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 2010

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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 »

Third Coast is Clear: Sitting with Ivan Brunetti

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miserylovesA crisp, lively fall afternoon with a brilliant blue sky, and comics artist Ivan Brunetti’s book signing has been going surprisingly—given his cult status among comic lovers—slowly. “A Columbia College student was here earlier filming [for her documentary] and she was like, ‘This was a bad idea,’” he says.

“No, actually I said that,” he adds, the comic equivalent of burnt toast.

A short stack of unsigned books rest on the table, while behind it, there is no line to speak of. Over the next hour a handful of fans, all of who seem to know Brunetti personally, trickle in at widely spaced intervals.

The comic scene at the venue contains barely enough energy to turn on a Christmas light, let alone constitute enough intrigue for a junior filmmaker’s voracious enthusiasm.

But cozy looking and brightly lit, Third Coast Comics is inviting to the passerby; though this isn’t typical with most comic shops, owner Terry Gant points out. Most comic stores are “not inviting to normal people, “ he says, but entering Third Coast “feels like your stepping into a book store, not an opium den.” Read the rest of this entry »

Reading preview: Joe Meno

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Nothing like getting inventive. Local author Joe Meno continues to push the limits of traditional lit with each of his releases—his last novel, the charming “The Boy Detective Fails,” about a Hardy Boys-like crime-solver, included a decoder ring in the packaging for chrissakes. Meno’s newest effort, “Demons in the Spring,” his second short-story collection (after “Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir”), features twenty different entries, each accompanied by an illustration from a relatively famous artist or graphic novelist. Contributors include Charles Burns, Ivan Brunetti, Paul Hornschemeier, Jay Ryan and Archer Prewitt. Meno’s tales are funny, heartbreaking and insightful, most of the time all at once—he’s getting better with age. Presenting a slide show of the book’s illustrated material is local graphic artist Anders Nilsen, who is also a contributor, and whose mini-book from a couple years ago, “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow,” I will never, ever get over. What the hell else do you want to know? Just be there. (Tom Lynch)

Joe Meno discusses “Demons in the Spring” September 25 at Quimby’s, 1854 West North, (773)342-0910, at 7pm. Free.

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 for more info.

Printers Row Book Fair Highlights 2008

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The annual Printers Row Book Fair offers a its usual plethora of must-see readings, panel discussions and presentations, not to mention all those book for sale. Here’s a rundown of some highlights—for the full schedule visit
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Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2008

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Chicago’s book world can be a quiet place. In part due to the solitary nature of the work, and in part due to the void of publishing parties that keep New York’s assorted gawkers journaling away, it’s easy to think nothing new is happening. Jeffrey Eugenides moves to town, Jeffrey Eugenides moves away, and no one seems to notice. Then, bam!, Aleksandar Hemon publishes “The Lazarus Project,” the comparisons to Nabokov resume and suddenly we’re the center of the universe again, if only for a moment.
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Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2007: Books

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Top 5 Books
“The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears,” Dinaw Mengestu (Riverhead)
“The Country of Men,” Hisham Matar (Dial Press)
“The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Naomi Klein (Metropolitan)
“Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932,” John Richardson (Knopf)
“Sleeping and Waking,” Michael O’Brien (Flood Editions)
John Freeman
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