Gaining Gay Power: Timothy Stewart-Winter Discusses “Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics”

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, History No Comments »

TSW photo_1
By Toni Nealie

Stonewall and Harvey Milk were exceptional, but Chicago’s story better represented the nation’s path to gay power. In his first book, “Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics,” Timothy Stewart-Winter combines oral history and archival records to tell the local story of activism and politics. By email, he told me that the movement was shaped by the fear of being exposed by law enforcement, then losing your job, family or both.

I was unaware of the alliance between black civil rights activists and the gay liberation movement. Was that news to you? What was surprising?
It surprised me that black politics gave birth to gay politics, not just by offering a template, but by forging a liberal coalition that questioned the police, the machine and a business elite that favored boosterism over marginalized folks. We hear a lot about black straight homophobia and white gay racism. They both mattered, but they were never the only part of the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Giving Voice to the Voiceless: Ethan Michaeli on His Biography of a Newspaper, “The Defender”

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors No Comments »

Photo: Jason Reblando

By Toni Nealie

When Ethan Michaeli went to work in 1991 as a copy editor at Chicago’s famous black newspaper The Defender, he knew little about the city’s African-American community or Chicago. “The Defender was a great portal into the city and the African-American community,” he says. He went on to become an investigative reporter covering crime, public housing, the environment and politics. “This really taught me to understand the value and power of the press. The Defender was still a daily newspaper then. It had clout. It could get problems solved. That made a real impression on me.”

Michaeli’s book, “The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America,” is the first comprehensive history of the publication. Founded by Robert Abbott, the paper chronicled American race history and once sold hundreds of thousands of copies daily. Its editorials helped catalyze the Great Migration, fought for improved working conditions for the Pullman porters, and condemned the Ku Klux Klan’s infiltration of Chicago (while the Tribune commended the Klan’s goals.) The paper covered the Emmett Till trial and Martin Luther King’s tour of Chicago; it helped elect mayors and presidents, including Barack Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

Defiant Women: Karen Abbott’s “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War”

Author Profiles, Fiction No Comments »
karen abbott

Karen Abbott/Photo: Nick Barose

From the author who gave us “Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul,” which centered around Chicago’s famed brothel, the Everleigh Club, Karen Abbott now gives us “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.” In her new book, Abbott once again proves herself a masterful storyteller able to entertain and inform with such intelligence and ease that the two become indistinguishable.

“Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” follows four women through the course of the Civil War. Rose O’Neal Greenhow is a Confederate woman living in Washington D.C. who gets close to Northern politicians in order to gather information she can then pass back to the Confederates. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Van Lew was on the side of the Union but living in Richmond where she helped spy on the Confederacy. Belle Boyd is a young confederate who we first meet when she shoots a union soldier in her home at the age of seventeen. Emma Edmonds is another young woman who disguises herself as Federal soldier Frank Thompson as a means to help out in the war and escape an unfortunate home life. Read the rest of this entry »

Transformation Through Narrative Structures: Book and Paper Artist Teresa Pankratz Talks Storytelling and Inspiration

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors No Comments »
Teresa_Pankratz_in_Studio

Teresa Pankratz/Photo: Bryan Saner

Chicago 1986: Teresa Pankratz and her husband are out on the town, familiarizing themselves with their new neighborhood on the North Side shortly after moving to a new apartment. Artistically, nothing was calling out to Pankratz at the time. But then they happened upon a quaint little shop with a captivating display called Artists’ Book Works. The exhibit was so exquisite that she was immediately drawn in. There, Teresa says, she was “mesmerized by an assortment of beautifully constructed book-like objects: exotic, humorous, intriguing, absorbing.”

Since that fateful night in 1986, Pankratz has been creating small-editioned narrative sculptures and artists’ books specifically to explore the relationship between humans and familiar, domestic objects and sheltering spaces. The term “artists’ books” seems elusive but essentially refers to publications as artworks, books as a medium. Pankratz’s narrative sculptures can be seen as artists’ books as well, the key difference being she incorporates found objects within them, such as the objects in her 2007-08 piece, “The Lost/Found Portrait of Marissa Vorobia.” This work includes a handmade paper record sleeve, shoebox liner and constructed shoebox with a digitally printed lid among other objects. Read the rest of this entry »

The Writer’s Advocate: Detroit’s Poet and Literary Arts Organizer Extraordinaire, M.L. Liebler

Author Profiles No Comments »
M.L. Liebler's new book "Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out The Jams." a collection of poems, songs, fiction and non-fiction he's compiled from artists like Eminem, Woody Guthrie and Michael Moore, will be coming out soon. Liebler poses for a portrait between classes at Wayne State Wednesday September 29, 2010. MANDI WRIGHT/Detroit Free Press

M.L. Liebler/Photo: Mandi Wright

By Amy Danzer

Rare is the writer who has an easy time of it making money or getting their name out there. Writers are often grossly underpaid, uncomfortable about self-promoting and already juggling too much to take on extra work that does not pay. When money for the arts is especially hard to come by, as is the case in Detroit or anywhere really these days, it’s a particularly special thing to have someone like M.L. Liebler in one’s corner.
Poet and professor at Wayne State University, director of The Ridgeway Press, and co-editor of the Made in Michigan Writers Series, M.L. Liebler has an extensive history of organizing programs to bring community together to support the literary arts in Detroit and has created opportunities, paid opportunities, for writers’ voices to be heard for decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Clowes Encounter: Talking Comics and Chicago with Cartoonist Daniel Clowes

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists No Comments »

danclowesportrait

By Ray Pride

An early spring afternoon a few days ago along Milwaukee Avenue, south of North, east of Damen, so far removed from the Wicker Park of the 1990s: I pause in front of Myopic Books, still standing, surrounded by storefronts peopled by yupscale saloons, Levis, American Apparel, and remember the days when it was Earwax Café, the front windows there? It had two-top tables in both the plate-glass windows where you could watch the passersby on the street, or turn your head, and watch the other customers, and on certain days and nights, catch sight of a clutch of furiously productive scribblers, which could include Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Archer Prewitt, Gary Leib, among others. They hadn’t “arrived,” but they were there.

I was, too. The food was cheap and heavy, tending to the vegan, and the ashtrays were as often filled with torn-up notes a writer had digested or an artist had rejected as with ashes. My clearest memory of sighting the young artistes was while awaiting a momentous date with a not-yet-girlfriend, sitting at the table in that window, the girl who looked into small tatters and saw her name, and looking away with mild mortification over her shoulder and catching sight of scribblers off to the side, taking in the smell of the food and the not-quite-burnt coffee in the air before looking back at her blushing face. The scraps, the girl, the general atmosphere: plus the furious nurture of a few of the founding foundlings of the still-spreading school of Chicago cartoonists hunched over a free meal.

Now, in the decades since, Clowes’ lovingly rendered Midwestern grotesques have colonized the consciousness of a couple generations of readers far beyond the Chicago comics scene in the waning of the twentieth century. I like talking to Dan. He laughs easily and scores points quietly. We were talking since the 1990s, but I’ve had agreeable structured, journo-subject interviews with Clowes since at least the 2001 release of the movie of “Ghost World.” We tried to remember if and when our respective pasts might have first crossed in those formative Chicago years. It could have been a gallery opening for Ware’s work, he suggests, but we figure it might also have been at some casual locale like the Rainbo Club, and we had probably bristled at each other at some point or another, with a fine mix of shyness, fear and hostility. “In the way we do—we Chicagoans do,” Clowes agreed, laughing. Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding Human Performance: Sian Beilock Investigates “How the Body Knows Its Mind”

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Nonfiction No Comments »

Sian Beilock_author photoBy Toni Nealie

I struggle to write when I sit at my desk for too long. My students freeze when stressed. Chicagoans pine for sun in winter. “How the Body Knows Its Mind” resonated with me because it identifies the science behind what we feel and suggests simple changes to improve our lives. I caught up with neuropsychologist Sian Beilock after her week of presentations around the country.

What was the impetus for the book? How does it follow the work that you did on human performance in your previous book “Choke”?
I think everyone thinks of the mind as telling the body what to do — our thoughts, our feelings, our learning, our ability to perform — reside in our head. As I started doing research for “Choke” I realized what we do with our bodies and our surroundings have a big impact on how we learn and how we feel. No one was really telling that story. Everyone was telling the story about what happens inside our head. There’s a great story to tell about some simple things we can do to feel better, perform better and learn better if we understand a little bit of the science. Read the rest of this entry »

The Million-Dollar Wound: How A Life of Fighting, Chanting, Loving and Running Paid Off When I Published a Novel and Got Gored by a Bull

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors No Comments »
Bill Hillmann in striped shirt/Photo: Foto Mena

Bill Hillmann in striped shirt/Photo: Foto Mena

By Bill Hillmann

In November of 2005, I moved down to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to write a novel. I’d attempted to write a book the year before but it was complete garbage so I threw it in the trash. Then I saved up a bunch of money using my big shoulders, working as a Local 2 Laborer on construction sites all over the city and figured I’d rent a place, live simply, and like my mentor Irvine Welsh (of “Trainspotting”) advised me, “write every single fookin’ day.” I met Irvine around 2003 through a mutual friend in the Chicago boxing community named Marty Tunney. Irvine and I hit it off and he really fanned my flames as a writer. Anytime I asked him a question he gave me the best advice he could. As simple as it was, writing every day was the best advice I ever got.

San Miguel was even more breathtakingly beautiful than I’d expected. It’s a Spanish colonial town built on a small mountainside. Spectacular cathedral spires stretch into the sky amid colorful hundreds-of-years-old buildings. The cobble stone streets wind and climb the steep pitch of the mountainside. Art galleries and excellent restaurants haunt every path. San Miguel made an impact on the Beat Generation and is the town Neal Cassady left while counting rail ties on his way to Celaya when he died suddenly. Read the rest of this entry »

How Pain Defines and Defies Us: Leslie Jamison Discusses “The Empathy Exams”

Author Profiles, Essays No Comments »
Leslie Jamison

Photo: John Freeman

By John Freeman

Newspapers may be dying, our publishing industry is at war with Amazon, but a bright spot remains in U.S. letters: the literary essay. In the past decade, writers known for other books and other work have begun working in the form that gave birth to the New Yorker.

These new essayists—from John Jeremiah Sullivan to Elif Batuman, Aleksandar Hemon and Daniel Alarcon—don’t come from the same boys club as the writers of the last heyday of the essay. They are unglossy, smart, deeply stylish and, with her debut collection of essays, “The Empathy Exams,” Leslie Jamison proves she will probably write her way into their company.

Jamison is hardly an underdog. She grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of a prominent economist, niece to the psychotherapist Kay Redfield Jamison. She attended Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is currently studying for a Ph.D. at Yale. Her debut novel, “The Gin Closet,” the tale of three generations of women and their tortured family history, received high praise when it appeared in 2010.

And yet it did not prepare readers for “The Empathy Exams.” Written over a period of many years, the book examines how pain both defines and defies us, and meditates on its role in empathy. The title essay recalls a period that Jamison spent as a medical actor, faking ailments in scenarios meant to test doctors of their diagnostic skills and their ability to demonstrate empathy. “Empathy isn’t just listening,” Jamison writes, “it’s asking the questions that need to be listened to.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Myth of the American Dream: Cristina Henriquez on Her New Novel, “The Book of Unknown Americans”

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Fiction No Comments »
Photo: Michael Lionstar

Photo: Michael Lionstar

By Amy Friedman

Immigration is a hotly debated topic, though more often through the lenses of policy proposals and the scoring of political points than about the very real people involved. Cristina Henriquez’s new novel, “The Book of Unknown Americans,” works to bridge this gap by exposing the immigrant experience in first person, giving voice to those who are frequently spoken about or spoken for without actually being spoken to. The unknown Americans in her book narrate their own chapters, and in doing so speak to their unique cultural traditions and backgrounds that too often become muddled in the minds of native-born citizens. This narrative technique allows for the immigrant experience to come alive with a richness and complexity that routinely goes unsung in third-person accounts that have a tendency to cast immigrants as menacing outsiders rather than as integral members of the American landscape. Read the rest of this entry »