kristin Emery; and Bill Savage.

This story is part of the Newberry’s Donor Digest, Summer 2024. In this newsletter, we share with donors exciting stories of the work made possible by their generosity. Learn more about supporting the library and its programs.