Crème de la Cremin
When he isn’t cracking jokes in the classroom or telling you about his passion for Alexander the Great, Dr. Dennis Cremin can be found in his reading chair with a good book while sipping a hot cappuccino. He is the ideal historian possessing “too many books and not enough book shelves.” Cremin received his Masters from Midwestern State University and his Ph.D. from Loyola University in Chicago. He is the author of many books and the originator of the name Jet Fuel Review, “a high octane literary journal.” Dr. Cremin, a historian, a college professor and a published author is considered nothing short of a “triple threat,” like a Vin Diesel, in today’s society.
The interest for literature and writing came to Dr. Cremin at an early age. According to him, it was his creative writing teacher, Fr. Greg Boyle, who first pushed him in the direction of success. After receiving an “A-” on a one-act play, Cremin realized “writing was something he could do well.” Engaging in historical texts and novels helped to aid his interest in producing literature of his own. More specifically, the works of Doris Kearns Goodwin greatly fascinated Dr. Cremin: “it turns out we were both influenced by going to the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York.” Goodwin is famous for writing presidential histories and Dr. Cremin admired the power of history and place within text. In fact, the power of place acts as a major theme in his book, Grant Park: The Evolution of Chicago’s Front Yard.
As an avid reader and lover of literature, I wondered how Dr. Cremin found the time to write such compelling and historical books. He explained to me that it is all part of a two-fold writing process. He stated, “[that] you must set aside time to be alone for four to five hours a day in order to successfully write a book.” For Cremin personally, “this means waking up at five in the morning and trying not to talk to anyone until ten.” This was difficult due to his busy schedule and morning classes but he always managed to carve out some time. The other aspect that made writing quite difficult was “conceptualization”:
“This meant talking through ideas. I would start gathering ideas but then start talking about them with other people to decide what are the stories and narratives I am going to tell and how I’m going to tell that story. The other part is just the nuts and bolts of writing.”
Writing may be hard work, but when asked the question if history would be different without reading and writing Cremin stated, “yes, I love stories and it’s why I got into history. I think story telling is an integral part of what we do.”
Being a history professor and Chicago historian it is easy to infer that Dr. Cremin might approach a book in a different manner from those who do not have his extensive background. However, like any published author the desire to go back and make changes is present. “You always want to edit,” Cremin exclaims. In regards to his book about Grant Park, he strongly believes that he has become even clearer about his main points and their significance. He stated that “he could tell that story better now.” Although it is apparent that Dr. Cremin gains a satisfaction from writing, it is reading the literature of others that he enjoys the most: “Of course I prefer reading other people’s literature than writing. I think there is a particular itch that writing can fulfill, but writing is hard work.”
As mentioned before, Dr. Cremin has always been a fan of history. However, he cited Zorba the Greek as a compelling story in literature. He spoke of the story as an idea of somebody who is spontaneous and lives for today. He believes, “that sometimes we have to balance that within ourselves; the rational and the other part of yourself that is wild and in the moment.” Dr. Cremin even confessed that given the opportunity to have coffee with any fictional character he would chose Alexis Zorba, without a doubt. Zorba the Greek may be a favorite text, but there were also other novels that helped to guide him into the extremely successful man he is today.
There were numerous pieces of writings that helped shape the Dennis Cremin we know today. He mentioned two books in particular that he felt were the most pivotal in his life. “Ultimately, the top book that influenced my own life and career was William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis,” proclaimed Cremin. The other book that proved to be exceptionally influential and “made him want to be a writer of some sort” was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Both of these books were viewed as a “game changer” and impacted his life tremendously.
Dr. Dennis Cremin is an individual with numerous accomplishments both personally and professionally. From being a published author to a full-time history professor at Lewis University his success continues to grow and he shows no signs of slowing down. He has molded the minds of many within his teaching career, instilled historical knowledge within his writing career and provided encouragement and positivity within his life. He is someone to be admired for his contributions within both the education and literary world. Although I am not currently a student of his, it is certainly inferred that those lucky enough to work with him will gain more than ever expected.
Acts of Reading and Writing: Meet Dennis Cremin
Q: What book might we find on your nightstand right now?
A: It’s a book called Why Writers Write. It’s an intriguing book to me because the authors interviewed twenty authors who they wanted to meet and find out why they write and I thought that was a great way to do a project.
Q: If you had the chance to co-write with one author, whom would you choose? Why?
A: Doris Kearns Goodwin. She is a historian and is currently famous for doing presidential histories. It turns out we were both influenced by going to the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York. I think she is a wonderful historian and I would love to work with her on a project.
Q: Describe your perfect reading atmosphere.
A: I’m in my house. I’m in my living room, in my reading chair. Yes, I have a reading chair. My feet are up and I might have some light music going, probably Bach or Haydn. When I want to be somewhat introspective I go for early classical music. I’m likely sipping a cappuccino or water.
Q: What might your personal library look like?
A: All of us aspire to have something that is straight out of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, I have the classic disorderly historian’s library of too many books and too few book shelves.
Q: If you could “re-make” any movie that was based on a book, what movie would it be?
A: It might be Brad Pitt’s Alexander. What I love about Alexander the Great is that he sleeps with the Iliad under his pillow and that he has the dagger and I want to get a sense of him as a dynamic driver leader.
Q: What piece of literature can you read over and over again?
A: I think poetry tends to be one of the things I go back to over and over again. Whether it’s particular pieces of Dante or if it’s more contemporary works poetry tends to be where I go.
Q: Give us a quote from your favorite (or any) book/movie.
A: The closing scene from Some Like it Hot. It is revealed that Tony Curtis who has been masquerading as a woman through the whole film says , “ I can’t marry you because of this…I cant marry you because of that…I can’t marry you because of this and says okay, I can’t marry you because I’m a man” and the guy looks up at him (this is the final line of the film) and says, “Well nobody’s perfect.”
Q: If you were invited to have coffee with any fictional character, whom would you most like to meet? Why?
A: I wouldn’t mind hanging out with Alexis Zorba (Zorba the Greek). But really only for a long weekend and not any longer than that.
Q: And lastly, share your top five favorite pieces of writing (anything included).
A: Ultimately, the top book that influenced my own life and career was William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis. Another book that made me want to be a writer of some sort was John Steinbecks’s The Grapes of Wrath. I read it junior year of high school and it turned out to be a big book in my life. In terms of other pivotal works, I love the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin about FDR in the White House. I absolutely love that book. Goodwin also has a book that is a memoir as a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I grew up in Los Angeles (Hollywood, California) and as a fan of the L.A. Dodgers so again I connect with Doris Kearns Goodwin that way. Also, as mentioned earlier, I am still fascinated by Dante.
Thank you, Dr. Cremin!