Comedy, Tragedy and Combatting the Ultimate Void: Aleksandar Hemon Discusses His New Novel, “The Making of Zombie Wars”

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Aleksandar Hemon - headshot

Aleksandar Hemon/Photo: Velibor Bozovic

By Amy Danzer

Aleksandar Hemon brings the funny in his new novel, “The Making of Zombie Wars.”

After giving us “The Question of Bruno,” “Nowhere Man,” “The Lazarus Project,” “Love and Obstacles,” and “The Book of My Lives,” he now presents us with a comical story that centers around born-and-raised Highland Parker, Joshua Levin, an ESL instructor who compulsively comes up with script ideas that never hold much promise, with the exception of “Zombie Wars.” According to just about everyone in the novel, his girlfriend is too good for him; his relationship with his family is pretty average-if-a-bit-strained; and his army vet landlord, Stagger, has an absolute lack of appreciation for boundaries. Everything in Joshua’s world moves mediocrely along until he plays a dangerous game of seduction with his Bosnian student, Ana who is married to a Bosnian war vet. Thereafter, misadventures ensue like a Coen Brothers film. Though its pace is swift and the mishaps ridiculous, there’s no shortage of poignant subtext. Hemon recently entertained some questions I had for him about his new novel at his shared writers’ space on the North Side of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50 2014: Who Really Books in Chicago

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Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

When we began work on the 2012 version of Lit 50, there were some 200 published writers on our long list. This year, there were 437. As always, trimming the list to a mere fifty writers required a certain kind of agony (and a few sleepless nights), but we’re proud of the list we gathered here, and we feel it celebrates the wealth of talent and diversity of Chicago’s literary community.

Close followers of Lit 50 will know this year’s list celebrates writers across all forms: novelists, essayists, poets, graphic novelists, playwrights. Our call to local literary folk yielded a wealth of celebratory news: overseas teaching offers, sealed book deals, hard-earned fellowships and awards. It also introduced dozens of writers that were not already known to us. We’re proud that this year’s Lit 50 includes seventeen writers who are making their first appearance on this list, including Chris Abani, the Nigerian-born writer who escaped a death row sentence in 1991 and now teaches graduate students at Northwestern University. We’re thrilled to add Lindsay Hunter, Cristina Henriquez, and Kate Harding, women whose voices we’ve long admired and whose forthcoming books we’re impatient to read. We’re also eager to welcome a handful of poets, including Roger Reeves, Parneshia Jones, and Roger Bonair-Agard.  It’s our crazy hope that in 2016, the “short” list will have doubled once more. But someone’s going to have to bring us some whiskey. (Naomi Huffman)

Lit 50 was written by Liz Baudler, Brendan Buck, Brian Hieggelke, Alex Houston, Naomi Huffman, Megan Kirby, Micah McCrary and John Wilmes

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Spertus Institute/Venue SIX10
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Write On: Chicago Welcomes its First Conference for Writers

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Mare Swallow

After writing a business book in 2010, local consultant and speaker Mare Swallow searched for a writing conference in Chicago to meet publishing professionals, and gain some advice on the business side of writing. But she discovered that, despite being an active literary city, Chicago offered no such conference.

“I looked and looked and looked, but there was nothing like that,” Swallow says. “So I created it.”

Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign (for which Chicago’s own OK Go gave the rights to use their music), the first annual Chicago Writers Conference (CWC) will be held September 14-16 at the Tribune Tower. While local festivals like Printers Row Lit Fest (a CWC partner) and Columbia College’s Story Week tend to focus on visiting authors and the writing process, the CWC seeks to fill a gap by shining the spotlight on networking, querying, publishing and promotion for writers of all genres. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2012

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Finishing the Lit 50 is always such a bittersweet ending for me. What starts out as such a pleasure of discovery—Chicago’s literary world now has more than 200 published writers!—ends in the sorrow of having to leave so many worthy names off the list. We do our best to reflect the sum of our knowledge and reporting, to add in diversity of style, medium and genre, and to constantly introduce new players to the mix. But we know that, in the end, many choices might appear capricious, that for every worthy individual honored, two have been overlooked. A day later, after the lingering effects of sleep, sunlight and exercise deprivation and an overdose of junk food and energy drinks abates, I know we’ll return to where we started: overjoyed at the growing literary abundance of our city.

Careful readers will remember that we alternate lists each year, between the behind-the-scenes influencers and the on-the-page creators; this year belongs to the latter. Which is why you won’t see represented the two most talked-about new endeavors in literary Chicago: J.C. Gabel’s magnificent revival of The Chicagoan, and Elizabeth Taylor’s noble undertaking, Printers Row. We are confidently hopeful, or perhaps hopefully confident, that they’ll still be around to have their day a year from now. (Brian Hieggelke)

Lit 50 was written by Greg Baldino, Ella Christoph, Brian Hieggelke, Naomi Huffman and Micah McCrary. See previous years here.
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El Literatos: Granta brings its “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” to Chicago

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By Rachel Sugar

“The world may be flat for Thomas Friedman, but it’s a blur for anyone who wanted to read books from around the world in recent years,” says Granta editor (and sometime-Newcity critic) John Freeman. Only three percent of books published annually in the US are works in translation, leaving English-language readers with access to a tiny fraction of world literature. Last fall, though, the Britain-based publication used its “Best of Young Novelists” franchise to attack what Freeman calls this “literary parochialism” head-on: in November, Granta’s “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” issue became the first-ever foreign-language edition of the magazine, published first in Spanish out of Barcelona under the direction of Granta en espanol co-founders and editors Valerie Miles and Aurelio Major, with an English translation of the issue close behind.

This week, Freeman, Miles and a handful of the Spanish literary lights are making their way cross-country for “Building Bridges: Spanish and English Writers in Conversation,” a literary tour cosponsored by the Spain-USA Foundation and the Embassy of Spain. At the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, the Granta crew—Freeman and Miles, plus contributors Andres Barba, Javier Montes and Alberto Olmos—will be joined by American novelist and “Best European Fiction” series editor Aleksandar Hemon. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2010

Lit 50 14 Comments »

Illustration: Pamela Wishbow

A strange and unpleasant wind blows through the literary land. Our obsession with technocultural toys, whether iPhones, iPads or Kindles, makes the foundation of thought almost since thought was recorded, that is ink on paper, seem increasingly destined to be twittered into obsolescence. And it’s not just mere media frenzy, either. Massive upheaval among major publishers these last few years has left some of Chicago’s finest writers stranded in a strange land: that is, the work is finished, but no one is around to put it out. Who knows, maybe in two years when this version of Lit 50 returns, some, if not all, of our authors will be publishing mostly, if not entirely, in the digital realm. If that’s the case, let’s enjoy an old-fashioned book or two while we can. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Literary Rock ‘n’ Roll/Metro

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You can always count on Columbia College’s Story Week to provide some against-the-grain programming—its annual “Literary Rock ‘n’ Roll” evening, traditionally held at Metro, is usually the highlight of the festival. (Though one could imagine Joyce Carol Oates, this year, would be tough to beat.) Tonight features three authors—”Love & Obstacles” and “The Lazarus Project” scribe Aleksandar Hemon, pretty much the face of Chicago lit these days; Bonnie Jo Campbell, who penned the excellent 2009 short story collection “American Salvage”; and local crime author Marcus Sakey, whose most recent novel, “The Amateurs,” is a sharp, gritty read that you could take down in one sitting. On top of the live words, The Bread and Puppet Theater perform, and Joe Shanahan and Don De Grazia spin. Did I mention it’s free? Yeah, it’s free. (Tom Lynch)

March 18 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, 6pm. Free.

Fiction Review: Best European Fiction 2010

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Chicago Publishers, Fiction 1 Comment »

By Tom Lynch


Remarkably, this has never been done before.

Taking inspiration from the Houghton Mifflin “Best” series, Dalkey Archive Press launches a new, unbelievably ambitious series of its own, “Best European Fiction,” and its inaugural edition for 2010 is edited by Chicago’s own Aleksandar Hemon. Attempting to solve the well-known literary problem of Americans not reading—nor being exposed to—literature from other countries, this anthology includes thirty-five short stories and novel excerpts from thirty different European countries, aiming to destroy the invisible shield that prevents such material from being translated into English and released in this country.

Dalkey Archive Press has been fighting the good fight for years in trying to get European authors delivered to American readers, so it comes as no surprise that this anthology is bulky, geographically expansive and features a selection of authors who, to put it bluntly, no one has ever heard of. Alasdair Gray, from Scotland, and Julian Rios, from Spain, have probably the largest audience among Americans—but even among bookworms, their audience is still tragically small. In that way, “Best European Fiction” is not only an introduction to the work of other countries, it’s also a view through the eyes of literary strangers, which makes it all the more compelling. To say the collection “transcends boundaries” would be insufferably predictable and downright cheesy, but perhaps there isn’t a better, or more important, way to praise it. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Books

Chicago Authors, Fiction, Top 5 Lists 3 Comments »

Top 5 Bookschronic_city
“Chronic City,” Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday)
“War Dances,” Sherman Alexie (Grove Press)
“Generosity: An Enhancement,” Richard Powers (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Inherent Vice,” Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)
—Tom Lynch

Top 5 Local Books
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Her Fearful Symmetry,” Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner)
“How to Hold a Woman,” Billy Lombardo (OV Books)
“The Way Through Doors,” Jesse Ball (Vintage)
“The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” S.L. Wisenberg (University of Iowa Press)
—Tom Lynch Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Forward Literature: Granta’s Chicago Issue, Richard Powers and more

Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists, Fiction, News Etc., Nonfiction 1 Comment »


Granta, the literary magazine founded by Cambridge University students in 1889, has a long and storied history of publishing political material as well as the work of several writers. It was relaunched in 1979 as a platform for new writers, and reworked again in 2007 with new editor Jason Cowley. Alex Clark, the magazine’s first female editor, took over for Cowley after he left, and when Smith stepped down, the magazine’s American editor, John Freeman, a frequent Newcity contributor, took her position.

Granta’s fall issue, number 108, is Chicago-themed, and the marvelous collection features entries from Aleksandar Hemon, Alex Kotlowitz, Neil Steinberg, Richard Powers, Sandra Cisneros, Stuart Dybek and more. Don DeLillo offers a brief introductory essay to a Nelson Algren piece, and Chris Ware did the issue’s cover. A photo essay by Camilo Jose Vergara is included and provides an intermission to the text. This collection serves as a packaged insight into what Chicago means—how it feels to live here, be from here, exist within a city sometimes difficult to love yet impossible to resist. I chatted with Freeman over email to get some of his thoughts on the upcoming issue. Read the rest of this entry »