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Chicken Bone Man book cover
Chicken Bone Man
Anna Olswanger

A streetwise dog and his blues piano-playing "kid" take readers back to Memphis in the 1920s . . .

Anna Olswanger's Chicken Bone Man is a limited edition miniature book published by Anna Olswanger Books and hand bound by the late Donald Brady of the Clearview Press. The book has 48 pages, measures 2 1/2 x 2 7/8 inches, and is case bound with imitation leather on the spine and a gold-embossed title. The edition is 495 and includes a two-color linocut illustration by the artist Paula Goodman Koz.

The text of Chicken Bone Man won the second annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest, sponsored by the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference.


Excerpt from Chicken Bone Man:

The kid I hang around with is a wonder for playing the piano. So one morning I'm sitting outside under the breakfast room window listening to him gab to his sister Gertie about the Vaudeville Revue down at Loew's Palace. In between eating up quite a few slices of his old lady's toast and jelly, Berl says, "Read the part again about Princess Rajah and her snakes."

Gertie rattles the newspaper and acts like her valuable time is being wasted. "It says here that Princess Rajah, the headliner act in the Vaudeville Revue down at Loew's Palace Theater, charms her snakes by playing an old-timey rag number on the piano."

I happen to know the kid is planning a career for himself with regard to the piano. So when Gertie takes a quick breather from opening her face, I say through the screen, "Hey, kid, it just so happens I'm friendly with a frosty blond by the name of Hortense in the dancing dog act that's playing the Vaudeville Revue. You want her to get you in stout with the management? I figure she goes woofle-woofle in the right party's ear, you're a shoo-in at the next Amateur Night auditions."

"Jerry's driving me crazy with his barking," Gertie says to Berl. "I bet it's his mange. Rub him down with coal oil."

That Gertie's a pill. How am I supposed to show my mug to Hortense if I'm covered in coal oil?

Berl Olswanger

Source Note for Chicken Bone Man

When he was eleven years old, Berl Olswanger ("the kid") won a Tennessee Federation of Music Clubs contest, but couldn't accept the prize, a scholarship, because the winner was supposed to be a high school senior. When he was twelve, he made his professional debut as a piano player at Dreamland Gardens, a Memphis dance hall.

After high school Geneva Olswanger ("Gertie") went to Chicago to study voice at the Bush Conservatory. She sang several seasons with the Chicago Civic Opera Company.

Chicken Bone Man is based in part on a 1968 Memphis newspaper article about Berl Olswanger (1917-1981) entitled "The Odyssey of a Music Man."

To purchase a copy of Chicken Bone Man, send $20.00 (which includes postage and handling) to:

Anna Olswanger
16-60 Chandler Drive
Fair Lawn, NJ 07410-2715

You can also purchase Chicken Bone Man online with a secure payment through PayPal.


Other Miniature Books by Anna Olswanger

Berl's Blues
Shlemiel Crooks

Chicken Bone Man copyright 1991, 2004 Anna Olswanger. Shlemiel Crooks, a family musical produced annually at Merkin Hall in New York City, includes the song "Chicken Bone Man," first published in The Memphis Music of Berl Olswanger.


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