By Kelly Roark
Susan Nussbaum’s debut novel is eye-opening, devastating and laugh-out-loud funny. A group of young disabled people in a fictional Chicago institution tackle demons past and present. While Nussbaum exposes some of the very real horrors of the institutionalization of disabled persons, “Good Kings Bad Kings” is far from heavy-handed. Richly imagined diverse characters face the issue of institutionalization, and make changes in both small and dramatic ways to take control of their own futures. The winner of this year’s PEN/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction joins us for a conversation about the types of institutions disabled persons often live in, her fantastic characters, and her reclamation of the word “crip.”
Are there a lot of institutions like the one in the book?
Yes, I don’t know the number in Illinois, but there are many thousands in the country. There may be more than a thousand in the state. There are nursing homes—they’re legion—everywhere, and then there are other facilities for people with mental disabilities, kids with various developmental disabilities. There are places where, if parents think they can’t manage or someone else can do better, there are certain pressures on families to institutionalize a disabled child. And there are certainly no financial breathers from how much it costs to have a disabled child. The government makes it very hard for a disabled person to survive in a way that is manageable, financially, because the institutions have big lobbies. Culturally, we’re also a people who feel it’s good to segregate people who make us uncomfortable. It’s a long tradition, going back way over a hundred years. Doctors really pushed to get these families to put their kids into facilities. Real hell holes. Read the rest of this entry »
By Liz Baudler
Chicagoan Anne Elizabeth Moore has just released “New Girl Law,” a book about her experiences working with Cambodian college girls attempting to rewrite the Chbap Srey, the Cambodian female code of conduct. A teacher at SAIC and author of “Cambodian Grrrl,” Moore guided the project and followed its return to Cambodia, and recently discussed her work’s impact with me.
In “New Girl Law,” the process of the girls rewriting the Chbap Srey seemed quite organic. Did that surprise you?
It did. I think what’s sort of remarkable about that first batch of work that these young women did was that I was like, “You guys should know how to do this,” and because of who I was and how I was brought into the situation and the conditions under which that project was established, they did it. From there, there’s a whole bunch of things that could happen. People can be like, “This is a really stupid process and it doesn’t work for me at all and I hate it and you’re an American and you don’t understand what we’re doing at all.” Or, a community, a group of people can be like, “Actually, that’s worked for us and we want to do this with it.” And that’s kind of what happened in “New Girl Law.” They came up with this project that we then implemented despite my potential inability to meet the demands that would come with that, but then they did lead this process of pretty amazing work, rethinking the gender policy on which their nation was founded. Like, who does that when you’re twenty? Read the rest of this entry »
By Alli Carlisle
Chicago author Jerry Brennan recently published his book “Resistance,” an epic WWII novel about the Czech assassination plot against the little known but pivotal Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. Brennan studied history at West Point and journalism at Columbia, and now works in telecommunications here in Chicago. He writes short stories and poetry as well as novels, occasionally under a pseudonym, working on projects and contributing to a literary review he co-edits with a friend when he’s not working his day job.
Like many other authors, Brennan found the traditional publishing industry somewhat less than receptive, so he took a practical approach: he started his own publishing company and put out the book himself. With $6,840 he raised on Kickstarter.com, Brennan financed the creation of Tortoise Books and the publishing of “Resistance,” which launched at the Printers Row Lit Fest last June. The Kickstarter video features Brennan and his pregnant fiancée engaged in a staged argument over how they’ll have enough money to finance the wedding and the baby—they take turns looking straight into the camera in ghostly deadpan, affirming that they would never use their pregnancy to wrangle sympathy donations. Read the rest of this entry »
GQ deputy editor Michael Hainey, Chicago-raised and educated, is known to friends and professionals as a very good guy in a glamorous, sometimes cutthroat field. For years Hainey has helped run the show at one of the hottest men’s magazines in America, all the while keeping a dark family secret dating to his childhood and the heights of Chicago journalism. In “After Visiting Friends” Hainey finally turns his reporting skills to the riveting mystery of his news-editor father’s untimely death. Chicago Sun Times newsman Bob Hainey was found inexplicably DOA in the middle of the night on a North Side Chicago street in April 1970, when his youngest son was only six years old. But the details did not add up.
The younger Hainey pressed his mother for more about the tragedy that left a haunted, silent family. None came, either from her or Uncle Dick, the feared Chicago Today executive editor, who first telephoned his mother of the death. As the son rose in his own career, he strove to match the absent father’s reputation, dreaming of him, pondering the conflicting obituaries and seeking answers. In a magnetic style reminiscent of Capote and Elmore Leonard, Hainey details what he found next. Read the rest of this entry »
By Naomi Huffman
I first encountered Christine Sneed’s work in 2009, when I read her short story “Quality of Life,” about a twenty-something woman being coerced by her much older, wealthier lover to make choices she’s uncomfortable with, including moving across the country for a “better” job, in the “Best American Short Stories 2008.” The story was a part of Sneed’s collection, “Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry,” which won the AWP’s 2009 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction. As a young twenty-something myself, I became enamored with “Quality of Life” and the rest of the collection, which showcases Sneed’s mastery of examining the sometimes conflicting facets of the human heart, and why we love who we love.
This month, Sneed, who teaches at DePaul University and Northwestern, is releasing her first novel, “Little Known Facts,” about an aging Hollywood heartthrob named Renn Ivins, whose fame is similar to that of—and in fact, he rubs fictional elbows with—Harrison Ford. The novel examines the effects of celebrity in Ivins’ relationships with his children, his ex-wives, current girlfriend and former employees. But the novel truly takes hold when the characters struggle to create and maintain relationships with other people, and learn to find themselves away from the shadow of another man’s power and fame.
The eleven chapters alternate between the perspectives of several characters. Sneed writes with authority and deftness from each, and isn’t afraid to play with form—the book includes a pretend interview between Ivins and a former employee, as well as the notes of his ex-wife Melinda’s tell-all memoir about their marriage. And though the chapters often feel distinctively segmented, they are connected by frequent and well-crafted collisions. Read the rest of this entry »
What sets “The White Forest” apart from other contemporary novels is Adam McOmber’s careful attention to language. While it is the Columbia College professor’s first full-length novel, “The White Forest” is written with an imaginative and haunting prose reminiscent of H.P Lovecraft.
Set in Victorian England, “The White Forest” (much like Whitman’s famous brag) contains both contradictions, and multitudes. Told from protagonist Jane Silverlake’s point-of-view, this is a novel that makes a conscious decision to conflate the pretensions of a stricter time period with the inner turmoil of a dark obsession. The story begins with a structure typical of a mystery novel or a missing person’s tale. But over the course of the narrative this structure is subtly and expertly recalibrated not only to the reader’s surprise, but to the great benefit of this utterly enjoyable story. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m likely not Kathryn Born’s intended reader. The drug novel genre leaves me cold, I’m picky when it comes to dystopian worlds, and it takes a special kind of YA book to ignite my passion. Still, even I can see that “The Blue Kind” has its moments.
A richly imagined and socially provocative debut, “The Blue Kind” centers around unreliable narrator Alison. An ungrateful immortal, she has spent eons doing drugs to dull the pain of living forever, a puzzling conceit. After an undefined period spent “Over,” Alison returns to find that conditions in Neom, a metropolis in which the laws of physics have been failing, have grown more dire. While her partner in immortality, Cory, has moved up in the drug trade’s complex hierarchy, as a woman Alison’s only hope of survival is to be “chained” to her man. Read the rest of this entry »
Much has changed in Chicago radio in the past few years, especially with longtime alternative rock station Q101. Those who grew up listening to “Chicago’s New Rock Alternative” are no doubt familiar with James VanOsdol (known as a DJ by the moniker JVO). Now he has written a book on the experience, “We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: The Oral History of Q101.” “When news of Q101′s sale came out, I decided that I wanted to document its history,” says VanOsdol. “Not so much because I felt it was important to immortalize the station, but more so because I wanted to tell a modern radio story, which is something I don’t think has been done before.”
VanOsdol began at Q101 in November 1993 when the station was first taking a chance with switching their format to alternative rock. He stuck with them, notably as host of “Local 101,” a segment dedicated to Chicago-made music. JVO became one of their trademark DJs until he left the airwaves for good in 2011, but he couldn’t completely put it all behind him. In the book he focuses on the inner-workings of the station. “The book is mostly about the culture of a radio station, and less about the popular culture it reflected,” says VanOsdol. Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
Chicago is known as a city rife with comic creators and small-press publishers. One of the city’s rising stars is C. Spike Trotman, whose experimentations with online publishing have netted her an ongoing science fiction series called “Templar, AZ” and the acclaimed graphic novel “Poorcraft.” This fall saw the release of her highly anticipated anthology of women-and-queer friendly erotic comics, “Smut Peddler.” On the same day she opened submissions for an upcoming horror comic anthology to be called “The Sleep of Reason,” Ms. Trotman took the time to talk about her recent small-press success.
So Spike, you’re a pornographer.
I sure am, I am a proud and happy pornographer.
How’s that treating you?
Great! I currently have about 400 books in my house that are waiting for pickup. That has been the hardest part of getting those pledge rewards fulfilled. It has just made me so happy to have an entire wall of my living room taken up by giant stacks of books. Of dirty filthy porn. (laughs) Read the rest of this entry »
Part of what makes Chicago an amazing city is how many people have come here to get a new handle on their lives. I truly do think that what makes you a Chicagoan is not whether you were born here or how long you lived here, but how alive you feel about being here.
That said, I also truly do think that being an expat gets incredibly annoying come the holiday season. Seriously, you’ve got two family holidays a month apart. One of them you’re expected to spend time with your family, the other you’re expected to spend money. So after you’ve already made one trek to sit around and play the game of pretending Facebook doesn’t exist and asking each other “So how have you been?” you have to make another one a month later.
With freight. Read the rest of this entry »