The Need to Be Rational: Debra Monroe on Her New Memoir, “My Unsentimental Education”

Memoir No Comments »
debra monroe close up

Debra Monroe/Photo: Suzanne Reiss

By Amy Danzer

In her new memoir, “My Unsentimental Education,” Debra Monroe—author of “On the Outskirts of Normal,” “Shambles,” “Newfangled,” “A Wild, Cold State” and “The Source of Trouble,” whose work has won numerous awards—uses her characteristic dry wit and stylish prose to give us glimpses into pivotal instructive moments in her life. She takes us through different stages in her edification by way of formal education, jobs, career and relationships—from her working-class roots in Spooner, Wisconsin to where she now teaches writing at Texas State University, San Marcos. As she navigates these different terrains and phases in her life, she learns much about the influence people and places can have on a person, but also the power of one’s own wanting. Read the rest of this entry »

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

News Etc. No Comments »
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 »

Found In Translation: An Interview with Aviya Kushner about “The Grammar of God”

Nonfiction No Comments »
Aviya Kushner (c) Gur Salomon

Aviya Kushner/Photo: Gur Salomon

By Toni Nealie

The Bible is a holy text for many and a work of literature and cultural resonance for all, so Aviya Kushner’s obsession with the book’s translation is eye-opening and captivating. Growing up in a Jewish, Hebrew-speaking family, she was startled to encounter the English version when she took a Bible literature course with writer Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Kushner discovered that much of what she understood about the creation myth, slavery and the Ten Commandments were rendered very differently in various translations. Read the rest of this entry »

Undauntedly Determined: The Vision of Unabridged Bookstore

Bookstores No Comments »

Photo: Jael Montellano

While Amazon looms as the nation’s largest bookseller, and the great indie bookshops of Chicago dwindle, Unabridged Bookstore celebrates thirty-five years in the Lakeview neighborhood as historic LGBT leader and community wunderkind. Read the rest of this entry »

Race and the Silver Screen in Chicago’s Loop: Gerald R. Butters on his new book, “From Sweetback to Superfly”

Chicago Authors, History No Comments »

gerald butters iiBy Toni Nealie

Chicago’s Loop was once a lively area of movie theaters, the second most important cinema market in the country from the 1920s through the 1970s. By 1990, all eleven venues were gone. Film historian and Aurora University professor Gerald R. Butters has written a thoroughly researched and absorbing book, “From Sweetback to Superfly: Race and Film Audiences in Chicago’s Loop,” examining the clash of community, entertainment and business interests in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

The Poetics of Mona: Parsing Jen Beagin’s Excellent Debut Novel, “Pretend I’m Dead”

Fiction 1 Comment »

beagin 2

By Christine Sneed

Jen Beagin’s novel “Pretend I’m Dead” is an enviably accomplished debut. It’s full of brilliant language and many instances of laugh-out-loud, frequently self-mocking humor. The novel’s four sections all focus on Mona, a young woman whose adventures take her to places such as Lowell, Massachusetts and a small New Mexico town near Taos. Wherever she goes, she always manages to meet a number of characters as memorable as she herself. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Home by Nightfall: A Charles Lenox Mystery” by Charles Finch

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Fiction, Mystery No Comments »

Home by NightfallAuthor Charles Finch’s latest mystery, “Home by Nightfall,” features Finch’s British, upper-class detective Charles Lenox pursuing clues to two crimes, one in London and one in the country town of Markethouse where he and his brother, Sir Edmund Lenox, grew up.

The first puzzle is where did a brilliant German pianist named Muller disappear to after a concert he gave? He seems to have vanished into thin air, since no one saw him leave the concert hall, and there have been no sightings of him in London. In addition to this disappearance, a countryside mystery forms in the town of Markethouse when minor transgressions like small thefts and the inexplicable drawing of a young girl on a newcomer’s steps culminate in a knife attack on Markethouse’s mayor. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made” by Dominic A. Pacyga

History, Nonfiction No Comments »


“Roses are red, violets are blue, the stockyards stink and so do you!” begins Dominic Pacyga’s account of Chicago’s Union Stock Yard. At the stockyard’s zenith, fifty-thousand people were employed there and in the adjacent Packingtown just south of Bridgeport. Pacyga, a historian whose Polish grandparents lived in Back of the Yards and worked in the meatpacking industry, weaves together a deft social, ethnic, business and labor history and story of the place. “The Stockyards were Chicago,” he says.

The Union Stock Yard represented modern capitalism and the industrial factory system applied to food for the first time. Companies such as Swift and Armour centralized and unified meat markets in the nation. Previously it took almost a day to butcher a steer, but Chicago’s packinghouses took only thirty-five minutes. The spectacle of killing and processing thousands of animals each day drew 50,000 tourists each year, from around the United States and around the world. Politicians included it on their campaign trails. Rudyard Kipling wrote, “They were so excessively alive, these pigs. And then they were so excessively dead, and the man in the dripping, clammy, hot passage did not seem to care.” Read the rest of this entry »

Out of the Dumps: Live Storytelling Show You’re Being Ridiculous Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary

Readings No Comments »
jeremy owens YBR

Jeremy Owens at Mary’s Attic/Photo: Jill Howe

The live storytelling series You’re Being Ridiculous returns this month and next to the Mayne Stage for a run of shows that coincides neatly with its five-year anniversary. The theme of the anniversary series is “Beauty” and will feature stories from a wide variety of storytellers; the first show in the series will include Brooke Allen, Lily Be, Eileen Dougharty, Keith Ecker, Kate Harding, Karen Shimmin, Megan Stielstra, Natasha Tsoutsouris and the show’s founder, Jeremy Owens. Read the rest of this entry »

Defiant Women: Karen Abbott’s “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War”

Author Profiles, Fiction No Comments »
karen abbott

Karen Abbott/Photo: Nick Barose

From the author who gave us “Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul,” which centered around Chicago’s famed brothel, the Everleigh Club, Karen Abbott now gives us “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.” In her new book, Abbott once again proves herself a masterful storyteller able to entertain and inform with such intelligence and ease that the two become indistinguishable.

“Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy” follows four women through the course of the Civil War. Rose O’Neal Greenhow is a Confederate woman living in Washington D.C. who gets close to Northern politicians in order to gather information she can then pass back to the Confederates. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Van Lew was on the side of the Union but living in Richmond where she helped spy on the Confederacy. Belle Boyd is a young confederate who we first meet when she shoots a union soldier in her home at the age of seventeen. Emma Edmonds is another young woman who disguises herself as Federal soldier Frank Thompson as a means to help out in the war and escape an unfortunate home life. Read the rest of this entry »