Fiction Review: “Marvel and A Wonder” by Joe Meno

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RECOMMENDEDmarvel and a wonder

“Marvel and A Wonder’—Joe Meno’s latest novel—is an emotionally honest exploration of the human need for connection.

The story centers on widower and Korean War vet, Jim Falls, and his biracial sixteen-year-old grandson, Quentin, who work side by side on a small chicken farm, but could not be more disconnected. Jim can’t seem to see anything of himself—physically or otherwise—in Quentin, who insulates himself with his Walkman. Set on the cusp of the millennium, they’re struggling to keep afloat in the blighted town of Mount Holly, where it’s easier to find fireworks and guns—no permit required—than a job, or any semblance of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Amping it Up—Columbia College Announces Big Changes in Creative Writing Department

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Tony Trigilio, Jenny Boully, Matthew Shenoda, Aleksander Hemon, Nami Mun, Joe Meno and Sam Weller

Tony Trigilio, Jenny Boully, Matthew Shenoda, Aleksandar Hemon, Nami Mun, Joe Meno and Sam Weller/Photo: Philip Dembinski

In 2014, Publishers Weekly magazine took notice of some major changes occurring at Columbia College Chicago and called the school’s department of creative writing “one to watch,” predicting that the MFA program was on the cusp of big, bold things. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Lit Preview 2015

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By Christine Sneed


Lauren Groff, “Fates and Furies” (novel, 9/15)
Groff’s new novel about a foundering marriage has received, not surprisingly, a lot of ecstatic buzz. She is so talented that reading her work is alternately a thrilling and an I-will-never-be-this-good-of-a-writer experience. Behold her dazzling sentences, understanding of the human heart, and her imaginative leaps into the real and the fantastical.
fall preview - fear of dying
Erica Jong, “Fear of Dying” (novel, 9/8)
More than forty years after Jong wowed and scandalized readers alike with her sexually frank (and fearless) novel “Fear of Flying,” Jong is back with another adventurous heroine, Vanessa Wonderman (a close friend of Isadora Wing), who isn’t interested in disappearing into senescence without a…ahem, bang.

Jenny Lawson, “Furiously Happy” (nonfiction, 9/22)
In this memoir, Lawson explores her longtime struggles with mental illness. As her publisher phrases it, “A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.” I’m in. Read the rest of this entry »

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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Booking Local and Lightly: A Holiday Shopping Guide for the Literary Expat

Anthologies, Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists, Fiction 2 Comments »

Part of what makes Chicago an amazing city is how many people have come here to get a new handle on their lives. I truly do think that what makes you a Chicagoan is not whether you were born here or how long you lived here, but how alive you feel about being here.

That said, I also truly do think that being an expat gets incredibly annoying come the holiday season. Seriously, you’ve got two family holidays a month apart. One of them you’re expected to spend time with your family, the other you’re expected to spend money. So after you’ve already made one trek to sit around and play the game of pretending Facebook doesn’t exist and asking each other “So how have you been?” you have to make another one a month later.

With freight. 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”

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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 »

White Space: Joe Meno Rethinks the Art of the Novel with “Office Girl”

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By Greg Baldino

As books and comics get adapted into movies and television shows that rake in enough bank to set up studio heads with actual Uncle Scrooge-style money bins, there’s a terrible trend in crafting stories as Hollywood pitches. On the flip side is the desperate clinging to the nineteenth-century form of the novel that risks alienating readers who are not the upper-class audience with copious leisure time that constituted the literary readership back in the day.

Into this troubled condition comes Joe Meno’s novel “Office Girl.”

Set in the final year of the twentieth century, the book follows Chicago twentysomethings Jack and Odile on a vendetta against boredom. By day they work in an office call center, hawking medical supplies over the phone. The rest of the time, they stage commando art gestures ranging from simple graffiti to dressing in bed-sheet ghost and riding the trains. It’s far from a quirky boy-meets-girl story, as both have their share of emotional baggage and damage, and the pair ends up on a path that takes them to unexpected futures. 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.
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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.

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 »