'Patent Leather Shoes' Novelist, Mount Greenwood Native Dies at 67

John R. Powers grew up in Mount Greenwood and gained famed as the author of "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?"


He was a local boy who took his childhood memories of the South Side and spun them into hysterical tales that chronicled the shared experiences of a Catholic education. 

John R. Powers died Jan. 17 at his home in Lake Geneva, Wis. at the age of 67. 

Powers grew up in Mount Greenwood and attended Brother Rice High School. He gained fame as a satirist whose 1975 novel "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" poked fun at his strict Catholic schooling. 

The book was later turned into a musical that made its way to Broadway in 1982. However, the musical found its real success in local and community productions where it became a must-see show for every former Catholic school kid. 

"On the day he died he just finished a new one-man play," a friend told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a 2008 interview Power reflected on his writing and how his childhood experiences informed the tone of his work.

"I do know a lot of people who had happy childhoods, and I was not one of them," Powers said. "I did not like being a child, I did not like being small . . . someone who was really happy with being a child and happy with their life wouldn't have written a book about growing up Catholic."

While his work may have possessed an underlying sense of childhood pain, its sharp humor also delighted fans. 

Powers wrote other novels including "The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God," "The Last Catholic in America," "The Junk Drawer" and "Corner Store."

He lived in Lake Geneva and also worked as a motivational speaker when he was not writing.

His daughter Jacey Powers told the Chicago Tribune that, “he cherished every moment and lived with tremendous passion and motivated others to do the same.” 

He is survived by his wife JaNelle Powers and daughters Jacey and Joy. A funeral service was held in Wisconsin over the weekend.  

Ron Williams January 22, 2013 at 03:24 PM
I've read books that people say makes them laugh out loud, and although I've found them amusing, I've never really laughed out loud at them. These ones I did laugh out loud. I enjoy his writing style, it helps me remember that I too was once was a confused and scared teenage boy growing up on the south side of Chicago.
Bob F January 22, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Mt. Greenwood as "Seven Holy Tombs" cracks me up.
Farrell January 22, 2013 at 06:51 PM
I loved Black Leather Patent Shoes. It was one of the most perfect books I ever read. It was very sad to read about his passing.
PD January 28, 2013 at 02:53 AM
I think this book made into a movie is disgusting. I thought the title was obscene!!! Hope the Lord has mercy on his soul!!!!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »