If there’s one thing that was made abundantly clear in polling the literati for this year’s Lit 50 list, it’s that the Chicago literary scene is an incredibly supportive one. It’s no Utopia, of course. We’re certain it has its jerks. But it was overwhelming to receive such an outpour of appreciation for countless behind-the-scenes folks who make the lit scene in this town such an exceedingly vibrant one. This year’s list includes indie-bookstore owners, booksellers, publishers, editors, chairs and directors of creative writing programs, literacy advocates, library leaders, execs at major literary foundations, organizers of festivals, conferences, live lit productions and salons. All of the individuals on this list contribute significantly—whether they help to get books in readers’ hands, excite the next generation in literary arts, afford writers opportunities to publish, provide storytellers a stage to share their tales, or create environments where writers can make the right connections or just talk shop. We raise a glass to all on the list, but also to those innumerable individuals who likewise help it all go ‘round. (Amy Danzer)
Lit 50 was written by Liz Baudler, Heidi Bloom, Brendan Buck, Amy Danzer, Amy Friedman, Brian Hieggelke, Jarret Neal, Toni Nealie, Robert Rodi, Bill Savage, Kim Steele, Danielle Susi, Mahjabeen Syed and John Wilmes.
Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Women and Children First Read the rest of this entry »
By Naomi Huffman
When Chicago Review Press was created in 1973, founders Curt and Linda Matthews operated the press out of their basement. Initial titles failed to earn an income that could keep the press afloat. That changed in 1975, when Michael Mann Productions purchased the rights to “Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar,” written by Frank Hohimer while incarcerated at Joliet Correctional Center. The film rights were renewed every subsequent year until the film was finally released in 1981. Buoyed by this success, the Matthews moved operations to an office in River North and began to publish more titles. In 1987, the company purchased Independent Publishers Group (IPG). Chicago Review Press now publishes about sixty new titles each year, and currently has more than 650 in print.
This year marks Chicago Review Press’ fortieth anniversary–a laudable achievement for any company, and especially for an independent publishing company. Publisher Cynthia Sherry has been with the company for nearly twenty-five years, and was kind enough to answer my questions about the drama of the digital age, about the equally maddening and thrilling work of publishing books. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been a deadly year for Chicago writers, with the passing of Roger Ebert, Richard Stern, David Hernandez and, just last week, Father Andrew Greeley. Not to mention the dead-woman-walking status achieved by Rachel Shtier, whose ill-conceived New York Times Book Review takedown of Chicago turned her into this city’s most universally disliked resident since, perhaps, John Wayne Gacy. So a sense of what we’d lost pervaded the creation of this year’s Lit 50, this time around celebrating not so much the writers who occupy the center stage, but those who operate behind the scenes to make sure the stage itself exists. The process, as excruciating as it is, always renews our optimism for the literary Chicago that carries on, bigger and better every year, even diminished by its inevitable losses. This year’s increasingly long short-list reached new magnitudes, with 360 folks under consideration for just fifty nods. Needless to say, a slight tilt in another direction, and an entirely different Lit 50 could have been created. But so it goes. (Brian Hieggelke)
Written by Brian Hieggelke and Naomi Huffman, with Greg Baldino and Kathleen Caplis. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »
Power in Chicago has been passed on. No, we’re not talking about that little office in City Hall, but that Oprah, she of the book club that long perched her atop this list, has flown the coop. So now it’s official. The City of Big Shoulders is Poetry’s town. It’s unlikely that Carl Sandburg would have ever imagined such an unlikely outcome when he crafted the city’s calling card, in verse, but it’s not even debatable. Not only can we claim Poetry magazine, the premier publication of its kind anywhere, but its wealthy sibling the Poetry Foundation will open a whole building dedicated to the form later this month. Plus, this is the town that created the Poetry Slam as well as Louder Than a Bomb, the largest teen slam anywhere. Talk about poetic justice. Read the rest of this entry »
The Green Lantern Gallery has had a tumultuous year: after its initial incarnation was shut down due to a city ordinance, Green Lantern director Caroline Picard teamed up with featherproof books’ Zach Dodson to create a multimedia art space. Temporarily housed in Ukrainian Village, the idea was for the revamped Green Lantern Gallery to eventually move into permanent digs designed to foster inter-art collaborations—a gallery, office space for the two presses, The Paper Cave indie bookstore, a performance space and a café/bar, staffed by four year-long artists-in-residence.
For now, though, Picard’s dream will have to wait. With the lease up on their temporary space and unable to find a suitable long-term home, The Green Lantern Gallery is closing up shop. “We did want to have one last hurrah in the space we had, though,” explains Dodson. With that, “The Last Annual Midwest Pop-Up Bookshop” was born. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rachel Sugar
Best known as the co-founder of the Chicago reading-circuit staple Quickies! (each writer gets four minutes to read a complete work, no poetry, no cheating), Lindsay Hunter’s got other tricks up her (short) sleeve. The flash-fiction aficionado has just released her first short-story collection, “Daddy’s,” a Southern Gothic-infused “bait box of temptation,” in collaboration with featherproof books. I e-caught up with Hunter to get her take on Kindles, Southern magic and the unexpected benefits of super-short prose.
What do you mean by “a bait box of temptation?” Is it…you know, actually a box? If so, what made you decide to go that route?
From the very beginning we wanted to make this book an object of some sort that related to the stories themselves in terms of theme/presentation. Making the book look like an old baitbox, with crud on the outside and trays and trays of things Daddy would keep in his bait box on the inside, just made sense. The book is Daddy’s tacklebox and you better be prepared for what he keeps inside—be it a glass eye or a clump of bullets or a story about a giant jealous baby. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
If Chicago’s Featherproof Books is like that pirate radio station you don’t want your parents to hear you listening to, their latest book—Christian TeBordo’s “The Awful Possibilities”—is that song you heard last night that is at once exciting and provocative yet dark and uncomfortable enough that you have to curb your immediate desire to tell the first person you see. “I never really set out to write a collection,” says TeBordo. “So there’s about ten years of stories in there.” The book, which was officially released earlier this month, is another physical benchmark from the young guys at Featherproof. “There’s nothing that I hate more than when you read a book and you close it and the cover is not the book you just read,” says Zach Dodson, who is responsible for the designs and illustrations at Featherproof. “The Awful Possibilities” is a dark book, and throughout you see these black goo-monsters taking over the pages. “I was worried about it when I started working with them,” says TeBordo about the design of the book. “I didn’t know how to communicate what I wanted.” Dodson, however, brings a solid resume to the table and assuages concerns pretty easily. “I ask them what the book looks like in their brain,” says Dodson about his process. Hence the goo-monsters taking over, “the same way darkness in his [TeBordo’s] stories just takes control, takes over.” (Peter Cavanaugh)
Christian TeBordo reads at the Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee, (773)227-3530, April 26, 8pm. The night’s lineup includes Chicago’s own Lindsay Hunter, Tim Kinsella, and Adam Levin along with Jeff Parker and DJs Eric Marsh and Baby Sloth.
Opium Magazine presents its fifth Chicago Literary Death Match at Hideout on this April Fools Day, featuring a panel of three judges presiding over four readers who read their work to the death, so to speak. Featherproof Books’ Zach Dodson, stand-up comic Cameron Esposito and Trap Door Theatre’s Tiffany Joy Ross are our judges for the evening, while the readers are The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Q. Telfer, Uncalled-for Readings’ Tim Jones-Yelvington, Green Lantern’s Caroline Picard and Kevin Leahy. Opium’s Todd Zuniga and Comedy Central blogger Dennis DiClaudio host the activities. A night of literary debauchery, Literary Death Match leaves some blood on the floor. It being April Fools and all, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few tricks were in store. (Tom Lynch)
April 1 at Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, (773)227-4433, at 8:30pm. $5-$8.
Is it wrong to feel optimistic? You couldn’t be blamed if you didn’t. Yet while the country’s economy crumbles around us and less and less funds are available for the producers of the printed word, those in the literary world are finding new and inventive ways to stay afloat. We will not go down without a fight, and progress, of course, is key. So is awareness—in order to get the word out more efficiently (and, likely, to untether itself from the uncertain future of the paper form), Printers Row Book Fair changed its name from “Book Fair” to “Lit Fest” to have a title that better fully represents the weekend’s events, in time for its twenty-fifth anniversary edition. As is our custom, we time our annual Lit 50 list to the weekend’s events; this year’s list of local behind-the-scenes literati—no straight-up authors or poets this time—covers a large spectrum of Chicago’s world of words. As with past years we sought out those behind the smaller presses as well as the monumental figures. Some new names have emerged and many staples appear again, but all tirelessly labor to bring this ancient art to the community at large. Read the rest of this entry »