Necessarily a Mother-Daughter Conflict: Bonnie Jo Campbell Discusses “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters”

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Bonnie Jo Campbell BW Headshot

Bonnie Jo Campbell/Photo: John Campbell

By Brendan Buck

Bonnie Jo Campbell, a Michigander by birth, is a short story writer and novelist known for her grit and talent, not all of it in the field of writing; she’s also a mathematician. Her last story collection, the National Book Award nominated “American Salvage,” showcased the scrappy, hard-fought lives of those in the rural Midwest. And her much anticipated new collection of short stories, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters” likewise features tough Midwesterners, but this time she focuses her gaze on a selection of determined but frequently compromised women navigating a sexualized world filled with men who seek to exploit, abuse and abandon them. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” edited by John Freeman

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freeman's arrivalRECOMMENDED

Arrival is a verb denoting the attainment of a goal at a journey’s end. However, as John Freeman’s infinitely relatable and beautifully crafted prose and poetry anthology “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” demonstrates, the word arrival is more indicative of a discovery than a destination. The work Freeman presents transports us to events, life milestones and new understandings that serve as springboards for further journeys.

Freeman has assembled a thoughtful and profoundly accessible collection of work that connects our vulnerabilities, our expectations and our hopes. According to Freeman, the very act of reading can be seen as an arrival: “Every time I read, I look to recreate the feeling of arriving that day,” Freeman tells us. “Stories and essays, even the right kind of poem, will take us somewhere else, put us down somewhere new.” It is from this somewhere new that the conversation takes root and the potential for new arrivals blooms. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “See You in the Morning” by Mairead Case

Chicago Authors, Chicago Publishers, Debut Novel or Collection No Comments »

see you in the morningRECOMMENDED

Mairead Case’s debut novel, “See You in the Morning” is a moving and tenderhearted portrait of a teenager in the summer before her senior year of high school. The girl is acutely aware that this summer will mark the end to the way things have been: “This summer is the last one nobody really cares about. I keep wishing I could hold it, hold on to not having to make anything up so people will like me, hire me, kiss me, or whatever.” But of course the summer rushes on and she, along with her two friends, John and Rosie, find themselves growing in different ways.

The narrator spends her days working at the local big box bookstore, going to punk shows with her friends, hanging out with her eccentric neighbor Mr. Green, and attending church with her mother. She also spends much of her time ruminating on her feelings for her friend John, believing she may be in love with him. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Reviews: “Hazel and the Mirror” and “The Endless Unbegun” by Rachel Jamison Webster

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hazel & the mirrorRECOMMENDED

Tenderness and pain echo through generations of women in Rachel Jamison Webster’s haunting new chapbook “Hazel and the Mirror.” Each character struggles with leaving some facet of her life, whether the womb, her marriage, or her native land. As time shifts and voices intertwine, we confront troubling questions inimical to the human psyche: How does abandonment shift what is possible in our lives? Is trauma inherited? And what is released or contained in the undoing of a person?

Throughout “Hazel,” trauma reflects and projects through the mirror of time and history, revealing the void intrinsic to uninhabited lives. The struggle in motherhood to retain or to discover an identity separate and apart from a needy child casts a long shadow. Competing identities both repel and attract, as “the punishment of silence, the pummel of distance” obscure and injure the ties that bind. Read the rest of this entry »

The Black Gay Male Body Politic: Jarrett Neal Explores Meaning in the New Millennium

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Jarrett Neal Head Shot

Jarrett Neal/Photo: Gerald Butters

By J-L Deher-Lesaint

“What Color Is Your Hoodie? Essays on Black Gay Identity” is Newcity contributor Jarrett Neal’s first book: a collection of personal essays that examine what space the black gay male body occupies in hip-hop culture, sports, mainstream cinema, pornography and, most importantly, everyday life.

How did the book begin, and how long did it take to complete it?
In 2011, I decided to take a break from writing fiction and poetry and give essays a try. When I was a student in the creative writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I never took classes in nonfiction and initially felt I didn’t have the reportorial voice I thought essays needed to have. But I had so many feelings I needed to express that I took to essay writing with ease.

For years, I had been holding in a lot of mixed feelings about both the black community and the gay community. I needed some sort of catharsis. “What Color Is Your Hoodie?” is the culmination of it. I began the collection in late 2011, but the collection really began to gather momentum and take shape when George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. I completed the manuscript in early 2014, and spent the better part of that year querying agents and publishers. I’m happy it found a home at Chelsea Station Editions, an LGBT press. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Behind the Smile: A Story of Carol Moseley Braun’s Historic Senate Campaign” by Jeannie Morris

Biography, Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Chicago Publishers, Nonfiction No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDbehind the smile

“The year of the woman,” 1992, was a time of idealism and anger brought to the fore after the 1991 Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. A Judiciary Committee of white men concluded that Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas were insignificant. Illinois democrats and progressive women were infuriated that Democratic Senator Alan J. Dixon had voted for Thomas’ confirmation. Carol Moseley Braun decided to challenge Dixon, and the account of her 1992 campaign as described by Jeannie Morris in “Behind the Smile” is riveting.

University of Chicago Law graduate, Cook County Recorder of Deeds at the time of her campaign, divorced, a single mother and a feminist fighting to be taken seriously in a man’s world, Braun represented the challenges women of all backgrounds face. EMILY’S List provided her with the first significant campaign donation. A good beginning, except that menacing clouds were forming in the shape of Braun’s campaign manager and eventual boyfriend, Kgosie Matthews. While controversies arose during Braun’s campaign, allegations of sexual harassment against Matthews sent to Braun in an anonymous letter could have ruined her; sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas had brought Braun into the limelight to begin with. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964” by Zachary Leader

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saul bellowRECOMMENDED

When Greg Bellow’s memoir about his father, Saul, came out in 2013, the Independent headlined its review, “Great author, terrible father.” Between the younger Bellow’s book and the three other biographies, to say nothing of the fact that Bellow’s own fiction was thinly veiled autobiography, what does Zachary Leader’s two-volume “The Life of Saul Bellow” bring to the already-crowded field of Bellow studies?

For people like me, who have to confess they’ve never read much Bellow, there’s the cynical temptation to say that with Leader’s work we don’t need to. Certainly most of the plot points from Dangling Man, The Adventures of Augie March, and Herzog can be found in the first volume: “To Fame and Fortune: 1915-1964.” We see Bellow’s parents’ childhoods in Russia; their immigration to Montreal, where Bellow was born; the family’s move to Chicago; and Bellow’s rise to fame, ending in his arrival “at the pinnacle of American letters,” as Leader writes. Marriages one and two are covered in detail, and his relationship with his third wife, Susan, begins in the last chapter, by the end of which things have not yet gone south. We see the womanizing egomaniac as well as the brilliant writer. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Brush Back” by Sara Paretsky

Book Reviews, Fiction, Mystery No Comments »


If you like your crime fiction set in Chicago with a female detective who breaks jaws and breaks conventions, read “Brush Back,” the seventeenth novel in Sara Paretsky’s Warshawski series. Since the first novel in the series, the portrayal of the characters, cityscape and sociopolitical setting has grown richer as Paretsky hones her powers; she has had more than thirty years to develop the characters of Vic Warshawski and her network of friends, to portray Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods as well as the class and political influences that make Chicago a great city in which the detective can exercise her sense of justice. Read the rest of this entry »

South Side Experiences: Nate Marshall’s “Wild Hundreds” Poems Tackle Young Life in the City

Chicago Authors, Poetry No Comments »
nate marshall - Xavier Ramey

Nate Marshall/Photo: Xavier Ramey

Fans of the 2010 documentary “Louder Than A Bomb” will remember Nate Marshall as the then-teen whose performance closed out the film. I say “will remember” because his performance is unforgettable. In the seven years since the movie was filmed, Marshall received a BA from Vanderbilt University, an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan (where he was also a Zell Postgraduate Fellow), and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wabash College. And now he’s publishing his first collection of poetry, “Wild Hundreds.” Read the rest of this entry »

Diving Deep: Re’Lynn Hansen Discusses “To Some Women I Have Known”

Chicago Authors, Memoir, Nonfiction No Comments »

By Toni NealieHansenPhoto

In her memoir of prose poems and essays, Re’Lynn Hansen captures what she calls the “prismatic moment,” the color burst, the distilled essence of past. It’s sweet-sharp. Beauty, loss and humor sidle out from memories—a horse “gone like a ghost train, all light and muscle flying past,” a severed toe in a white handkerchief set in a drawer, an old guy in a nursing home who insists on putting his shoe on his lunch plate. Looking at adolescence, Hansen threads ideas of “becoming” and being “more,” over a catalog of recollection and longing. Read the rest of this entry »