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Matt Rizzo papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Rizzo

Scope and Content of the Collection

Essays, a treatise and spoken word documents by Matt Rizzo, along with materials about Rizzo and several artifacts.

The majority of the collection consists of Matt Rizzo’s works – both his commentary on classical literature, and his own original philosophical works, from the 1940s to the 1980s. Multiple copies – some with annotation – exist for many of the works. Original Braille manuscripts of some of the works are also included in the collection.

The collection also includes photo reproductions of Rizzo – including a photograph of Matt Rizzo with his young son, Charlie, and two photographs of Rizzo with guide dogs – two Braille slates and a wooden-handled stylus for hand-punching Braille letters, audiocassettes and one audio CD of Rizzo reading from transcripts of his works, a Perkins Brailler with carrying case, and a photocopy of a newspaper article on Rizzo’s life, printed in 2002.


  • Creation: approximately 1940s-2002



Materials are in English and Braille.

Conditions Governing Access

The Matt Rizzo papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Matt Rizzo papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Matt Rizzo

Blind Chicago writer, philosopher, insurance salesman and one-time inmate of Statesville prison.

Matt Rizzo (birth name: Mariano Rizzo) was born in Chicago on September 20, 1913, one of seven children. He dropped out of school after the 10th grade to make money for his family, working at the Nabisco cookie factory and helping his father, a fruit vendor, and later working as a golf caddy at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois. In 1935, at age 22, Rizzo was shot and blinded while robbing a liquor store with two friends on the northwest side of Chicago. He was given a one year to life sentence at Statesville Prison, in Joliet, Illinois, eventually serving four years. While an inmate at Statesville, Rizzo met Nathan Leopold, who – in Chicago in 1924 - murdered a fourteen year-old boy with friend Richard Loeb in what was called the "crime of the century." Rizzo and Leopold became friends while both were confined to the prison’s infirmary – Rizzo because the gunshot wounds resulting from the attempted robbery were still healing, and Leopold for protective purposes, because friend Loeb had just been murdered by a fellow inmate. Leopold learned the Braille system of reading and writing, in order to teach it to Rizzo. Leopold also guided Rizzo in a study of classic literature and philosophy, an interest of Rizzo’s before his incarceration, requesting books in Braille for Matt to read – books which, Leopold later wrote, he was also able to read at night, when the lights went out at the prison.

Upon his release from Statesville, Rizzo became an insurance salesman in Chicago, married and had a son, Charles. Shortly after the birth of his son, Rizzo and his wife separated, and she moved with their infant son to Los Angeles. Upon her death in 1959, young Charlie moved back to Chicago to live with Rizzo, sharing a one-bedroom apartment. According to Charlie, Rizzo spent his evenings reading classical and other texts, then composing his own thoughts on the works using a Perkins Brailler – a typewriter used to create Braille text – and a tape recorder. Rizzo also composed several of his own original works, including essays on organized religion and atomic warfare, as well as poetry. Rizzo sent some of his texts to universities seeking commentary and publication, but none of his works have been published to date. He was also a regular caller into several talk radio shows in Chicago, including The Studs Terkel Program.

Rizzo died in Chicago on August 23, 1987.


4.5 Linear Feet (5 boxes, 1 oversize box, and Brailler in case)


Typescript essays and a treatise (some in Braille) by Matt Rizzo, Chicago philosopher/writer who was blinded in a robbery at age 22. Collection also includes photo-reproductions of Rizzo with son Charlie and guide dogs, a news clipping about Rizzo's life, audiocassettes of Rizzo dictating parts of his works, a Perkins Brailler, and Rizzo's two Brailling slates with an accompanying stylus for writing Braille.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Works, approximately 1940s-1980s
Box 1
Series 2: Miscellaneous, approximately 1940s-2002
Box 2, 1 item

Conditions Governing Audiovisual Access

Audiovisual recordings in this collection have not been digitized and are unavailable for use at this time.

Collection Stack Location

1 31 7


Gift, Charlie Rizzo, 2008-2010.

Processed by

Colleen Barbus, 2010.

Inventory of the Matt Rizzo papers, approximately 1940s-2002
Colleen Barbus
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States