Editor’s note: This is just one of our stories looking at and promoting authors and artists in Evanston.
Adam Langer is kind of from Evanston and from Chicago.
As a kid growing up in the Chicago area, he lived in Rogers Park, but went to Baker Demonstration School in Evanston before attending Evanston Township High School.
“My father considered himself an Evanston taxpayer, if not an actual resident of Evanston,” Langer said. “Possibly, many years later, that would be a problem for us. But at the time, it seemed almost legal. Whether [legal] Or not, I was a teenager. I didn’t check.”
Despite the initial embarrassment of being a “Chicago kid” at ETHS, Langer said he’s always viewed Rogers Park as an extension of Evanston, rather than a separate city. He spent many summers going to Lighthouse Beach, and some of his best friends to this day are the people he met in high school.
“It wasn’t really my actual home, but it looks very much like his hometown,” he said.
He and his family ended up on Chicago’s North Side after his grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe to a West Side ghetto in the 1920s. Interestingly, while growing up in a quiet, close-knit street of Jewish families in Rogers Park, he actually thought of Evanston as the big, exciting city he couldn’t wait to explore.
After ETHS, Langer went to Vassar College in New York before returning to Chicago and working his way through some of the city’s most popular media organizations and radio stations, including The Chicago Reader, WBEZ, WBBM, and WXRT. Eventually, he moved to New York City, where he became a novelist and executive editor for The Washington Post straight aheada non-profit Jewish news organization.
Langer has written seven books, and his latest novel, Cyclorama, delves into the experiences and lives of the cast of a theater show at a fictional high school in Central Evanston. The story is drawn from Langer’s memories of ETHS and his time working on theatrical productions there.
“I wanted to tell the stories of these characters and where they ended up, and it made sense to set them in a world I knew so well. It’s 1982, the North Side of Chicago and the northern suburbs of Chicago, and Evanston and Wilmette and Skokie.” And I was writing from memory, not to say everything in This [book] already happened. But I was writing in a world I could remember, which made it easier to write about and bring it to life.”
The book also features an abrasive and somewhat abusive drama teacher and theater program director. As many Evanstonians know and some will remember, dozens of former students have done so Allegations of sexual assault and misconduct v. Bruce Sewerth, former drama teacher at ETHS.
Just a few years ago, the school settled a lawsuit against Siewerth for $100,000. Langer actually acted in high school productions directed by Seywerth several decades ago. Seewerth was, in fact, someone Langer thought about while writing the book, but he also wanted to use this story as an example of a larger trend of abusive authority figures.
“The early 1980s was a time of outrageous boundary crossing by adult authority figures. He’s not just a guy running a dictatorial and abusive theater program at Evanston Township High School.” “There are hordes of these stories. And since writing that book, people have contacted me not only from Chicago and its northern suburbs, but from all over the country saying, ‘It reminds me of that experience I had, I had a coach like that, a manager like that, I I tested it.”
And though Langer didn’t live in Evanston or Chicago for many years, he still spoke of his time here with great admiration and nostalgia. With so many talented and engaged people concentrated in one place, he said he finds it surprising that there aren’t more novels, movies, and TV shows set in Evanston.
“Evanston is interesting in that it’s a microcosm of an urban experience in a very intense setting, and high school is kind of a microcosm,” Langer said.
“He was so diverse, so energetic, so intellectually engaged, so creative… To be in such a lively environment and surrounded by an incredibly talented group of people who are at the forefront of so many fields as we speak now was intoxicating in a way.” .”