Poetry Review: “Who’s Afraid of Helen of Troy” by David Lazar

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If you are smart and you like to have a chuckle while you read, then please do yourself a favor and don’t read David Lazar’s clever new book “Who’s Afraid of Helen of Troy: An Essay on Love” in a quiet public place. This erudite romp through romance is to be relished out loud, in the comfort of your own bed or train car—either alone or with some lucky other. Selections might even find themselves on your ex’s voicemail. If you aren’t a scholar of Greek mythology, you might want to keep your aged college texts (or Google) nearby, because you are going to (re)learn a lot. Greek tragedy, after all, has given readers their first roadmap of love. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Papi” by Rita Indiana, translated by Achy Obejas

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RECOMMENDED9780226244891

Rita Indiana’s novel, “Papi,” translated by Achy Obejas, is entering the American literary scene at a ripe moment for fiction in translation. A famously cited statistic says that only three percent of the books published in the United States are translations, compared with sixteen percent in France or a colossal thirty percent in Poland. However, works of literary fiction in translation have been appearing regularly on the bestseller lists since the 2012 publication of the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series and its intimate, visceral description of women grappling with male-dominated violence and class struggle. Read the rest of this entry »

The Journey, the Perceptions and the Fakery of Nostalgia: Discussing “The Miles Between Me” with Toni Nealie

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Photo: Bruce Sheridan

Photo: Bruce Sheridan

By Amy Danzer

This month, Newcity’s literary editor Toni Nealie releases her debut collection of lyrical essays, entitled “The Miles Between Me.” The essays investigate family mythologies from India and England to New Zealand, Canada and the United States. They explore the range of emotions Nealie experiences as she navigates new landscapes, neighbors and family dynamics, as well as different ways to pass the time, measure distance, travel post-9/11 and deal with loss. Nealie, spurred by her journalistic instinct, infuses the essays with delicious morsels of fascinating facts; her unique vantage point offers fresh perspective on the familiar; and her love of language makes the essays a sheer pleasure to read. I recently had the chance to ask Nealie several questions about her essays via email.

Can you say a little something about the inception of “The Miles Between Me”—what informed the framing of the book?
Moving with my family from Aotearoa New Zealand to the United States weeks before 9/11 flipped my life topsy-turvy. It upended every idea I held about society and myself. All my scaffolding was gone. As a journalist, I had told other people’s stories, but reportage couldn’t get to the heart of my questions. Essaying allowed me to make sense of political and private events. Personal and lyric essays led me to reflect on home, journey and migration. I could ferret out disruptive ideas about parenthood, marriage, race and family history—poking at imagined truths and scratching away at unreliable memories. I could digress and meander and explore without being forced to take a position. Distance and isolation gave me an opportunity to ponder ideas about our flimsy construction of self and our deceptive sense of control. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Getting Right” by Gary D. Wilson

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Getting Right front cover-2

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This family saga, Gary D. Wilson’s second novel, centers around three middle-aged siblings from Kansas. In “Getting Right,” the youngest, Connie, develops terminal lung cancer. She requests her unnamed middle sibling, a writer who left Kansas for Chicago and beyond, to record her life story. Ostensibly, that’s what he sets about doing, along with the life of their elder, stroke-stricken brother Len along the way, but at the heart of the novel is the narrator’s own story, of his departure from Kansas and his separation from the people he once called family.
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Live Lit: Reading Under the Influence

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Halfway into round three of trivia, a race had formed in the packed back room of Sheffield’s. Everyone in the audience technically had a point after they unanimously shouted an answer, but two in the crowd had emerged ahead. Before the featured reader continued, co-host Jon Natzke interrupted him to shout, “The only people who should be answering are those with two points.” As a RUI veteran, I know this warning is necessary, as the crowd at “Reading Under the Influence” is a raucous bunch, and with a book and a drink ticket on the line, anything goes. Read the rest of this entry »

Under Chicago’s Shiny Facade: Natalie Moore Discusses “The South Side”

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natalie moore photo. credit David Pierini

Photo: David Pierini

By Toni Nealie

If you ride a bus from the Magnificent Mile south along Michigan Avenue, or take the Green Line west, a cityscape of glossy buildings and lush planters changes to one of boarded windows and cracked sidewalks. Beyond the Loop, the color of the riders changes, a fact noticed by Natalie Moore when she was a teenager. In “The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation,” Moore examines the city’s deep divisions, its history of segregation and the contemporary policies that reinforce racial inequality. “Ending segregation surely won’t end racism,” she says, “but its dismantling will provide better outcomes for black people.”

Moore is the South Side bureau reporter for WBEZ and has published stories in Essence, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and elsewhere. She blends reportage, investigative research, family history and her own difficult experiences in this portrait of the city. She discusses redlining, subprime mortgages, racial steering, negative educational policies and retail leakage as the reasons behind intentional black segregation and its accompanying disinvestment, unemployment, high poverty rate and crime. A century after the Great Migration to Chicago began, Moore describes it as a “story of northern racism.” Read the rest of this entry »

An Opportunity to Just Write: Cave Canem Fellow Puts “Poetry First, Always”

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keith-6For Chicago poet Keith S. Wilson, receiving the Cave Canem fellowship allows him time to write about difficult subjects without distraction. “I’m working on a long piece considering the history of racial violence in America and the ways that it reflects larger echoes of violence in the world,” Wilson says. “I’m also working on a lot of poems that explore race, gender and otherness through the metaphorical scrim of Greek mythological creatures. I’m interested, always, in art that has something to say about social issues we are facing right this second.”

Cave Canem, founded in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African-American poets in MFA programs and writing workshops, offers a fellowship twice a year, including this residency at The Millay Colony for the Arts in New York. Wilson describes the residency as “an opportunity to write. Just write. Not running to Walgreens at 10pm to get kitty litter, not finding myself strangely obsessed with animated owl gifs on Instagram, but reading, writing and editing my poems in a dedicated space. Reaffirming my passions. Like a metaphorical second wedding, maybe.” Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Flammable Matter” by Jacob Victorine

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Flammable Matter-Cover-2 copyRECOMMENDED

In his first collection, Jacob Victorine writes devastating poems about humans burning. Winner of Elixir Press’ Editor’s Award, “Flammable Matter” memorializes victims—named and unnamed—of fire. Some received media attention when they immolated themselves—monks lamenting Chinese occupation of Tibet, Tunisian food-sellers protesting heavy-handed government forces, and Chicago’s Malachi Ritscher railing against the Iraq war. Some are etched in our collective mind’s eye—like those photographed plummeting from the Twin Towers on 9/11, when the author was a teen growing up in New York. A small boy died in a house fire when playing with matches. The author’s mother, eight at the time, never forgot.

Victorine creates lyric work from fragments of family stories, Ritscher’s self-penned obituary, Richard Pryor’s comedy routine about setting himself alight, government advisories and news reports. One poem, “The Helicopter Concerto” is a multi-part contrapuntal formed from an interview with the poet’s father, a Vietnam veteran. Lines from media comments sections thread through the collection, providing a chorus of interjections, critique and conscience. Humans are messy, complicated and not always compassionate. Read the rest of this entry »

Epiphany and Enlightenment: Amina Gautier Discusses “The Loss of All Lost Things”

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amina_gautier5.creditjennibryant

Photo: Jenni Bryant

By Christine Sneed

Fiction writer and former DePaul English Department faculty member Amina Gautier recently published her third book, “The Loss of All Lost Things,” winner of the Elixir Press Award in Fiction. Among many other honors and prizes, Gautier won the Flannery O’Connor Award for her first book of stories, “At-Risk,” and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize for her second book, “Now We Will Be Happy.” Gautier, a resident of Miami and Chicago, is a fiction writer of uncanny insight into the human heart and a master of the short story form. She discussed her new book by email.    Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “A Decent Ride” by Irvine Welsh

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a decent rideScotland-born Chicago author Irvine Welsh, renowned for “Trainspotting,” now gives us his tenth novel, “A Decent Ride.” Named his “funniest, filthiest book yet,” it’s definitely a book for lovers of the bawdy and a rollicking good time, not for the faint of heart.

Edinburgh cabbie “Juice” Lawson returns from Welsh’s 2001 novel, “Glue.” It’s now 2011 and he continues as an incorrigible womanizer and boozer. When Hurricane Bawbag comes to town—a symbol of chaos and disruption—mayhem ensues. All is topsy-turvy. Those who ordinarily hold sway are outwitted by fools. Reality TV and business mogul Ronnie Checker finds himself at the mercy of his lowly cabbie. The bullies at The Pub With No Name are injured by Wee Jonty MacKay. Interactions occur between unlikely combinations of people: upper classes and lower, young and old, parents and children, siblings, the living and the dead. Eccentric behavior prevails and sacrilege abounds. Read the rest of this entry »