Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2012

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Photo: Kris Snibbe

31 Hillary Chute
It wasn’t until graduate school that the University of Chicago professor encountered Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus,” but it may have been just the right time to do so. Chute vaulted past the entry-level fan stage to instead become one of the rising stars of the burgeoining field of comics scholarship. The past year alone has seen her co-produce the book “MetaMaus” with Spiegelman, bring New York Times bestselling author and Guggenheim recipient Alison Bechdel to the college as a Mellon Fellow, and finally host the biggest names of the past fifty years of alternative comics at an internationally recognized symposium on comics and graphic novels. “Comics: Philosophy and Practice” brought together everyone from Robert Crumb and Lynda Barry to Chicago’s own Chris Ware and Ivan Brunetti. Though free to attend, the online registration ran out of passes within two hours of availability and was streamed live around the world to audiences as far away as Athens, Greece and beyond. As an alt-comics impresario, Chute may be the one to take Chicago from being a comic-book city to a full-blown metropolis of graphic storytelling.

32 Rachel DeWoskin
American-born Rachel DeWoskin was a sex symbol in China before she published anything. The Columbia grad moved to Beijing to do PR, but ended up starring in the hit Chinese soap opera “Foreign Babes in Beijing.” She returned to the States, earned a masters in poetry from Boston University and published a memoir about her experiences. It was at BU that DeWoskin met playwright Zayd Dohrn, to whom she is now married; he’s the son of Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers. DeWoskin’s experience on the Chinese soap, which had 600 million viewers, has come full circle; DeWoskin’s memoir is currently in production to return to the screen, on HBO. DeWoskin, currently on the creative writing faculty at the University of Chicago, has since published two novels: “Repeat After Me,” in 2009, and, last year, “Big Girl Small,” a novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who is only three-feet-nine-inches tall.

33 Gina Frangello
Gina Frangello seems to have achieved a pretty perfect balance as a writer and editor. In 2004, she founded Other Voices Books, where she still acts as executive editor. Her debut novel, “My Sister’s Continent,” came in 2006, and shortly afterward Frangello joined The Nervous Breakdown as fiction editor. Her second book, “Slut Lullabies,” was released to critical acclaim in 2010. In the fall of 2011, she joined the burgeoning online literary magazine The Rumpus, where she sits on the editorial board for The Rumpus Book Club, and as Sunday editor. Her third book, “A Life in Men,” is forthcoming from Algonquin in late 2013. Also a teacher at Columbia College, Northwestern University and a mother of three, Frangello seems to balance with the best.

34 Christine Sneed
Christine Sneed is no stranger to the short story. Among others, her résumé boasts publication in “Best American Short Stories,” the “O. Henry Prize Stories,” Ploughshares, Pleiades, Glimmer Train and Other Voices. Her 2010 collection “Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry” won the Ploughshares Zacharis Award and the Best Fiction Award from the Chicago Writers Foundation. She has also received an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship. Sneed teaches at DePaul University and in the University of New Orleans’ MFA program. Her novel, “Little Known Facts,” will be released by Bloomsbury in 2013.

35 Sara Levine
“Well-received” doesn’t quite cover the enthusiasm with which Sara Levine’s “Treasure Island!!!” was reviewed this last winter. The book earned glowing reviews from the Sunday New York Times and LA Review of Books, was recommended by O Magazine in January, and was recently picked by Nancy Pearl as a top summer read on NPR’s All Things Considered. Levine also released a short story collection, “Short Dark Oracles,” in December 2011. “I’m barely breathing,” says Levine, who is also chair of the Writing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She must be finding some time to catch her breath, though, because she’s already at work on her next novel.

36 Ted Fishman
Forget those other “Ted Talks”; if you want to know what the zeitgeist will be talking about tomorrow, find out what Ted Fishman’s writing about today. His best-selling “China, Inc.” presaged the dominant influence on global affairs that the Asian monolith’s exploding economic force would become, and did so in a compelling and easily understandable narrative format. His 2010 “Shock of Gray” (out this October in paper) expanded his range not only around the globe, but across time as well, when he documented the emergence of a seismic shift in the world’s demographics as we became a planet with more old than young people for the first time in history. The influence of Fishman’s work is significant: not only is he in demand on both the speaker’s circuit and the news networks, but also in the highest chambers of commerce and government.

37 Anne Elizabeth Moore
Founder of the Best American Comics series and former editor of Punk Planet, Anne Elizabeth Moore is based in Chicago but also spends time in Cambodia, where her work teaching self-publishing to women there inspired her 2011 book “Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh.” However, an earlier book of hers, “The Manifesti of Radical Literature,” has been picking up in sales too, ever since Lupe Fiasco discovered the humorous guide to anarchy. Lately, Moore has been doing a comics column for “Truthout” called “Ladydrawers,” which is based on a participatory research class on the comics industry that she’s teaching at the School of the Art Institute. And a recent venture into photography has resulted in a book deal: Moore is coming out with a book of photographs and an essay entitled “Hip Hop Apsara” later this year.

Photo: Dan Dry

38 Michael Robbins
Michael Robbins first attracted attention from the poetry world in January of 2009, when his poem “Alien vs. Predator” appeared in The New Yorker. Robbins, then studying to earn his PhD in English at the University of Chicago, had sent some poems over to Paul Muldoon, the poetry editor for the publication, who had just recently taken the reins. The poems caught Muldoon’s eye; like his own, they were clever and referential, and played with rhyme and meter in interesting ways. In April of 2010, the magazine ran another of Robbins’ poems—”Lust for Life.” Robbins referenced Rilke and Britney Spears, Buju Banton and John Milton; they were dirty-sexy and snappy. This March, Robbins’ first collection, titled “Alien vs. Predator,” was published, and received not only a rave review from The New York Times, but also from such wide-ranging publications like the Financial Times and Entertainment Weekly. With “AvP,” Robbins has managed to pull off his own pop-culture spectacle, winning the favor of the poetry elite while also, insofar as it’s possible in the poetry world, penning a number-one hit.

39 Nnedi Okorafor
Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor is the author of five award-winning fantasy young adult novels. Her first novel, “Zahrah the Windseeker” (2005) won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Her other awards include the 2005 Carl Brandon Parallax Award, and the 2005 Kindred Award. Her adult novel, “Who Fears Death,” won the 2010 Nebula Award and the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Okorafor has quite a few projects on the horizon: a collection of short stories, titled “Kabu Kabu,” from Prime Books, a story series titled “African Sunrise,” which will be published in four parts in Subterranean Magazine, among others. Okorafor teaches creative writing at Chicago State University.

40 Adam McOmber
Adam McOmber, assistant director of the Creative Nonfiction program at Columbia College, is also associate editor of the college’s literary magazine Hotel Amerika. His first book, the short story collection “This New and Poisonous Air,” was published last year; stories from it received nominations for 2012 Pushcart Prizes and Best American Fantasy. McOmber is following up his story collection with a second novel, “The White Forest,” which is set for release in September and features a protagonist who can see the souls of objects.

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6 Responses to “Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2012”

  1. MIke Zapata Says:

    I do think everyone in Chicago should be aware of one extraordinary writer in our midst – Mahmoud Saeed.

    Mahmoud Saeed is an internationally acclaimed 72 year old writer from Iraq who fought imprisonment, censorship, and exile during the Saddam regime. His novel Saddam City (originally I Am the One Who Saw in Arabic) has been compared to Kafka and Camus. His newly translated novel The World Through the Eyes of Angels (2011, Syracuse University Press), which paints the ethnically and politically diverse world of Mosul, Iraq in the 1940′s is indispensable to world literature and should be indispensable to Americans. From half a world away and now living in Chicago for the past 10 years, Mahmoud Saeed deserves not only mention but a certain, quiet awe reserved for those writers who demand and seek protest and truth in literature for the entirety of their lives.

    See below for Chicago Tribune and New Yorker articles about Mahmoud Saeed

    Chicago Tribune: Iraqi Novelist on the Second Floor
    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-09-25/news/ct-met-schmich-0925-20110925_1_arabic-dubai-iraqi-house

    The New Yorker: Found in Translation
    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2010/01/18/100118crbo_books_pierpont

  2. CJ Laity Says:

    Didn’t think this list could get any “whiter” than it was last year, but here we have it.

  3. Michael Haeflinger Says:

    As a former Chicago resident who worked in certain literary circles in the city, I am dismayed by the monotone hue of your list. When aliens pick through the remains of our planet, they will certainly be surprised to learn that in a city with a sizable Black population, only one is an author worth reading. The city of Brooks deserves better.

  4. Matthew Buchanan Says:

    The top ten is just an opinion of a specific group of readers. Some writers do not want any recognition, all they want to do is to write and touch other people.

  5. » Archive » Achy Obejas Says:

    [...] Achy Obejas, born in Havana, Cuba, has produced many works of fiction; however, the focus of her work remains in journalism.  Her experience in migrating from Cuba to the United States at the age of six (then revisiting Cuba at the age of thirty-nine) greatly influences many of her pieces.  In her interviews, it has become evident that she “feels more Cuban here in the U.S. than in Cuba.” As exemplified through an interview in Windy City Times, Obejas states, “Cubans have a sort of thick skin to most sexual stuff.” Consequently, as a lesbian writer, many of her works are centered in degrees of acceptance inherent within the Cuban culture. Some of her well-known works include the novels Memory of Mambo, Days of Awe, Ruins, along with the short story collections We Came All The Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? and This Is What Happened In Our Other Life.  She has won honorary prizes such as a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism, the Studs Terkel Journalism Prize, Peter Lisagor Journalism Honors, and multiple Lambda Literary awards.   In 2010, she was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.  She keeps the blog “Citylife: Adventures in Urban Living” for WBEZ and was named one of Newcity’s Lit 50 of 2012. [...]

  6. Janice Knight Featured on Newcity Lit “Lit 50″ List | News from the Division of the Humanities Says:

    [...] Last year’s list recognized Hillary Chute, Rachel DeWoskin, and Jeffrey Brown from English and Creative Writing. [...]

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