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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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 »
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 »
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 »
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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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.
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 »
The 2010 edition of Columbia College’s week-long festival kicks off Sunday and through the next seven days offers an array of readings and discussions with highly acclaimed authors, local and beyond. At Martyrs’ on Sunday night, Randy Albers, Kim Morris, Sam Weller and more read as part of “2nd Story.” On Monday, literary legend Joyce Carol Oates examines her work as part of two separate discussions at the Harold Washington Library. Later that night, Sheffield’s Beer Garden hosts the “Down and Dirty Grad Reading,” with Jeff Jacobsen, J. Adams Oaks and Alexis Pride. On Tuesday evening at the Harold Washington Library, authors Achy Obejas and Alexandar Hemon discuss “Genres from Afar,” with John Dale and host Patricia Ann McNair. Wednesday afternoon at Harold Washington Library, Joe Meno hosts “Genre Bending—The Faces of Fiction” with Mort Castle, Maggie Estep, David Morrell and Kevin Nance; later that evening at 6pm Sam Weller hosts a similar discussion at the same location. Events continue through Friday, with appearances by Marcus Sakey, Rick Kogan, Sean Chercover, Stephanie Kuehnert and more. More details can be found on Newcity’s lit events page. (Tom Lynch)
Columbia College’s Story Week runs March 14-19 at various venues. The festival’s official website can be found at colum.edu/storyweek.
Top 5 Books
“Chronic City,” Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday)
“War Dances,” Sherman Alexie (Grove Press)
“Generosity: An Enhancement,” Richard Powers (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Inherent Vice,” Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)
Top 5 Local Books
“Ruins,” Achy Obejas (Akashic Books)
“Her Fearful Symmetry,” Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner)
“How to Hold a Woman,” Billy Lombardo (OV Books)
“The Way Through Doors,” Jesse Ball (Vintage)
“The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” S.L. Wisenberg (University of Iowa Press)
—Tom Lynch Read the rest of this entry »
By Micah McCrary
“More than fifty percent of the people in our city have low or limited literacy skills,” says Erin Walter, Literacy Director of Open Books in Chicago. “And sixty-one percent of low-income families nationwide have no children’s books at home.” Walter sits alongside Becca Keaty, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, and Stacy Ratner, Executive Director, in the soon-to-be-opened bookstore, which will house between 40,000 and 50,000 books by its grand opening November 21-22.
The store’s multicolored walls with inspirational and clever quotes like “He that loves reading has everything within his reach” resemble a painting of easter eggs, and ubiquitous shelves of purple, orange, green, pink and blue stand in ordered chaos, all of which can hold up to 60,000 books in total. In the children’s section, which is divided off by a standalone wall built to look like the front of a house, book clouds—donated books that have been painted to look like clouds in the sky—hang from a cerulean ceiling. A faux fireplace lounge hosts a wall covered by tiles purchased, customized and donated by both volunteers and by others who support the literary venture of Open Books. Read the rest of this entry »