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

Chicago Authors, Essays No Comments »
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 »

Asking No One’s Permission: Jessica Hopper Discusses Her New Collection of Essays on Rock and Radical Feminism

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JESSICA HOPPER_2_photo by david sampson

Jessica Hopper / Photo: David Sampson

By Liz Baudler

Jessica Hopper’s byline connotes two things: vivid, confrontational description, and criticism with an unabashedly feminist and social conscience. “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic” raucously celebrates Hopper’s multidecade career, blaring its politics with the seminal piece “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” and veering through rap and rock and girls and boys with joyful and incisive abandon. Read the rest of this entry »

Big-Hearted and Bawdy: Tony Fitzpatrick’s “Dime Stories” Speaks Truth to Power

Anthologies, Art Books, Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Essays No Comments »

Tony Fitzpatrick/Photo: Paul Elledge

By Amy Friedman

“Whatever you do in this life, make sure you’re the only one who can do it,” Tony Fitzpatrick’s father advised him in the third grade, and hell if he didn’t listen. Artist, author and actor are but a few of his titles, and there’s no doubt that no one can do what Tony does.

“Dime Stories,” the soon-to-be-released foul-mouthed, straight-talk collection of Fitzpatrick’s Newcity columns speaks truth to power, and we’d be wise to heed its warnings and take its advice. Fitzpatrick rails against waste, criticizes the sellout of our political institutions to big money, laments the proliferation of mass shootings and parses various other elements that lead to injustice. These essays examine with sharp focus and acerbic wit our true nature and that of our changing city, rife with new dangers and old problems. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Two” by Melissa Ann Pinney

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“Two” is a compelling book of photographs by Evanston photographer Melissa Ann Pinney. Edited and introduced by Ann Patchett, interspersed throughout are ten essays on the theme of twoness written by some of our best contemporary writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Edwidge Danticat and Richard Russo. Read the rest of this entry »

Memory and Guilt: Ryan Spooner Talks About his Essay Collection “Regret”

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By Toni NealieRyan Spooner

A young man argues about how to make a martini. It’s a performance, both in the bar and on the page. The man’s friend says, “Look at yourself. Look at how you’re acting.” So the writer does, commenting: “Young people have a flair for, a tendency toward the tumultuous.” In “Regret,” his first prose collection, Ryan Spooner examines ideas about selfhood, social class and masculinity, the male gaze and the tumult of becoming adult. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948 by Noah Berlatsky

Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists, Essays, History No Comments »

wonder womanRECOMMENDED

The reason I know a smidgen about comics: I hang out with a lot of geeks. Feminist, sex-positive, queer-friendly geeks. They told me the backstory of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston, radical psychologist and happy polyamorist. Jill Lepore explored Marston’s home life in “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” but Chicago-based culture and comics writer Noah Berlatsky took a deep dive into the marriage of psychology and artwork that is Marston’s enduring pop culture impact.

Even comics skeptics find Wonder Woman unique and titillating. As Berlatsky rightly points out, she’s been a feminist icon for decades, and among certain circles, a kinky queer one. (Lasso of truth? Ladies-only island? Hmm…) Berlatsky illuminates how Wonder Woman—of World War II inception—nods at that era’s values yet still espoused female superiority and pacifism, slyly winked at lesbianism and even may have stood traditional rape and incest narratives on its head. He also focuses appropriately on the artist, Harry Peter, as well as Marston, and shows how even Peter’s idiosyncratic perspective and anatomy bolster the argument that the series was ahead of its time. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Minutes and Semi-Drunk: Write Club Brings Bare-Knuckled Lit Brawls to Your Living Room

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Essays, Humor, Nonfiction No Comments »
Lindsay Muscato and Write Club Overlord Ian Belknap/Photo: Evan Hanover

Lindsay Muscato and Write Club Overlord Ian Belknap/Photo: Evan Hanover

By Adrienne Gunn

Write Club, Chicago’s pre-eminent storytelling brawl that pits two writers with opposing themes against one another in front of a live audience, has collected its funniest and most badass bouts into a new anthology, “Bare Knuckled Lit: The Best of Write Club.” The live show, taking place in Chicago on the third Tuesday of every month at The Hideout, prides itself on high-intensity, no-holds-barred matches. How does “Bare-Knuckled Lit” compare? Write Club founder and “overlord” Ian Belknap says, “It’s the difference between hunting on a game preserve, and hunting in the wild; between a fencing match, and a fistfight in a gas station parking lot.” Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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 »

Critical Force: Make Way for Roxane Gay and Her “Bad Feminist” Self

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Debut Novel or Collection, Essays No Comments »

roxanegayBy Amy Beth Danzer

It was this year’s AWP Conference in Seattle when I first came in contact with the tour de force that is Roxane Gay. After an evening of readings, publishing-house parties and general carousing, a crew of us found ourselves in the lobby of one of the main hotels hosting the conference, where the likes of Tobias Wolff or Richard Bausch could be spotted waiting for an elevator. As we made our way toward the hotel bar, my friend Adrienne stopped and gasped, “Oh my god, that’s Roxane Gay! I love her.” There she was in unassuming jeans and t-shirt, the ubiquitous culture critic who Flavorwire declared one of 25 Women Poised to Lead the Culture in 2014, Roxane Gay. I knew about her, but was not yet intimate with her work. Adrienne on the other hand was a confirmed admirer and devoted follower. As soon as an opportunity arose, she jumped at the chance to discuss with Gay the very important matter of Juan Pablo Galavis, the then-new Bachelor, and his romantic interests, Ferrell and Crawley. Though not a fan of the show myself, I was thoroughly entertained by the conversation and thoroughly impressed by Gay, who was clearly an intellectual, informed and sophisticated, yet still able to speak vox populi—a combination I dig in people, especially in writers. I needed more of a fix, which was all too easy to satisfy; she and her work are everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing What? Essaying Megan Stielstra, Essayist of “Once I Was Cool”

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Essays, Memoir 1 Comment »

megan stielstra

By Liz Baudler

Megan Stielstra’s writing career is forever changing. She tells me this as we sit on couches in the office space for her new nine-to-five job, and it looks like a sushi bar, all square lines and pale stripes of wood and white blocks. The walls are whiteboards and she can’t wait to take a marker to them.

Stielstra’s writing career has never been about the best-selling novel she hoped to write. It took shape as she scrubbed floors in Florence and read a lot. When she went to Columbia College, she walked out of her first class feeling like she had smoked everything there was to smoke, so high was she from the excitement of writing.

The writing career detoured when a trusted professor asked her if she’d ever thought about teaching. Yet she can’t stand in front of a classroom without writing, or else she’d violate some incredible trust with her students. It still amazes her that they trust her with first drafts: she would balk at handing over hers like that. Read the rest of this entry »