Refugee Poet Burns Bright: Middle Eastern Poets at the Poetry Foundation

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Photo: Iraqi Mutual Aid Society

Assyrian poet Younan Houma at last year’s festival/Photo: Iraqi Mutual Aid Society

Twana Twana carried sixty years of memories from his native Mosul to Chicago’s North Side in 2012. Routine work days as a pharmacist in the old city, or glimpses of his favorite landmark, an imperfectly leaning minaret giving Mosul its nickname “the hunchback,” are cherished memories that shape his poems. Though resettlement has greatly helped his children, like many Iraqi refugees Twana finds himself torn between his birthplace and Chicago. “As a refugee you are like a candle, you burn so that others can see,” he says.

This month, Twana is one of a handful of local Middle Eastern refugee poets reading at the Poetry Foundation’s April 23 Poetry Off the Shelf event, “What We Carried: Poetry by Middle Eastern Refugees.” The festival is cohosted with the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, a local nonprofit based in West Ridge which serves some of the eight thousand Iraqi refugees resettled in the Chicago area since 2007. Local refugees as well as published Middle Eastern poets will read at the event to shed light on Middle Eastern experiences in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

Newcity’s Top Five of Everything 2015: Lit

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Top 5 Winter Poems
“It Sifts from Leaden Sieves” by Emily Dickinson
“Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost
“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens
“February Evening in New York” by Denise Levertov
“The Spine of the Snowman” by David Berman
—Kathleen Rooney

Top 5 Textual Chicago Bars, Real and Imagined
Antek’s Tug and Maul, from Nelson Algren’s “The Man with the Golden Arm”
The Billy Goat, which is a real place, but also exists in the writing of Mike Royko and the skits of Saturday Night Live
The Green Hat, from Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”
The Dil Pickle Club, in real life and as imagined by Ben Hecht, Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson and other Chicago Renaissance writers
The Bohemian’s, from Bill Granger’s “Time for Frankie Coolin”
—Bill Savage Read the rest of this entry »

News: New Guild Executive Director Lisa Wagner Pursues Social Justice Through Literature at the Guild Literary Complex

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Lisa Wagner, photo by Michael Antman

Lisa Wagner/Photo: Michael Antman

The Guild Literary Complex, a Chicago literary organization for over twenty-five years, has announced its new executive director, Lisa Wagner. Wagner started work at the Guild Complex on December 7 and she replaces John Rich—who took a position with the MCA in August.

Wagner is already well acquainted with the Guild from collaborating last summer as the project coordinator for BrooksDay, an annual celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks. Mike Puican, Guild Literary Complex president, expressed his excitement to have Wagner on board, and spoke highly of her work. “BrooksDay is a festival of performance that involves the coordination of about sixty artists, a number of literary organizations, and fundraising for the entire event,” he explained. “Not only was this a smashing success, Lisa came up with extra touches — like a high-quality program book that included bios and photos of every performer—that added flourish to the event.” Read the rest of this entry »

News: Evanston Public Library Hosts First Annual Storytelling Festival

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Evanston storytelling festival - (Emily Hooper Lansana (R) Zahra Baker (L)

Zahra Baker and Emily Hooper Lansana

On October 9-11, the Evanston Public Library will host its first annual Storytelling Festival, featuring a wide array of free events, including storytelling for all ages, panels, workshops, and spoken-word poetry, held at the library, the Celtic Knot Public House, the Woman’s Club of Evanston, and an outdoor family tent. Read the rest of this entry »

News: The Chicago Public Library Selects its One Book, One Chicago Title and Hosts Banned Books Week

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ThomasDyjaPhotoCreditBill Guerriero

Thomas Dyja/Photo: Bill Guerriero

“The Third Coast” by Thomas Dyja is the One Book, One Chicago selection for this fall and the twenty-sixth book the program has selected since its inception in the fall of 2001. For those unfamiliar, OBOC is a Chicago Public Library Program that aims to unite the city via the shared experience of reading the same book. Each book is selected along with a corresponding theme, which is then explored through various free programming.

As Jennifer Lizak, Coordinator of Special Projects with The Chicago Public Library explains, this year’s theme, “Chicago: The City That Gives,” “was a natural fit not only for the book [but] also for a season-long exploration.” She also notes that this year the CPL collaborated with their partners at the Chicago Community Trust in choosing a book and theme so that it would also reflect the Chicago Community Trust’s centennial celebration.

Lizak also shares why she believes the program is so compelling for so many Chicagoans: “I think people are attracted to the One Book, One Chicago program because it is a shared experience that we don’t often get to have once we are adults. Even if you do not attend a book-discussion group, there’s something neat about knowing you’re reading a book at the same time that thousands of other Chicagoans are also reading it.” That notion of community is reflected in the fact that this year, for the first time ever, every single library in the CPL system will be hosting a One Book-related event. Read the rest of this entry »

News: John Rich Returns to the World of Live Arts and Takes on Role as the MCA’s Manager of Performance Programs

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John Rich/Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

John Rich/Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

John Rich, former director of the Guild Literary Complex, has left his position with the literary organization to assume the role of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Manager of Performance Programs. Read the rest of this entry »

News: All About the Business—The Fourth Annual Chicago Writers’ Conference

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Photo: Elliot Mandel Photo

In 2011, Mare Swallow created the Chicago Writers’ Conference after she noticed a lack of opportunity in Chicago for writers to rub shoulders with editors, agents, publishers and other literary professionals. Now in its fourth year, the growth and success of the CWC is a testament to the unique and vibrant Chicago literary scene. Read the rest of this entry »

News: At It Again—Elizabeth Taylor and Adam Cohen Reunite to Launch The National Book Review

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national book review

Fifteen years ago, Elizabeth Taylor and Adam Cohen collaborated to bring us “American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation.” The duo, each widely accomplished in their own right have reunited with the creation of the website, The National Book Review. Read the rest of this entry »