Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who Inspired You As A Kid? - UPDATED 7:17pm 5/20/09

Imagine my surprise this morning, when I opened up the online version of the Daily Herald and there was a story about my high school creative writing teacher, Michael Bellito.

I took a number of English classes from Mr. Bellito during the course of my four years at John Hersey High School, but his creative writing class was my favorite and inspired me to write. It was through his encouragement and passion for words that I developed my own love for writing. I remember sitting in the front row and being entranced as he would read his own tales of growing up in the Chicago suburbs, attending Arlington High School, going to Cock Robin for ice cream, attending Cubs games, and wasting away summers at Riverview.

He taught us to choose our words carefully and avoid flowery language and writing. Although I'm certain I earned A's in his classes, I remember papers back with red ink challenging me to be better. He saw the good in his students, recognized the potential in everyone, and never settled for anything less than the best. He wasn't an easy teacher and there was no pulling the wool over his eyes, but the results were always worth the extra efforts.

Twenty years after leaving his classroom, Mr. Bellito is no longer at Hersey. He's now teaching at Harper Community College and he's just published his first book, Ten Again, a memoir about growing up in the Chicago suburbs during the 1950s. I especially love that his book is being compared to The Wonder Years and A Christmas Story because he loved The Wonder Years and would often talk about it in class. He's speaking at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library tonight and doing a book signing. I've rearranged my night so I can be in the front row.

Former Hersey teacher reveling in 'Ten Again' success

Daily Herald Staff Report, May 20, 2009

For more than 30 years, Michael Bellito taught his students to skip the flowery prose and instead write what they know.

Now he has taken his own advice.

The retired Hersey High School English teacher and Wheeling resident has written his first book, and he is finding a growing audience.

"Ten Again" chronicles his memories of growing up in the Northwest suburbs during the late 1950s.

From the neighborhood baseball field to the local movie theater, and from Bozo buckets to Riverview, the book has drawn a universal chord with readers of all ages, Bellito says.

"My peers have told me it really takes them back," says Bellito, who now teaches speech at Harper College. "So far, I'm thrilled with the response."

What thrills him even more were the comments from editors with Eloquent Books in New York, who likened the book and his storytelling to the hit television show, "The Wonder Years," and the classic movie, "The Christmas Story."

Both featured adult men narrating scenes from their childhood, that worked to stir memories among viewers.

"That was the ultimate compliment, I thought," Bellito says.

On Wednesday, he will read excerpts from his book at 7 p.m. in the Hendrickson Room of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library during a book signing and sale. Admission is free.

While library officials say they cannot host every local author, Bellito's book stands out because of its Northwest suburban setting.

"It's got an Arlington Heights spin to it, and a lot of nostalgia," says Linda Mumford, programming specialist.

She adds that she has not read the book yet. The library's lone copy has been checked out ever since she booked the date with him.

In April, Bellito had a book signing at Hersey, and later this summer he has appearances lined up at independent bookstores in Naperville and Woodstock, as well as the Prospect Heights Public Library, with other library signings pending.

"Everything's happening so fast," says Bellito of his newfound role of author on a promotional book tour. "It's really exciting."

Just last week, Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Arlington Heights received boxes of the book in preparations for students at Hersey and Prospect, who will have the novel on their summer reading list.

Prospect freshmen and sophomores will find the book as one of eight choices for summer reading, while Hersey freshmen honors English students will be required to read it.

Chuck Venegoni, English and fine arts division chair at Hersey, says faculty members chose the book as a contrast to the other required read, "Please Stop Laughing at Me," a memoir written by a woman, Jodee Blanco.

"It offers a nice chance for contrast and comparison writing," Venegoni says. "And, there's a trend toward choosing reading that's more accessible and more enjoyable, that kids might read on their own."

Besides Barnes & Noble, find copies of "Ten Again," at, and all major online booksellers.

UPDATE: After showing up at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library tonight very eager to see Mr. Bellito, I discovered that the Daily Herald mis-reported the date of the book signing. It is actually on THURSDAY, May 21st at 7pm.

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