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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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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411: The Class of Story Week

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JenniferEgan/Photo: Pieter M. van Hattem

“Class Acts” is the theme of this year’s Story Week Festival of Writers in more ways than one. The fifteenth anniversary edition of Columbia College’s seminal literary event explores how the notion of class comes into play in fiction, and it features some big literary stars, including Jennifer Egan and Irvine Welsh. Other highlights include a panel on the future of publishing chaired by, among others, Chicago-based writer Joe Meno and Rahm Emanuel Twitter impersonator Dan Sinker. Also in the lineup: a playwriting class with Goodman Theater’s Regina Taylor, 2nd Story Storytelling at Martyrs’, and readings by Columbia College undergrads and faculty. Story Week concludes with Chicago Classics, a series of readings hosted by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan, in which twenty “guests from Chicago’s literary community”—including Newcity’s editor and publisher Brian Hieggelke—read works by their favorite Chicago authors. All events are free and open to the public. In its fifteen-year history, Story Week has evolved from a small junket for students to rub elbows with great writers to a smorgasbord of events from intimate readings and conversations to high-energy events at venues all over the city. “This is certainly the most jam-packed schedule we’ve ever attempted,” says artistic director Sam Weller. “There’s something for everyone.” (Benjamin Rossi)

Visit the Story Week website for complete details.

Books: Top 5 Lists of 2008

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Top 5 Books

“Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape,” Raja Shehadeh (Scribner)

“Netherland: A Novel,” Joseph O’Neill (Pantheon)

“Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, The End of Civilization,” Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster)

“Sleeping it Off in Rapid City: Poems, New & Selected,” August Kleinzahler (FSG)

“A Better Angel: Stories,” Chris Adrian (FSG)

-John Freeman

Top 5 Books

“The Lazarus Project,” Aleksandar Hemon (Riverhead Books)

“Indignation,” Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)

“Lush Life,” Richard Price (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)

“When You are Engulfed in Flames,” David Sedaris (Little Brown and Company)

“Crime,” Irvine Welsh (WW Norton & Company)

-Tom Lynch

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Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Books

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Top 5 Books
“Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape,” Raja Shehadeh (Scribner)
“Netherland: A Novel,” Joseph O’Neill (Pantheon)
“Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, The End of Civilization,” Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster)
“Sleeping it Off in Rapid City: Poems, New & Selected,” August Kleinzahler (FSG)
“A Better Angel: Stories,” Chris Adrian (FSG)
John Freeman

Top 5 Books
“The Lazarus Project,” Aleksandar Hemon (Riverhead Books)
“Indignation,” Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
“Lush Life,” Richard Price (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
“When You are Engulfed in Flames,” David Sedaris (Little Brown and Company)
“Crime,” Irvine Welsh (WW Norton & Company)
Tom Lynch

Top 5 Cookbooks Featuring Chicago Chefs
“From Our Hearts to Your Table: Favorite Recipes From a Greek American Family,” Dorothy Bezemes (N/A)
“Cooking with Les Dames d’ Escoffier: At Home with the Women Who Shape the Way We Eat and Drink,” Les Dames d’ Escoffier (Sasquatch Books)
“The Parthenon Cookbook: Great Mediterranean Recipes from the Heart of Chicago,” Camille Stagg (Agate Surrey)
“Alinea,” Grant Achatz (Ten Speed Press)
“Market-Fresh Mixology: Cocktails for Every Season,” Bridget Albert with Mary Barranco (Agate Surrey)
Veronica Hinke

Top 5 New Recurring Reading Series
Windy City Story Slam, windycitystoryslam.com
Quickies, quickieschicago.blogspot.com
The Parlor Reads, theparlorreads.com
Sappho’s Salon, womenandchildrenfirst.com
Lovable Losers Literary Revue, lovablelosersliteraryrevue.com/blog
Robert Duffer

Reading preview: Read Against the Recession

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Fifteen years ago Scottish author Irvine Welsh gave us “Trainspotting,” his highest achievement in a career of several successes, and now he’s covering “Crime,” about a strung-out detective on leave in Florida who gets mixed up with coke fiends and a 10-year-old, scared-shitless girl. It’s whirlwind Welsh—grit, grimness, acceptance, redemption, peace—and a very strong piece of work, even when compared to his previous material. Also reading is local rookie Stephanie Kuehnert, whose punk-rock debut “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” about a young musician’s quest to find her real mother (and other things), is a substantially impressive debut. (Kuehnert studied under Welsh when he was here teaching at Columbia College.) Read against the recession—words will live on indeed! (Tom Lynch)

Irvine Welsh and Stephanie Kuehnert, among others, read from their work September 14 at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, at 6pm.

Fall Forward: Literary previews 2008

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Haunted City
John McNally’s collection of Chicago ghosts

The Chicago-raised author of “The Book of Ralph,” John McNally, goes ghost-hunting in his new short-story collection, titled, tellingly, “Ghosts of Chicago,” a blend of fictional stories that incorporates long-gone famous Chicagoans, from Walter Payton to old man Daley to Nelson Algren and beyond. Between the spaces, McNally’s filled in stories of the everyday Chicagoan; these are more than just the travails of the dead—the nature of love, family bonds and loss all haunt these streets as well. McNally’s wit always comes at you unexpectedly—Gene Siskel mocking Roger Ebert in a movie theater doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility—but the subtle sadness of each story’s texture, the ache of emptiness, makes the final impression. “Ghosts of Chicago,” a fine assemblage, reminds us of what we’re missing.

With the seemingly limitless possibilities of employing deceased celebrities, it’s interesting McNally even bothered creating entirely fictional characters. “The book began with everyday stories,” he says, over the phone from his office in North Carolina, where he teaches at Wake Forest. “Thematically, [there was] the sort of sense of using the ghost as a metaphor—people missing from other people’s lives, people haunted by those who are gone. I think since the [idea to use real] Chicago people came later—that’s why I ended up doing it that way.”

He says the Chicago luminaries he chose—who also include railroad mogul George Pullman and “Garfield Goose and Friends” host Frazier Thomas—were either those that had some personal impact on him during his formative years, or who just simply interested him enough to write a short story with them as the subject. “I think in some cases, it was people I had some sort of connection to,” he says. “Frazier Thomas was one of those figures from childhood, an enigmatic guy, a pretty unlikely host of a children’s talk show. He never seemed particularly warm. He just intrigued me, as a character I wanted to write about. As far as the others, they played or were a part of my personal history. Like Walter Payton—that moment of The Fridge carrying him into the end zone—that stuck with me.” (Tom Lynch)

“Ghost of Chicago” will be released in October by Jefferson Press. McNally discusses the book October 16 at Book Cellar.

“Demons in the Spring,” by Joe Meno
Each short story in the new collection by local author of “Hairstyles of the Damned” Joe Meno is accompanied by an illustration from predominant artists from the graphic or comic-book fields, including Ivan Brunetti, Anders Nilsen and Jay Ryan. Meno reads from his collection, along with Anders Nilsen, September 25 at Quimby’s.

“Crime,” by Irvine Welsh
The “Trainspotting” author returns with a heaping pile of underbelly and Scottish wit, this time sending a down-and-out detective to Florida on vacation, where he’ll get all mixed up in a new crime. Welsh talks “Crime” at the Read Against the Recession event, September 14 at Metro.

“Indignation,” by Philip Roth
The American treasure, author of “Exit Ghost” and “American Pastoral,” returns with another apparent knockout, this time focusing on Cold War-era sexuality and male responsibility. Release date: September 16.

Chicago Humanities Festival 2008
This year’s festival takes the theme “Thinking Big,” and as always, features dozens of events, performances, workshops and lectures, including a talk by author Colson Whitehead, titled “The Art of Writing and How to Write.” Events for the Chicago Humanities Festival begin October 3 and run through November 16. Visit chfestival.org for more info.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun: Columbia grad Stephanie Kuehnert debut strikes a power chord

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By Tom Lynch

The title, of course, is lifted from Sleater-Kinney.

“I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” the debut novel from local author Stephanie Kuehnert, is a punk-rock novel of heavy awareness. Everyone wants to be a rock star. Kuehnert’s protagonist and narrator, Emily Black, is no different. Living in a tiny town in Wisconsin, left alone with her father as an infant when her mother hit the road following her own rock-star dreams, Emily’s now your favorite teenager, much cooler than you were when you were there, the dark hair, the red lipstick and the witty asides and retorts all part of the angst-ridden fireball.
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