Tales out of School: Relevancy and Change in Columbia College’s Annual Story Week Festival

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Audrey Petty and Mitchell S. Jackson/Photo: Ben Bowen

Audrey Petty and Mitchell S. Jackson/Photo: Ben Bowen

By Kim Steele

For a literary festival like Columbia College’s Story Week to remain relevant for nineteen years is quite an accomplishment. This year, it succeeded once again by emphasizing the important and unique relationship between literature and current events; demonstrating that literature is a catalyst for all of us to discuss what is happening in the world around us.

In fact, this year’s theme, “The Power of Words” is, in part, a reaction to the violence in our city and world in the past few months. Eric May, the artistic director of Story Week and an associate professor in creative writing at Columbia, notes how the desire to remain pertinent influences which authors they host as well as the focus of the various panels. In fact, the panel “Fighting Violence: The Power of Words” addressed the relationship between violence and literature head on. It featured Kevin Coval (the author of “The BreakBeat Poets” and the founder of Louder Than A Bomb), Mitchell S. Jackson (“The Residue Years”), Audrey Petty (editor, “High Rise Stories”) and Miles Harvey (editor, “How Long Will I Cry?”). Read the rest of this entry »

Being Lily: Storytelling and Tamales

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Photo: Luis Perez

Photo: Luis Perez

For Humboldt Parker Lily Be, life is not just a menagerie of thrilling, touching and rip-roaringly hysterical stories. For Lily, it’s personal. And it comes with tamales.

Lily has been a fixture in the storytelling community since 2009. In addition to founding her own show, “Stoop-Style Stories” in August of 2012 with co-host Clarence Browley, Lily has thrown herself into the storytelling scene. She has been featured in an array of programs such as “Do Not Submit,” “I Shit You Not,” “Guts & Glory” and “Essay Fiesta,” to say nothing of countless open mics and appearances on Vocalo and WBEZ, until her appearance at The Moth propelled her into the spotlight, leading to a hands-down victory at The Moth’s StorySLAM competition at the Park West in June of 2013. She was the first Latina to win the competition. Read the rest of this entry »

Cheering Like Drunk Soccer Moms: LitMash Aims to be the Ultimate Cross-Genre Slam

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JW_reduced

J.W. Basilo probably wouldn’t describe himself as a freedom fighter, but that just might be what he is. His live lit show LitMash, presented by Chicago Slam Works, is breaking down barriers, proving that labels don’t define us; we are more than that, better than that! A poet doesn’t only need to socialize with (or compete against) poets, for goodness sake. They can journey beyond the enjambed line, befriending paragraphs and one-liners along the way.

At least that’s Basilo’s vision for LitMash, which usually runs the first Monday of every month in the Drinking and Writing Theater at Haymarket Pub & Brewery. The nondiscriminatory literature slam puts poets, storytellers, essayists and standup comics side by side—as long as the piece is six minutes or less, anything goes. Read the rest of this entry »

You Can Smell Real A Mile Away: An Interview with the Men of The Moth

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Brian Babylon - The Moth

Brian Babylon

By Liz Baudler

The Moth GrandSLAM, held on a chilly December night at the Park West, had the feel of a party fueled not just by the energies of ten stellar storytellers competing for the ultimate glory of being the GrandSLAM winner, but by three particular men. Newcity chatted with Brian Babylon and Don Hall—Moth StorySLAM hosts at Martyrs’ and Haymarket Pub and Brewery, respectively—and producer Tyler Greene, about what they’ve seen over the years.

What do you guys think makes a good story?
Don: An ability to not paint yourself as the hero, and structure. If you ask a question in the beginning or you create some sort of “I want to know,” and then you reward the audience with the thing you want to know, then you have a good story. Making mistakes are the best fucking stories because mistakes are things that you learn from. The only thing you learn from success is how to keep doing things the same way. It’s flaying the flesh. And it’s not about therapy. It’s about saying, “this is where I was at, this is a thing I did, it was wrong and I’m stupid or whatever, but this is what I’ve learned and I’m better now.” Don’t tell the story while you’re still bleeding. Wait until it’s a scar. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Bibliophiles Unite at the Third Annual Chicago Book Expo

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Photo: Rebecca Ciprus

Photo: Rebecca Ciprus

Talents from the literary community were on display at the third annual Chicago Book Expo at Columbia College on Saturday, December 6 from 11am-5pm. Eighty-five booths blanketing two floors of the college’s campus at 1104 South Wabash housed authors selling their books, presses promoting works by their authors, and literary journals showcasing their work and providing information on their submission processes to visiting writers; other associations, groups, nonprofits and educational institutions were also on hand to promote their unique approaches to writing and publishing. There was something for every literary taste, from Rose Metal Press’ beautiful hybrid chapbooks to Appoet’s interactive mobile application that transforms two-dimensional stories into three-dimensional tales that interact with the time and space of the reader, to “After Hours,” a literary journal dedicated to the poetry and prose of Chicago authors. Mystery novels, parenting guides and history books also filled the booths of this animated event that drew in about a thousand visitors. Read the rest of this entry »

Translating Performance to Page: An Interview with Story Club Magazine’s Dana Norris

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By Naomi Huffman

photo: Evan Hanover

photo: Evan Hanover

When Dana Norris founded Story Club five years ago, it was an open mic reading and she was “just trying to figure out how to do this thing.” In the years since then, Story Club has launched monthly shows on Chicago’s South Side, and in Minneapolis and Boston. In February, she introduced Story Club Magazine, an online journal that publishes stories performed at reading series in cities across the country.

Just before Story Club Magazine’s second issue went live in early May, I had the pleasure of talking with Dana about Story Club’s success, the struggle of translating performance stories for print, and Chicago’s dynamic storytelling scene.

Tell me about Story Club Magazine.
I’ve been running Story Club for five years, where we’ve had all of these performers going up on stage and just killing it. But sometimes readers would just vanish as soon as the show was over, and I wouldn’t get a chance to tell them how good they were. So, I started doing an audience vote at the end of every show so I could publicly reward their boldness. Winning’s nice, but I also wanted to reward performers by publishing their stories on the Story Club website. We did that for a couple of years, and then started the Story Club South Side show, then Story Club Minneapolis, Story Club Boston. I wanted to publish great stories from those shows and from shows around the country. I wanted a central resource for live lit in print, video and audio so you don’t have to be in the room when a performance is happening to reap the benefits of the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Toasting the Man Chicago Almost Forgot, Nelson Algren

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NALGRENOn March 29, the Nelson Algren Committee will host the twenty-fifth annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party to honor the man who eternalized Chicago’s “drunks, pimps, prostitutes, freaks, drug addicts, prize fighters, corrupt politicians, and hoodlums” with his books “The Man With the Golden Arm,” “Neon Wilderness,” and “Chicago: City on the Make.”

This year would mark Algren’s 106th birthday—which actually falls on March 28—but  the festivities planned are lively: theater mainstays Donna Blue Lachman and Bob Swann will be presenting Algren’s work with folksinger Mark Dvorak, filmmaker Tom Palazzolo, actor-director Nate Herman, activist Robert Lopez, and novelist Christopher Corbett. Poetry readings, excerpts from the in-progress documentary, “Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing, The Road is All,” and a tribute to Algren’s lover Simone de Beauvoir. Read the rest of this entry »

Publish or Perish? Literary Variety Show Spooks and Inspires

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shadowpuppet1Start your Halloween celebration off with The All Hallows’ Eve Eve Variety Show at the California Clipper­, an intimate bar with its own resident ghost. All proceeds from the show benefit one of Chicago’s newest literary institutions, the Chicago Publisher’s Resource Center (ChiPRC). ChiPRC founder John Wawrzaszek opened the center earlier this year as a way to support all things publishing-related.

Over email, John says that his goal for the center is “to cover all areas of publishing since that definition has been growing.” He went on to describe ChiPRC, located at 858 North Ashland, as “an accessible and affordable space that allows the community to complete publishing-based projects. It offers resources that are physical such as equipment needed to self-publish work or educational such as workshops that focus on craft and process.” Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Guts & Glory Probes Vulnerable Work in a Never-Boring Way

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Guts&Glory(1)Nearly a year ago, writers Keith Ecker and Sam Irby created the literary series Guts & Glory to give authors an environment to try out their newer, riskier writing. “While the [live lit] community had really flourished, I noticed that there wasn’t a venue for artists to share their most vulnerable works. I personally had topics I wanted to explore in my writing that I knew would push the envelope of what would be considered acceptable at a lot of shows,” Ecker says.

If starting a live literary series is the thing to do these days,  what sets this one apart from the rest? First of all, the environment. The series takes place once a month in what Ecker calls the “barebones venue” in the back of Powell’s Bookstore. Christmas lights are hung along the exposed brick wall, creating a raw, intimate environment for the readers and its audience. “We aren’t about big production value. We’re about that connection between the artist and the audience in its purest form. And because of the incredibly supportive atmosphere that Sam and I have fostered, our artists feel comfortable being incredibly vulnerable and our audiences are eager to listen,” Ecker says. Read the rest of this entry »

The Need to Be Heard: 2nd Story Promotes Equality Through Expression

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By Kathleen Caplis OzziePride2012

He’d had a long ride home from Chicago, performer Ozzie Totten explained during 2nd Story’s sixth annual PRIDE event. His friend’s dad, Harvey, was traveling for business and offered him a ride home to Minnesota, and Totten, at the time a student at Loyola University, saw it as a free and easy way to travel back home for winter break. Totten had identified as gay since age fifteen, grew up in an accepting atmosphere, and always felt welcome in his home, his community, his church. But on that car ride home, it became apparent that not everyone felt comfortable enough to be openly gay in their community.

As Totten took his shift behind the wheel, Harvey began to talk of his past visits to Chicago—to see his boyfriend. Before this, Totten saw Harvey as a happily married man, but he realized he had been holding a secret, and now Totten had no choice but to keep the revelation from Harvey’s daughter, with whom he was close friends, for fear of splitting their family apart. It placed Totten in an uncomfortable situation. He understood Harvey’s apprehension; he’d heard stories of friends being kicked out of their homes after coming out. But Harvey chose not to come out to his family for several decades. Reflecting on that car ride home, Totten now understands Harvey’s need to tell someone, anyone—to have his story heard. Read the rest of this entry »