Assyrian poet Younan Houma at last year’s festival/Photo: Iraqi Mutual Aid Society
Twana Twana carried sixty years of memories from his native Mosul to Chicago’s North Side in 2012. Routine work days as a pharmacist in the old city, or glimpses of his favorite landmark, an imperfectly leaning minaret giving Mosul its nickname “the hunchback,” are cherished memories that shape his poems. Though resettlement has greatly helped his children, like many Iraqi refugees Twana finds himself torn between his birthplace and Chicago. “As a refugee you are like a candle, you burn so that others can see,” he says.
This month, Twana is one of a handful of local Middle Eastern refugee poets reading at the Poetry Foundation’s April 23 Poetry Off the Shelf event, “What We Carried: Poetry by Middle Eastern Refugees.” The festival is cohosted with the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, a local nonprofit based in West Ridge which serves some of the eight thousand Iraqi refugees resettled in the Chicago area since 2007. Local refugees as well as published Middle Eastern poets will read at the event to shed light on Middle Eastern experiences in the city. Read the rest of this entry »
By Amy Strauss Friedman
“Here is the paradox of the memoir: its retrospective vision, which is its strength, is also its weakness,” Joyce Carol Oates warns in her new book “The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age.” “The fact is–We have forgotten most of our lives. All of our landscapes are soon lost in time.” With this challenge in mind, the prolific Oates works cautiously to reconstruct what is lost through the muddied nature of memoir, exploring her childhood on a farm in western New York and the ways in which her upbringing has shaped her writing life. In fact, this memoir is composed largely of reprinted essays written between 1986 and present day, indicating the discontinuous, cyclical nature of recall. “Our memories seem to lack the faculty for chronological continuity,” Oates correctly suggests. Read the rest of this entry »
If there’s one thing that was made abundantly clear in polling the literati for this year’s Lit 50 list, it’s that the Chicago literary scene is an incredibly supportive one. It’s no Utopia, of course. We’re certain it has its jerks. But it was overwhelming to receive such an outpour of appreciation for countless behind-the-scenes folks who make the lit scene in this town such an exceedingly vibrant one. This year’s list includes indie-bookstore owners, booksellers, publishers, editors, chairs and directors of creative writing programs, literacy advocates, library leaders, execs at major literary foundations, organizers of festivals, conferences, live lit productions and salons. All of the individuals on this list contribute significantly—whether they help to get books in readers’ hands, excite the next generation in literary arts, afford writers opportunities to publish, provide storytellers a stage to share their tales, or create environments where writers can make the right connections or just talk shop. We raise a glass to all on the list, but also to those innumerable individuals who likewise help it all go ‘round. (Amy Danzer)
Lit 50 was written by Liz Baudler, Heidi Bloom, Brendan Buck, Amy Danzer, Amy Friedman, Brian Hieggelke, Jarret Neal, Toni Nealie, Robert Rodi, Bill Savage, Kim Steele, Danielle Susi, Mahjabeen Syed and John Wilmes.
Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Women and Children First Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been a deadly year for Chicago writers, with the passing of Roger Ebert, Richard Stern, David Hernandez and, just last week, Father Andrew Greeley. Not to mention the dead-woman-walking status achieved by Rachel Shtier, whose ill-conceived New York Times Book Review takedown of Chicago turned her into this city’s most universally disliked resident since, perhaps, John Wayne Gacy. So a sense of what we’d lost pervaded the creation of this year’s Lit 50, this time around celebrating not so much the writers who occupy the center stage, but those who operate behind the scenes to make sure the stage itself exists. The process, as excruciating as it is, always renews our optimism for the literary Chicago that carries on, bigger and better every year, even diminished by its inevitable losses. This year’s increasingly long short-list reached new magnitudes, with 360 folks under consideration for just fifty nods. Needless to say, a slight tilt in another direction, and an entirely different Lit 50 could have been created. But so it goes. (Brian Hieggelke)
Written by Brian Hieggelke and Naomi Huffman, with Greg Baldino and Kathleen Caplis. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »
The Poetry Foundation has a mission to celebrate poetry and present it to the largest possible audience. Almost a hundred years since its inception in 1912 as Poetry magazine, the foundation carries on these principles by providing poetry a new home when its new public building opens this month.
“Designing a building from the ground up just for poetry was a huge opportunity,” says Poetry Foundation president John Barr. The two-story building, a 22,000-square-foot structure, is one of only three public spaces in the nation built for the advancement of poetry. The location will include the offices of the foundation and magazine, along with a multipurpose performance space acoustically designed for the spoken word, a public garden, a library holding a collection of 30,000 volumes, and an exhibition gallery. The structure’s aesthetics were an important part of the design. Local architect John Ronan, Barr says, “took one art form, poetry, and translated it into another one, architecture.” Read the rest of this entry »
Power in Chicago has been passed on. No, we’re not talking about that little office in City Hall, but that Oprah, she of the book club that long perched her atop this list, has flown the coop. So now it’s official. The City of Big Shoulders is Poetry’s town. It’s unlikely that Carl Sandburg would have ever imagined such an unlikely outcome when he crafted the city’s calling card, in verse, but it’s not even debatable. Not only can we claim Poetry magazine, the premier publication of its kind anywhere, but its wealthy sibling the Poetry Foundation will open a whole building dedicated to the form later this month. Plus, this is the town that created the Poetry Slam as well as Louder Than a Bomb, the largest teen slam anywhere. Talk about poetic justice. Read the rest of this entry »
By Beatrice Smigasiewicz
As part of a project to help readers rediscover their online archive, the Poetry Foundation’s Ed Park turned to Chicago cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier. What followed was a two-page comic rendition of Ted Kooser’s poem, “The Giant Slide,” which felt oddly at home in Hornschemeier’s rendition of the poem. “There was something about the aching Midwestern nostalgia in there… something I feel when I’m traveling home to southern Ohio, the graying asphalt cutting through rust-and-mustard-hued fields…I could see the whole cartoon as I was reading the poem,” says Hornschemeier.
It’s not the first time a comic-book artist invites such collaboration but Hornschemeier’s style seems particularly open to it. Both illustrious and emotional in content he manages to remain immensely conceptual and visually grounded. He avoids self-indulgent sentimentality by keeping his drawing style flat and stark, and with a few exceptions he uses only muted colors. There is a kind of language quality to his drawings that read like the subtle degrees of expressions and gestures you can only register on faces of people you know well.
His 2003 debut included a somber coming-of-age allegory that centered around an 8-year-old boy who loses grasp on reality after his mothers death in, “Mother, Come Home.” A subsequent book project, “The Three Paradoxes” outlines a nostalgic visit home that’s interrupted by intersecting narratives that dwell—similar to Kooser’s poem—on the paradox of the passing of time. Though Hornschemeier himself will say that he doesn’t set out to write dark or brooding books, “I just think there’s something about doing longer, sustained narratives that causes one to become introspective and draw on things deeper within themselves: bigger questions, darker elements in their own persona or thoughts,” adding that “people are routinely surprised to find that in person I joke around all the time and am obsessed with comedy: they think that I must walk around in a constant fog of philosophical conundrums and Weltschmerz.” Read the rest of this entry »
Is it wrong to feel optimistic? You couldn’t be blamed if you didn’t. Yet while the country’s economy crumbles around us and less and less funds are available for the producers of the printed word, those in the literary world are finding new and inventive ways to stay afloat. We will not go down without a fight, and progress, of course, is key. So is awareness—in order to get the word out more efficiently (and, likely, to untether itself from the uncertain future of the paper form), Printers Row Book Fair changed its name from “Book Fair” to “Lit Fest” to have a title that better fully represents the weekend’s events, in time for its twenty-fifth anniversary edition. As is our custom, we time our annual Lit 50 list to the weekend’s events; this year’s list of local behind-the-scenes literati—no straight-up authors or poets this time—covers a large spectrum of Chicago’s world of words. As with past years we sought out those behind the smaller presses as well as the monumental figures. Some new names have emerged and many staples appear again, but all tirelessly labor to bring this ancient art to the community at large. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a bizarre poetry in my Internet access going down for a couple of hours as I was writing this (Comcastic!), since technology contributes quite a bit to the dysfunction of the fictional New York office that provides the setting for Ed Park’s masterful satire of end-of-empire corporate America, “Personal Days.” Self-Googling, eBaying, time-wasting emailing and plain old tech problems fill the days of the group of youngish co-workers, who are otherwise preoccupied with the Kremlinesque downsizing machinations of management, prodded by a mysterious new ownership in California. Park’s novel, short on plot but long on laughs, sits comfortably within the growing body of workplace send-ups, and will find an audience among fans of “The Office” and “Office Space.” But how did Park, who spends his time as an editor at the decidedly non-corporate The Believer magazine and the Poetry Foundation, develop such spot-on insights into corporate malaise? He spent ten years at the Village Voice until it was taken over by New Times, a media chain from the West, which wasted little time in cutting Park and other key creators loose in its cost-cutting and cookie-cutting zeal. Revenge served cold indeed. (Brian Hieggelke)
Ed Park reads from “Personal Days” at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 North Lincoln, on June 5 at 7pm.
An event coinciding with the 2007 Modern Language Association Convention, this mammoth reading—sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the School of the Art Institute’s writing program—features more than fifty poets in all. Highlights include appearances by Joel Craig, Elizabeth Cross, Chuck Stebleton, Jennifer Karmin, Chris Glomski, Ray Bianchi, Robert Archambeau (who co-curated the event), Kristy Odelius and Simone Muench. The reading spreads for two and a half hours—a bit long in the line break as far as poetry readings go—but it’s a worthy event during what is a notoriously dead week for the arts, and, basically, a marathon of language. Plus, it’s free, for those of you who reached well beyond your means for the holidays. (Tom Lynch)
The Chicago Marathon Reading is December 28 at the School of the Art Institute Ballroom, 112 South Michigan, at 7pm.