Rebecca Makkai / Photo: Ryan Fowler
By Kim Steele
In the final story of Rebecca Makkai’s collection “Music for Wartime,” “The Museum of the Dearly Departed,” a young graduate student inherits his grandparents’ apartment when a gas leak kills them along with nearly all of their neighbors. The student busies himself by creating a replica of the building complete with artifacts from the homes of each of the deceased. The art piece works well as a symbol for this book. It is as though each story in this collection exists in one house. They share similar themes and Makkai’s uniquely intelligent and affecting voice. And yet each story—like each replicated apartment—also manages to be full of its own distinguishing details. 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 »
Naomi Huffman with author Brian Costello
Independent publishing press Curbside Splendor recently announced a substantial shift in roles after a successful year in 2014 in which they published more than twelve books compared to their average of about three the years prior. Founder and publisher Victor Giron attributes that incredible leap to the diligence of Naomi Huffman, who has been promoted from managing editor to Curbside’s new editor in chief. The change in responsibilities also includes Catherine Eves as the new managing editor, Jacob Knabb as senior editor, business development and Ben Tanzer as senior editor, acquisitions. Read the rest of this entry »
Pitching aces Margo Gremmler and Adam Sleper
“John, we all like climax,” David Henry Sterry instructs one of the twenty Pitchapalooza contestants at this year’s Printers Row Lit Fest. “We wanna feel like we should smoke a cigarette when we’re done.” The issue of climax joins comp books, language that reflects the narrative and indicating the arc of the story as recommendations from the panel of judges on how to perfect a story pitch. Sheltered from a thunderous storm by the white festival tent, Arielle Eckstut and guest judge Joe Durepos sit to Sterry’s left as they regard the contestants one-by-one as they present their book pitches behind a podium. “Show us your writing chops,” Sterry directs to another aspiring novelist.
New to Printers Row, Pitchapalooza first began five years ago, but recently returned with a vengeance—there have been about thirty since last October, each balancing pitches ranging between “not very promising” and “truly extraordinary.” Audience members waiting to grab a chance to pitch their book ideas listen intently for their names to be called—not everyone who attends wants to present, and only twenty will. Laughter flutters through the crowd as the next presenter opens, “I hope you all know you’re naked right now.” Read the rest of this entry »
Reclaiming its full span of traditional streetside real estate this year, tThe Printers Row Lit Fest marks its twenty-seventh outing with more than 200 authors and 150 booksellers.
There’s probably something for every taste. Here’s our likely itinerary:
Saturday, June 4
MSNBC junkies will want to catch frequent guest Jonathan Alter, author of “The Promise: President Obama, Year One” being chatted up by the Trib’s Rick Kogan. 10am, Trib Nation Stage
Want to get real insight into Haiti? Listen to this year’s Harold Washington Literary Award-winner Edwidge Danticat in a ticketed event. 11:30am, Harold Washington Library Center/Cindy Pritzker Auditorium
Listen to two of our nation’s preeminent African American literary figures chat it up, when Ishmael Reed sits in conversation with Haki Madhubuti in a ticketed event. Noon, Harold Washington Library Center/Multipurpose Room Read the rest of this entry »
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi
The Midwest’s premier festival of books hits the streets of Printers Row this weekend, and its proprietor, the Chicago Tribune, continues to make its mark on the event for better and for worse (though based on last year’s whispers about whether it was the last book fair, given the economy and its owner’s bankruptcy, we’re grateful it exists this year at all). Most notable this year is the introduction of paid events, extending into the evening on Saturday, under the rubric Lit After Dark and Get Lit. (The Trib changed the name from Book Fair to Lit Fest last year; it’s fun to see how creative they can get with their new word. This year, look out for Lil’ Lit Park, and the “Get Lit” premium programming, which we’re especially intrigued with. The Urban Dictionary defines “getting lit” as “The state of being so intoxicated (regardless of the intoxicating agent) that all the person can do is smile, so that they look lit up like a light.”) As far as we can tell, you can now pay $10 for what has long been a free part of the book fair, which is a mix of entertainment from the theater, music and literary world, with the addition of a Bud Light-sponsored concert by the San Diego “piano-driven” rock band Augustana, which has toured with the likes of Dashboard Confessional and O.A.R., and draws comparisons to Counting Crows and Maroon 5. We’re certainly not music curmudgeons, but one of the things that always set this event apart from other street fairs in Chicago was the absence of bands at night hired to bring out the traditional street-fair crowd; it would have been nice if at least the booking had some creative, you know, lit element to it. Read the rest of this entry »
By Tom Lynch
Early Sunday evening and Logan Square’s hipster hotspot The Whistler is sprinkled with patrons, some sipping the bar’s unique summertime cocktails, others just a PBR, please. The Orange Alert Reading Series takes place here roughly every third Sunday of the month and tonight’s lineup consists of “How to Hold a Woman” author Billy Lombardo, plus Andrew Farkas, Tim Hall and West Virginian Scott McClanahan. Founder and emcee Jason Behrends takes to the stage and thanks the modest crowd for coming. “I know it’s hard to come out to a bar at six on a Sunday,” he admits into the microphone. A handful of uninterested drinkers respectfully head out to the patio as to not disrupt the reading with their conversation. For the next hour, the only sounds you can hear are the author’s expressive voices and the air conditioner kicking on and off. Even the bartenders mix the drinks quietly.
“I’m definitely optimistic about the landscape in general,” Behrends says of the current place of literary events in Chicago, a day later over the phone. Behrends began his Orange Alert venture in 2006 with a Web site, orangealert.net, featuring interviews with writers, musicians and artists, then launched Orange Alert Press in March of 2008. The reading series began last November. “There are a lot of reading series in town,” he says, “but even though there are ten or twelve that I know of, I felt that there still could be one more.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Brian Hieggelke
I forgot to ask if he had a headache.
I’d been fairly circumspect so far, rather than inviting Andrew Levy to grab a beer, or arbitrarily assuming that a coffeehouse was appropriate for our meeting—migraine triggers come in many forms, as his book, “A Brain Wider Than the Sky,” makes exceedingly clear. But somehow, I forgot to ask him if he had a headache, right now. So too, curiously, had the moderator of the discussion he’d just had at the Printers Row Lit Fest, Paula Kamen. But Kamen, herself author of a related memoir, “All in My Head,” always has a headache—a constant presence—unlike the chronic “nerve storms” that foment Levy’s migraines, so perhaps she just considers such queries redundant. In any case, I forgot to ask.
Levy’s such an easygoing presence—calm, articulate, friendly if not effusive—that it’s easy to forget the tempests that rage inside his brain. But boy do they rage. It was late summer, 2006, as he started a sabbatical from his job—he’s chair of the English department and director of the Writer’s Studio at Butler University in Indianapolis—to work on a book about Mark Twain, that the colossus set in. Four straight months, he suffered a daily migraine, dawn to dusk. “That’s why I wrote the book,” he said very matter-of-factly at the Lit Fest, about the migraine memoir that replaced the indefinitely shelved Twain tome. And it’s a book with the potential to connect to a lot of lives since, as Levy points out, twenty-three percent of all families have a least one member who suffers migraines. 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 »
Saturday, June 6
Dave Eggers [pictured] will be one of the first authors of the day, discussing his book “What Is the What” at the Harold Washington Library Center at 10am…Thomas O’Gorman will moderate a discussion with authors Frank Delaney, Mike Houlihan and Mary Pat Kelly at 10:30am at the Hotel Blake Burnham Room…Kim Bob, author of “Wage Theft in America” and Jon Jeter will hold a discussion moderated by Thomas Geoghegan at the University Center Lake Room…in the same location at noon C. Todd White, author of “Pre-Gay LA” and Karen Graves, author of “And They Were Wonderful Teachers” will discuss their works with Brian Bouldrey…at 1pm Newcity’s Tom Lynch will hold a discussion with Gerald Gems and Steven Riess, co-editors of “The Chicago Sports Reader,” in the Hotel Blake Burnham Room…Elizabeth Taylor will speak with Aleksandar Hemon and Joseph O’Neill at 2:30pm at the Harold Washington Library Center Read the rest of this entry »