News: Bibliophiles Unite at the Third Annual Chicago Book Expo

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Photo: Rebecca Ciprus

Photo: Rebecca Ciprus

Talents from the literary community were on display at the third annual Chicago Book Expo at Columbia College on Saturday, December 6 from 11am-5pm. Eighty-five booths blanketing two floors of the college’s campus at 1104 South Wabash housed authors selling their books, presses promoting works by their authors, and literary journals showcasing their work and providing information on their submission processes to visiting writers; other associations, groups, nonprofits and educational institutions were also on hand to promote their unique approaches to writing and publishing. There was something for every literary taste, from Rose Metal Press’ beautiful hybrid chapbooks to Appoet’s interactive mobile application that transforms two-dimensional stories into three-dimensional tales that interact with the time and space of the reader, to “After Hours,” a literary journal dedicated to the poetry and prose of Chicago authors. Mystery novels, parenting guides and history books also filled the booths of this animated event that drew in about a thousand visitors. Read the rest of this entry »

Toasting the Man Chicago Almost Forgot, Nelson Algren

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NALGRENOn March 29, the Nelson Algren Committee will host the twenty-fifth annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party to honor the man who eternalized Chicago’s “drunks, pimps, prostitutes, freaks, drug addicts, prize fighters, corrupt politicians, and hoodlums” with his books “The Man With the Golden Arm,” “Neon Wilderness,” and “Chicago: City on the Make.”

This year would mark Algren’s 106th birthday—which actually falls on March 28—but  the festivities planned are lively: theater mainstays Donna Blue Lachman and Bob Swann will be presenting Algren’s work with folksinger Mark Dvorak, filmmaker Tom Palazzolo, actor-director Nate Herman, activist Robert Lopez, and novelist Christopher Corbett. Poetry readings, excerpts from the in-progress documentary, “Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing, The Road is All,” and a tribute to Algren’s lover Simone de Beauvoir. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago” by Gary Krist

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As Nelson Algren taught us, since its founding Chicago has been a city of hustlers and squares. Such a straightforward dichotomy between inhabitants makes the generation of narrative easy: conflict is inevitable while shades of gray are few. As a reader of books on Chicago history, you know for whom to root. If you happen to be both a reader and a Chicagoan, then you also know that the person you’re rooting for—usually the square if you’re a moral sort—is going to lose. The tango between the hustler and the square has provided a structure for two of the more recent and popular books dealing with the city’s past—Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City” and Karen Abbott’s “Sin in the Second City”–and it turns up again in Gary Krist’s “City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.” Read the rest of this entry »

Divisible Man: Parsing “Black Cracker” author Josh Alan Friedman’s coming-of-age account of segregated Long Island

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By Hugh Iglarsh

“Welcome to Colored School,” says the back cover of “Black Cracker,” Josh Alan Friedman’s account of his strange, split childhood. In the early 1960s, Friedman—the son of noted humorist Bruce Jay Friedman—attended South School in Glen Cove, New York, as pretty much the only white kid in “the last segregated colored school on Long Island.” From first through fourth grades, Friedman would leave his comfortable suburban home in the morning and spend his days in an ancient schoolhouse, located hard by the Third World-style shantytown that contained Glen Cove’s African-American population. It was an impoverished neighborhood “that could have been transplanted from the Carolinas,” long since razed and replaced by public housing.

The book is Friedman’s search for “my old Black self, the inner nigger of my youth.” His choice of language and title is revealing, suggesting the ongoing conflict—not to say warfare—between the two sides of his identity. In addition, Friedman is a Jew, characterized by one of the local greasers as “nothin’ but a nigger turned inside out.”

No wonder the very young Josh Friedman pictured on the cover has such a deer-in-the-headlights look to him.

I had a chance to converse with the grown-up Friedman recently. He came to Chicago to attend the annual birthday party of his hero, the late local novelist Nelson Algren, who had spent a week with Friedman’s family in the mid-sixties. “My dad said, a great writer is coming to stay with us,” recalls Friedman of the long-ago visit. He remembers a scruffy, middle-aged man who got up early every morning to chat with the housekeeper.

“My parents were crazy about him,” says Friedman. “They threw a wild party in his honor on Fire Island that resulted in about ten divorces. I woke up to a half-naked woman in my room. Nelson thought it was too much—he said, ‘why do people have to be like that?’” Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Legends of Chicago Lit

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In a way, all art is site-specific. And a writer’s site, whether it be hometown, adopted home, or holiday retreat, speaks loudly, however subtly expressed, in his works. Tonight, Chicago will honor its literary masters as the Chicago Writers Association inducts its inaugural class to the city’s own Literary Hall of Fame.

“When you tell people about a literary event, most think it will be like watching the book channel,” says Donald Evans, the Hall’s executive producer and Chicago author. “That’s the blessing and the curse of being a writer. How many people would recognize Stephen King walking down Michigan Avenue?”

The 2010 inductees—Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Studs Terkel and Richard Wright—will be represented by dozens of their family members, who will accept their writer relatives’ posthumous awards, at tonight’s event at Northeastern Illinois University.

After establishing the Hall of Fame in the spring of 2009, board members assembled a nominating committee that seeded through decades of Chicago-related literature to settle on twenty-seven candidates. A separate selection committee whittled the list down to six. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Forward Literature: Granta’s Chicago Issue, Richard Powers and more

Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists, Fiction, News Etc., Nonfiction 1 Comment »


Granta, the literary magazine founded by Cambridge University students in 1889, has a long and storied history of publishing political material as well as the work of several writers. It was relaunched in 1979 as a platform for new writers, and reworked again in 2007 with new editor Jason Cowley. Alex Clark, the magazine’s first female editor, took over for Cowley after he left, and when Smith stepped down, the magazine’s American editor, John Freeman, a frequent Newcity contributor, took her position.

Granta’s fall issue, number 108, is Chicago-themed, and the marvelous collection features entries from Aleksandar Hemon, Alex Kotlowitz, Neil Steinberg, Richard Powers, Sandra Cisneros, Stuart Dybek and more. Don DeLillo offers a brief introductory essay to a Nelson Algren piece, and Chris Ware did the issue’s cover. A photo essay by Camilo Jose Vergara is included and provides an intermission to the text. This collection serves as a packaged insight into what Chicago means—how it feels to live here, be from here, exist within a city sometimes difficult to love yet impossible to resist. I chatted with Freeman over email to get some of his thoughts on the upcoming issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Derek McCormack/Book Cellar

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Toronto-based author Derek McCormack’s terrifically fun “The Show That Smells” whips by with the speed of a bloodsucking vampire bat. A hodgepodge of hillbillies and classical horror yarn, McCormack weasels in real-life characters like Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Coco Chanel, the Carter Family and, most astutely, Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, in a fictional, phantasmagorical account of bloodlust, passion and a world of creeps. (Fumbling through there is a dying country-music singer and his wife, who, in an effort to save him, sells her soul to the devil. The devil is a fashion designer, of course.) It’s gothic fun from Akashic Books, a vivid and giddily cynical view of Hollywood and high-end culture, so off-center that even Guy Maddin blurbs the book on its cover. “The Show That Smells,” a literary homage to a circus freakshow, features poetics to spare, and its brevity works to its advantage. McCormack plunges the stake right through your heart. (Tom Lynch)

Derek McCormack discusses “The Show That Smells” July 18 at Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln, at 7pm.

The Ninth Man Out: As baseball begins again, Nelson Algren turns 100

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"Our Joe" by Tony Fitzpatrick

Tony Fitzpatrick, "Our Joe"

Editor’s Note: Nelson Algren was born 100 years ago this very day, on March 28, 1909

By Jeff McMahon

This is the story of the broken heart of a man, the rusty heart of a city, and how they got all tangled up as one. Like a lot of us, he learned hope and heartbreak first from a baseball team, then from bruising bouts with love, then from the city in which he lived, but unlike a lot of us, he never learned to play along, never stopped seeing the way things are contrasted against the way things ought to be, never stopped championing the nobodies nobody knows—for there, he wrote, beats Chicago’s heart. He followed his own beat straight to the place where pride will lead you every time—to poverty and exile—while describing Chicago as no one had since Carl Sandburg and as no one has again. And save for the devotion of a peculiar few, the City of Big Shoulders shrugged him off. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Story Week 2009

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One of the city’s top literary events of the year, Columbia College’s Story Week begins on Sunday, and as usual features the best of the bunch-students and faculty-of the school, plus some high-profile outsiders, at various events scattered throughout the city. This week kicks off with the “2nd Story: Storytellers” event at Martyrs’ on Sunday night, featuring readings by CP Chang, Molly Each, Deb R. Lewis and Doug Whippo. Saturday features a Q&A with “Blue Angel” author Francine Prose at the Harold Washington Library, plus a reading at Sheffield’s Beer Garden by local crime guy Marcus Sakey. The Nelson Algren Tribute, Tuesday at the Harold Washington, features appearances by Joe Meno, Billy Lombardo, Stephanie Kuehnert, Bayo Ojikutu and J. Adams Oaks. On Wednesday at the Spertus Museum, Rick Kogan discusses Studs Terkel in a tribute to the man, with Donna Seaman, Bill Young, Alex Kotlowitz, Don De Grazia, Drew Ferguson and Ann Hemenway. And that’s just the first half of the festival. (Tom Lynch)

Story Week 2009 runs March 15-20 at various venues. Visit for complete details.

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.