Photo: Shaun Crittenden
By Naomi Huffman
I first met Gina Frangello in 2011, when I was an undergrad studying writing at Columbia College; I took a fiction seminar class she taught my senior year. When she introduced herself she talked about her novel, which she was revising, and which would turn out to be “A Life in Men,” released last month from Algonquin. She went on to talk about the books we would read and study that semester (“You guys are going to love Milan Kundera,” she insisted—she was right), and then she talked passionately for several minutes about the books she was reading, written by friends and by writers she admired. Her enthusiasm was palpable; right away, I began to admire her support of other people’s work.
The summer after I graduated from Columbia, I was hired by Gina and her husband David to nanny her twin daughters Madeleine and Kenza and their friend Siena, who were then eleven years old. I picked them up three days a week from their home in Roscoe Village, which has the kind of beautiful slatted hardwood floors, gaping windows and dark wood trim I’ve come to associate with old Chicago houses. There was often some sort of minor tragedy unfolding when I arrived at their home those summer mornings—a misplaced shoe or transit pass, a forgotten lunch box, teeth or hair that needed brushing. I don’t know what she did when we finally left, but I liked to think of Gina writing, savoring the new quiet of the house, working in her small office just off the main rooms of the house, which does not have a door. 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 »
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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Finally! We lady folk get to see men without any clothes on, metaphorically. Naked and exposed, with all their weaknesses, desires, fears and insecurities finally out in the open. Reading “Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience,” a compilation of short stories by women about men and their sexuality, you realize that men are just as complex and screwed up as us, but even more so because they try so hard to hide it. With a foreword by Steve Almond and edited by Stacy Bierlein, Gina Frangello, Cris Mazza and Kat Meads, this juicy volume is an eye-opener. As Mazza notes in her introductory essay, “Literature should allow us to imagine people who are unlike ourselves—to slip into their lives, their minds, their perspectives, not for the sake of parodying alleged deficiencies, but to discover both our innate similarities and our enigmatic differences, and thereby appreciate them more.” 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 »
Top 5 Chicago Literary Cameos (and supporting roles)
“The Instructions,” Adam Levin (McSweeney’s)
“Saul Bellow: Letters,” Ed. Benjamin Taylor (Penguin Classics)
“Wilson,” Daniel Clowes (Drawn and Quarterly)
“The November Criminals,” Sam Munson (Doubleday)
“Slut Lullabies,” Gina Frangello (Emergency Press)
Top 5 Film Books
“Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition,” Jonathan Rosenbaum
“Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo,” Werner Herzog
“The Foreign Film Renaissance on American Screens, 1946-1973,” Tino Balio
“Another Fine Mess: A History Of American Film Comedy,” Saul Austerlitz
“The New Biographical Dictionary Of Film,” David Thomson
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 »
By Robert Duffer
You’ve probably heard of Gina Frangello. In Chicago’s independent literary community, she’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. She’s one of two executive editors, along with Stacy Bierlein, of Chicago publishing house OV Books (formerly Other Voices Magazine). She’s the fiction editor at “The Nervous Breakdown,” helped TriQuarterly shift from a print to an online journal and has journalism published anywhere from the Chicago Reader to the Huffington Post. An adjunct at Columbia College Chicago and Northwestern University, she’s the mother of three, wife of one. She is, as Donna Seaman put it on Chicago Public Radio’s “848,” a “literary dervish.” But however exhaustive her bio is, it is Frangello’s writing that will leave you breathless. She articulates truths about the selfishness of love in a way few people would admit but everyone has likely felt.
“Is it important to know that the Intelligent Woman’s husband is more attractive (and also more successful) than the Beautiful Woman’s Husband?” the snarky storyteller asks us in “What You See,” one of ten stories from her debut collection of stories, “Slut Lullabies.” “I think it is.” Read the rest of this entry »
As if we weren’t neurotic enough, The Nervous Breakdown Literary Experience will soon be dispatching some of its own writers to feed our egos with some wholesome literary fun. Founded in 2006, The Nervous Breakdown is an online literary collective featuring both emerging and published authors. “The Internet has created more opportunities for writers to intersect with their audience,” says founding editor Brad Listi. Taking place September 22 at Logan Square’s The Whistler the event features authors Amy Guth (“Three Fallen Women”), Greg Boose (Cracked, McSweeney’s), Claire Bidwell Smith (The Huffington Post) and Irene Zion. In addition, Gina Frangello (author of “Slut Lullabies,” pictured) will be emceeing with the musical stylings of Raise High the Roof Beam. “The mission of The Nervous Breakdown is fairly simple,” Listi says. “It was developed to bring readers and writers together online in a new and interesting way.”
By Tom Lynch
Bridgeport native Billy Lombardo, who penned an award-winning collection of short stories in 2005 called “The Logic of a Rose,” has a new book via OV Books, a novel in stories called “How to Hold a Woman,” a devastating look at the life of a family after the loss of a child.
The Taylors seem normal enough until daughter Isabel dies; Lombardo focuses on the aftermath, as the husband and wife and their two surviving children each receive ample spotlight. What’s most remarkable, a testament to Lombardo’s sharp skill—and this has been written in most reviews of the book—is his avoidance of heavy-handed, cheap sentimentality. This isn’t a Mitch Albom book. Instead, Lombardo traces the process of grief with stirring insight, using smaller, more specific methods than painting a family in crisis with broad strokes. Relationships are strained, kids grow up and adults age. The misery goes unspoken. Isabel is everywhere and gone at once. Read the rest of this entry »