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 »

The Dance of a Dark Fairy Tale: Audrey Niffenegger’s Ballet in Book Form, “Raven Girl”

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By Greg Baldino Audrey-Niffenegger-001

“Raven Girl” is your new book, a modern-day fairy tale about what happens when a postman falls in love with a raven. I understand it was originally written to be a ballet, yes?
(Nods) This is a collaboration between myself and Wayne McGregor, who is the resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet and he also has  his own company which is called Random Dance. So his background is in the world of modern dance, but when he works with the Royal Ballet he obviously works in the realm of ballet. His sensibility’s very cutting edge and dark, and so we’re a good pair. When we started talking about what we might do I said what kind of  story would you like, and he said he would like a fairy tale, like a new fairy tale. And then later he said he would like a DARK fairy tale. And of course what fairy tales that are any good aren’t dark? They’re usually pretty horrifying.

Until they get watered down for the movies.
The nice thing about writing a new one is that it’ll be a while before  they can water it down. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Awake in the Dream World” By Audrey Niffenegger

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AwakeInTheDreamWorldRECOMMENDED

“As a child,” writes Krystyna Wasserman in her introductory essay “Swept Away by Magic,” “[Audrey] Niffenegger spent hours alone in her bedroom, dreaming, drawing, reading and writing.” Years later, those childhood pursuits became an adult career, spanning multiple creative disciplines. Now, fans of Niffenegger’s books and art have the chance to explore a kaleidoscopic cross-section of her work with a handsome volume of her visual art.

The collection serves as the catalog to an exhibition of Niffenegger’s work on display this summer at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, located in Washington, D.C. Her first major museum exhibition, the mid-career retrospective opens June 21 and runs through November 10. Featuring almost 250 works of art ranging from artist books, to graphic narrative work, to stand-alone illustrations, the exhibition is a substantial showcase of a diverse body of work.

For those who can’t make it to the museum, “Awake in the Dream World” offers a microcosmic alternative. In addition to the art excerpts, the book features three essays by Wasserman, the exhibition’s curator, Niffenegger’s colleague and Art Institute of Chicago curator Mark Pascale, and Niffenegger herself, shedding both insight and context on the history of her creative development. But of course the serious point of interest in the book is the art itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Untimed: The Secret History of Sam Weller and Mort Castle’s “Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury”

Anthologies, Chicago Authors, Lit Events 1 Comment »

By Greg Baldino

On July 24, a party was held in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building to celebrate the launch of “Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury” on Chicago soil. The book, edited by Bradbury biographer Sam Weller and polymath Mort Castle, had officially debuted at the San Diego Comic Con with contributors Margaret Atwood and Joe Hill, but on that Tuesday the book’s Midwestern roots were trumpeted. On hand were the editors themselves, proud as parents, as well as a roster of Chicago and Midwest literary talent: Joe Meno, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Audrey Niffenegger, Jay Bonansinga and Bayo Ojikutu—all of whom had penned original stories for the volume.

Nursing one of several beers enjoyed that night (less for the alcoholic buzz than for something cold to wipe across my brow in the summer heat), I was surprised to see an artist friend in the audience. They’d walked in off the street, believing the party to be a reception for the collection of local club posters that decorated the space. 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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Hot Fun: Writing the Playlist of Summer

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Baby, It's Cold Outside

By Nikki Dolson

I asked some of my favorite authors for their favorite summer song. Though all the choices were surprising, Lawrence Block’s made me laugh out loud.

Megan Abbott (author of “Queenpin,” “The End of Everything,” “Dare Me”)
“Abducted” by The Cults

Josh Bazell (author of “Beat the Reaper” and “Wild Thing”)
“Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful

Stacy Bierlein (author of “A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends”)
“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
1995. I had planned to spend the first week of summer driving from Chicago to San Francisco to help my best friend move in with her boyfriend, but days before the trip the call came—they had broken up. Another friend offered his vacant apartment in New York as the cry-it-out hideaway so we set off east instead of west but too fed up to cry as we listed all the reasons she broke up with her jerk and I should break up with mine. We hit the Midtown tunnel at 3pm on a Friday and I told her, This gridlocked tunnel is no place for the brokenhearted. She hated the word brokenhearted so she gave me a look and blasted the radio and there it was, Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” the first time we heard it yet somehow we knew all the words. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “This Burns My Heart” by Samuel Park

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RECOMMENDED

What if?  “Soo-Ja hoped that upon seeing him again, she’d simply feel the expected warmth and surprise you feel when reunited with an old friend—for that’s what he was in the eyes of the world, a distant friend, the kind you run into at weddings and funerals, once every decade or so. But instead, she felt a piercing sensation in her heart, and her breathing became shallow. Soo-Ja could not run to him—if she couldn’t do that before, why did she think she could do that now?”

At the core of Samuel Park’s remarkable debut novel “This Burns My Heart” is his version of an old story, that of the road not taken and its impact on a human life. But young, bright, ambitious Soo-Ja has to make a choice critical to her future within the patriarchal culture of 1950s and 1960s South Korea, wherein it is almost impossible for a young woman to backtrack and take another turn. Read the rest of this entry »

Shoptalk: Audrey Niffenegger

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With “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (2003), Audrey Niffenegger went from hand-bound chapbooks to the best seller list. Since then, Evanston’s favorite writer/painter/graphic novelist has been taking the (multi)media world by storm.


You published your second novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry,” in 2009, and your serialized graphic novel, “The Night Bookmobile,” came out this past fall. What are you working on these days?
A ballet (I am making the story, costume and set designs and a friend is choreographing), a screenplay (based on “Her Fearful Symmetry”) and a new novel (“The Chinchilla Girl in Exile”). I am also in the early stages of a retrospective of my artists books and artwork, planned for 2013 in Washington DC.

You’re on the faculty at Columbia. What’s your approach to teaching writing? If your students walk away from your classes with one thing, what do you want that thing to be? Read the rest of this entry »

Brewing Strong Coffee: Twenty years after, its founding editor recalls the birth and short but lively life of a coffeehouse journal

Chicago Publishers 14 Comments »

Martin Northway and Tom Asch, fall 1993/Photo: David B. Sutton

By Martin Northway

Roll the tape back to September 1990. The first George Bush is president; the Gulf War is simmering on a desert horizon; Bill Clinton’s presidency is two years distant and an uncertain millennium a decade away. In Chicago, Richard M. Daley is still a fresh face in the mayor’s office.

Visual, verbal and dramatic arts are surging throughout the city, paced by the explosion of performance poetry, itself drawing from the energies of rock and punk music. Not coincidentally, independent coffeehouses are sprouting throughout the region such as has not occurred since the tumultuous sixties.

A scrappy newsprint tabloid, 20,000 copies monthly, launches itself into this caffeinated wave along the lakeshore: Strong Coffee, a free lit-rag of the coffeehouses, by the coffeehouses and for the coffeehouses. In its severe vertical columns, fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction stand in tight type beside often-striking art and satirical cartoons.

Now fast-forward just three years; a night at Lincoln Park’s pioneering internet café, Discover, across from the Biograph. Surrounding me are creative colleagues who are the caffeinated heartbeat of Strong Coffee.

As often occurs at our Wednesday night open sessions, small square tables are shoved up against one another to accommodate fresh arrivals. In his poem “Ode to a Starman at Discover Café,” George Drury describes the “Pacific spread of evening after a muggy day…/ the café sign creaks… / Shreds of paper twist in a wind blowing south down Lincoln…”

Three or four conversations are percolating. From this free exchange, elements of the next issue take shape. 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 »