Executive Director, Contratiempo
As Executive Director of the city’s longest-running Spanish-language cultural and literary publication, Pujols has accomplished no mean feat—especially when you consider that Contratiempo runs on an almost entirely volunteer workforce. What began as a monthly magazine in 2003 grew into a multi-platform effort to navigate the Chicago Latin experience through literature. These days, the magazine is just a piece of the Contratiempo puzzle: the organization also runs Ediciones Vocesueltas, a Spanish-language press, sponsors an assortment of workshops and readings, and facilitates a discussion series. Together with DePaul and Northeastern Illinois, they also inaugurated Poesia en Abril, an annual Spanish poetry festival to celebrate National Poetry Month.
Editor in Chief, Another Chicago Magazine
Under the direction of Jacob Knabb, Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) released its fiftieth issue this year, with a “Chicago” theme, in a response of sorts to the international Granta’s successful Chicago issue a year earlier. The longevity of this literary publication—thirty-three years—was celebrated with a release show curated in part by Knabb, who had recently formally assumed the editorship. Knabb has probably performed at every reading series in the city, even emceeing his own, “Nerves of Steel.” For those who have seen him, he is quite the character, especially when in his alter ego Harold Ray, who might just try to arm wrestle you. But hope it doesn’t get to that. This year ACM will begin using its imprint Left Field Press to publish books, with plans to issue two titles a year, one a pocket-sized book of fiction and the other a more artistic coffee-table companion.
Donald G. Evans
Executive Director, Chicago Literary Hall of Fame
Chicago’s got a National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, a Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame—even a 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame. Two years ago, however, the city had no organization dedicated exclusively to the city’s rich literary heritage. Enter Donald Evans, a well-known novelist and sportswriter. Inspired by the Irish—Dublin writers have their own museum, for god’s sake—Evans created the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame (CLHF) with the aim, in his words, of ensuring “eternal shelf life for the very best books.” Last November the inaugural class of ’10, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright and Studs Terkel, was inducted in a ceremony organized by the Chicago Writers Association at Northeastern Illinois University. Since then, CLHF has found a permanent home at The Cliff Dwellers Club, and there are plans for a traveling exhibit. This year’s class of inductees includes Sherwood Anderson, Stanley Elkin and James T. Farrell.
Publisher, Wicker Park Press
Since founding Wicker Park Press in 2002, Miller has overseen the expansion of the River Forest-based company from a local publisher to a national presence. Along the way, Wicker Park Press scored a number of hits like Becky Thacker’s 2003 “Amazon Girls Handbook” and Gene Logsdon’s 2007 “The Lords of Folly.” With the 2010 acquisition of Ashley Creek Books and 3iBooks, an amalgam of independent publishers from across the country, the publisher is set to branch out into non-fiction and self-improvement. Just released are famed Chicago author Harry Mark Petrakis’ “Cavafy’s Stone and Other Village Tales” and Joseph G. Peterson’s “Inside the Whale: A Novel in Verse.”
Board President, The Poetry Center
After a rocky couple of years—leadership changes, space constraints and something about a recession?—things are looking up for The Poetry Center. With a new space in the Chicago Cultural Center and climbing membership, the organization can focus on returning to its Ginsberg-era roots. According to Arica Hilton, that means striving “to promote poetry every way we possible can,” whether it’s bringing poets-in-residence into the public schools through “Hands on Stanzas” or managing a calendar of public readings. With the board managing what she calls “the curatorial side of things,” the art-dealer-cum-poetry crusader is determined to keep the center thriving, both artistically and fiscally. Partially supported by the sale of their trademark broadsides—top-tier paintings paired with topnotch poems—they’re taking full advantage of the new digs to host new workshops, adding programs like the upcoming “Write to Work” (designed to support the recently unemployed) to their standing roster of events and classes.
Founder, The Writers’ Loft
A literary sage for legions of Chicago authors, Jerry Cleaver has taught courses on the art of writing out of his Wrigleyville home for twenty years. His workshop, known as The Writers’ Loft, is probably the best-known writing lab in the city, enrolling 150 students annually and claims the likes of Michael Harvey and bestselling author Linda Lael Miller among its alums. With his “Write What You Know” online courses, Cleaver now brings his methods to an international audience, and his best-known book, “Immediate Fiction,” is a classic in the field of creative writing.
Robbie Q. Telfer
Co-founder and co-curator, The Encyclopedia Show
Robbie Q. Telfer seems to have a hand in almost everything the city has to offer when it comes to slam poetry. A regular at slam staples like Mental Graffiti and the Green Mill’s Uptown Poetry Slam, Telfer is also Director of Performances for Young Chicago Authors and head organizer of the Louder Than A Bomb teen poetry festival. Unlike many slam poets who come to verse by way of hip-hop, Telfer’s roots are in stand-up comedy. His humorous stylings lend themselves perfectly to the reading series/sketch comedy revue The Encyclopedia Show, a monthly riff written by local writers on a subject randomly selected from the encyclopedia. Since Telfer created the show in 2008, it has become the most talked about reading series in the city, picking up an Orgie Theatre Award last year.
Director, Make Literary Productions and Managing Director, Story Week
If there’s ever been a good time to launch a literary magazine, you might argue that now isn’t it. But with the release of its eleventh issue just around the corner, MAKE is more than surviving—it’s thriving. At the center of it all is Sarah Dodson, one of the troika of MAKE co-founders, managing editor of the magazine, and the current executive director of Make Literary Productions, the nonprofit umbrella that’s grown up around the biannual print journal. Six years ago, she explains, Dodson and her compatriots set out to create “a literary art object in pursuit of a thematic vision,” and since then, the venture has only gathered steam. In addition to overseeing the publication of magazine, (the newly revamped website is set to officially debut this summer), Dodson is at work plotting “Make Due,” a new city-wide event series—and if her recent success as Managing Director of Columbia College’s writerpalooza Story Week is any indication, it’ll be an event series to remember.
Editor in Chief/CEO, Criminal Class Press
Criminal Class Press is as punk rock as literature gets. Wayne White, aka Kevin Whiteley, is one of the founders of the press, which since 2008 has released seven issues of the Criminal Class Review. The publication, which gives a voice to what he dubs “literary outlaws,” was originally pitched as a record label. Makes sense, since he runs it like one, embarking on the road to tour with the mag and including musician writers. Their upcoming July edition, the “Prison” issue, will feature inmate writers from San Quentin’s H-unit and will be guest-edited by Kent and Keith Zimmerman, bestselling authors who teach creative writing at the penitentiary.
Founder and executive director of the Chicago Underground Library
It’s one thing to create a cool literary organization, but it’s quite another to virtually hoist the thing on your back and rescue it from the literal and metaphorical flood waters, as Nell Taylor has done with her baby, the Chicago Underground Library. And though the organization has faced more than its fair share of obstacles related to its itinerant state, it’s also managed to build a national reputation for innovation and a local one for creative deployment of its resources. And when she’s not performing her duties here or at her day job, Taylor finds time to be a major player with the Printers Ball and the Dil Pickle Club.