Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story

Robert M Katzman

Updated twelve years later in December 2019. I was 57 when I started writing this blog. Now I’m 69, have a grey beard, and five grandchildren. However, I still like the picture below from when I was 55, taken by my gorgeous wife, Joyce. On May 14th, 2017, I lost Joyce to cancer after 42 years. No matter what people have told me, there’s no getting over a love like hers.

Curious people, why bother with one more blog?

Who am I to ask a stranger to spend time with me and think about what I have to say?

Well, I’m not ordinary, and I’m not famous, either. A person self-employed at twelve, who left his very violent home at fourteen, and subsequently opened a newsstand at fifteen (in partnership with the esteemed co-writer of this blog), in 1965, began a kosher delicatessen at nineteen, then bought more newsstands until he opened a literary bookstore, at 25, in the politically and socially liberal Hyde Park neighborhood of the University of Chicago—is not a regular guy. I guess.

I’ve led a blue-collar existence in a mostly white-collar environment, like attending the world famous and highly respected University of Chicago Laboratory School as my high school from 1964 to 1968, while operating that newsstand seven days a week to pay for the school’s tuition. No dances, no normal high school social life of any kind, either, except I was on the school newspaper.

I learned to become a carpenter, build my own newsstands and bookshelves, endure the frequent viciousness of my major metropolitan newspaper truck-drivers, the greed of the local petty politicians and to contemplate the temptations of some lonely neighborhood wives. But not for too long.

The newsstands led to a six-year distribution war with America’s largest magazine distributor, a monopoly for seventy years that I successfully challenged in a legal and street-level conflict that ran from 1975 to 1980. But that time also included a divorce, a remarriage, the births of my first three children, sixteen-hour work days and a startling discovery that my increasing number of customers were desperate for a competitor to come about to free them from the oppression and arrogance of a competition-free supplier of an essential product they needed in their stores.

I came to understand that I wasn’t just fighting for myself, and my own ambitions. I realized the meaning of being a symbol to people powerless to change a situation they hated but could not combat on their own.

The hundreds of times I wanted to quit, to surrender, to get my life back and take the easier path of submission to a more powerful rival—well, the thousands of words of encouragement I received from my customers, people on the street who came to recognize the familiar logo of my Gulliver’s periodicals white trucks, the anti-establishment Chicago Reader which wrote a front page plus twelve more pages about the local brawl that made the public aware of the struggle in a way I never could and the sympathetic reporters from my local public television channel who kept up with the seemingly ridiculous David and Goliath struggle for the newsstands of Chicago–all that faith kept me going for one more day…one more week…one more month…and one more year until ultimately I won the fight. A struggle like that, for principal and not for money, can shape a man.

All this by thirty years of age.

Then came eventually bankruptcy as a delayed consequence of my battle against a vengeful adversary, the loss of my house and business by 1985, two years of unemployment, the loss of another house due to foreclosure in 2006, the discovery of Multiple Sclerosis in my wife, Joy, who subsequently lost her job of eleven years as a controller at a surgical center (and also half of our family income) about a year after we adopted a six-week-old child, a girl–Sarah–who was left at our home.

If we were being tested by…..well, whomever or whatever tests people’s resolve to maintain their sanity and keep their family together despite all that life can throw at them…..I wish we knew how long it would be until we passed our “tests.”

41 operations for me are also a part of my life, including three transplants stemming from cancer in my face at age 18. The opening and years later, the closing of one of America’s premier world-travel, foreign language book stores due to the invasion of the giant bookchains that killed all the little independent bookstores in our literate, sophisticated and famously gay neighborhood.

The opening in 1990 of what was once one of the last seven independent back-issue magazine stores in the United States which carries 100,000 periodicals back to 1840 and newspapers back to 1576. It was a hobby of mine collecting historical newspapers since the Kennedy assassination. It evolved into much more than that, 53 years later. Again, the unexpected consequences of passion and determination.

Due to my greater priority of caring for Joy when she was released from the hospital, I closed my last store on April 10, 2016 when she went into hospice, and Joy later died on Mother’s Day May 14, 2017, at 66.

As of now, my life revolves around the 2007 printing of my third non-fiction autobiographical book that have been accepted into the Barnes& Noble bookstores around Chicago and also some of the Borders bookstores.  I will continue to publish books under the Fighting Words imprint, that many people tell me they find inspirational, including a 4th book later this year.

(Updated: There are now five books in print with over 6,000 sold. I have been hired as as speaker to read my stories and poetry about 100 times. Unhappy with the meaninglessness of being in a national chain bookstore and netting almost zip from their selling one of my books, I pulled all the books out, about 1,000, just before Borders closed. Now I sell books when hired to speak or read them, or they are floating all around the world now, on sale in internet used bookstores from a few dollars to sometime over $200. (When did my signed books became collectible??).

Is my life like your life? Maybe not in its entirety, but parts of it most likely are. If you work with your hands, or out in the cold, if you have been fired, or sick or filled with hopelessness, and faced with seemingly insurmountable situations, then our lives certainly will coincide. If you’ve loved someone for forty years and them watched them dissolve under an unrelenting incurable illness, as I have loved my wife, then perhaps we are not strangers to each other.

Pain is universal. Your color, religion, health, education, ethnicity or economic position in my own country or any other one, cannot insulate you from sudden tragedies that can torpedo your safety and security overnight. A life stripped of a steady job and steady money can rip away all the illusions of who you are in a selfish society that worships gold and who controls it.

I write for all those people. People who care about other people, and not just their own families. People who want a better safer world to send their children out to explore. A world that is not poisoned because of money. A world where cowardly politicians will happily send your child off to be killed in a war that, when they were young, they ran away from. A world where a very few people preside over the fates of hundreds of millions of powerless people. My world. Your world.

Well, you’re not all that powerless, if you decide for yourself that you are not, and are willing to accept the consequences of standing up and resisting the cruel and selfish people that don’t fear you. I have found that resolve and determination are magnetic. One brave person draws another, and another, and another…enough brave people can become a political critical mass that cannot be ignored or stopped.

I have been one of those brave people, been crushed because of it, and have no regrets. Never. I may have no gold, but when I look into my mirror, I see no footprints on me. A man can be knocked down, but that is not in anyway the same thing as laying down, without a fight. I write for people like me. And for people like you.


Note from the Author:


Robert M. Katzman, owner of Fighting Words Publishing Company, with six different titles currently in print and over 6,000 books sold to date, is seeking an agent to secure more speaking engagements for him.


Colleges, independent bookstores, religious organizations, Chicago historical societies or groups, English teachers who want a new voice in their class who was a witness to history, book clubs, high schools or museums. Anywhere in the Chicago Metro area.  I have done this over 100 times, and I always sign my books, when asked.  Everyone, positively everyone, asks.  I was amazed, at first, by that.  Now they are floating around the world on the internet used book sites. Very cool.


1 Comment »

Comment by Janice Gagerman

March 10, 2016 @ 11:19 am

Robert, I grew up on 89th and Clyde, also born in 1950. please contact me at my email address above. Thanks.

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