Even after researching and writing “Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA,” a searing indictment of college sports’ governing body, author Ben Strauss still can’t resist the power of the bracket. “March Madness is still a lot of fun! But at the same time, it’s hard to watch with the same passion as when I was younger knowing that the system is so fundamentally flawed,” Strauss says.
Those flaws are painstakingly catalogued in “Indentured,” co-authored by Joe Nocera. It charts the NCAA’s long history of funneling the spoils of college sports directly to coaches and administrators. The star athletes who generate the estimated $13 billion a year are unpaid “amateurs” and can have their careers taken away for the slightest violation of their amateur status or daring to speak out against the system.
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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 »
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 »
For 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 »
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 »
Photo: Cheryl Mann
Chicago native Lorraine Evanoff lived in France for years and now works in film finance. We discussed by email her debut novel, “Foliage.”
This is a fast-paced, plot-driven suspense novel. Did you write it with a view that it could make a film?
I didn’t consciously write my novel with the view of it becoming a film. Since I worked in the film industry for so long, it’s possible that my writing style is just naturally geared that way. Interestingly, the original opening of the novel was different, with a more gradual setup, but after a few edits, I decided to jump right into the action. It seemed more exciting that way. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Scotland-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 »
Chicagoan Abby Geni’s “The Lightkeepers” opens with nature photographer Miranda joining a crew of six biologists on the isolated Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. Overrun with rodents and bats, pummeled by waves, prodded by winds and bound in all directions by sharks and jagged rocks, the setting doesn’t suggest menace so much as insist on it. The threats materialize one night when Miranda is attacked in her bedroom. Afterward, paralyzed by the community’s insularity, she battles with how to proceed, until nature intervenes.
Miranda narrates her experiences through letters to her dead mother. This epistolary attempt to contact someone she’s already lost strands her voice more wholly, exaggerating her isolation as a resident of this deserted island and as a silenced assault victim. Read the rest of this entry »
Science-fiction novels are often about society-shaking changes with worldwide implications. Chicagoan Jessica Chiarella’s debut novel “And Again,” focuses on less-lofty, but no less significant, aspects of this premise. While the topics of identity, transhumanism, and possible immortality are all raised ever so briefly in this novel about cloning, “And Again” is an intimate work that explores the personal repercussions of an FDA trial for a medical procedure that transfers the minds of four terminally ill patients into new, genetically perfect bodies.
Chiarella focuses largely on questions of character. How should the artist Hannah react to a boyfriend who was absent in what might have been her last days? What does she think when she finds her new body has none of the skills of her old one? Can David, the cheating Republican congressman, reform himself and be a faithful husband when he no longer has a brain tumor to worry about? These questions are fascinating, but the most intriguing parts of the book involve Linda, who had an accident that left her immobile and mute for eight years. Read the rest of this entry »