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 »
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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Baby, It's Cold Outside
By Nikki Dolson
I asked some of my favorite authors for their favorite summer song. Though all the choices were surprising, Lawrence Block’s made me laugh out loud.
Megan Abbott (author of “Queenpin,” “The End of Everything,” “Dare Me”)
“Abducted” by The Cults
Josh Bazell (author of “Beat the Reaper” and “Wild Thing”)
“Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful
Stacy Bierlein (author of “A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends”)
“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
1995. I had planned to spend the first week of summer driving from Chicago to San Francisco to help my best friend move in with her boyfriend, but days before the trip the call came—they had broken up. Another friend offered his vacant apartment in New York as the cry-it-out hideaway so we set off east instead of west but too fed up to cry as we listed all the reasons she broke up with her jerk and I should break up with mine. We hit the Midtown tunnel at 3pm on a Friday and I told her, This gridlocked tunnel is no place for the brokenhearted. She hated the word brokenhearted so she gave me a look and blasted the radio and there it was, Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” the first time we heard it yet somehow we knew all the words. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Sam Weller, Ray Bradbury, Black Francis (who wrote the new book's intro) in LA at the end of June 2010/Photo: Nathan Kirkman
By Brian Hieggelke
On the cover of a new collection of interviews with Ray Bradbury, the legendary author proclaims “Sam Weller knows more about my life than I do!” It’s probably not far from the truth, since Weller can claim to have gotten his start even before he was born: Weller’s father read Ray Bradbury to him in the womb.
Ray Bradbury was born and raised in his early years in Waukegan Illinois, just forty miles north of downtown Chicago. His family moved west to Los Angeles during the Great Depression, and Bradbury went on to be one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated writers, crafting such classics as “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Fahrenheit 451″ and hundreds of stories, screenplays and television scripts. His career has taken him far from his idyllic youth in Waukegan, but not too far: those formative years in the Midwest were forever captured in his most celebrated stories.
Chicagoan Sam Weller has spent the better part of a decade on the Bradbury beat: first in crafting the definitive biography of the author, “The Bradbury Chronicles” and now, on the eve of Bradbury’s ninetieth birthday, he’s assembled “Listen to the Echoes, The Ray Bradbury Interviews.” Needless to say, he’s developed a special relationship with the author. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Stop Smiling may have stopped publishing a magazine in favor of books but, if their plans for their debut release are any indication, they won’t let the rarefied airs of book publishing force them to dial down their promotional festivities. And an unusual debut it is, in which music scribe Dave Tompkins (The Wire, Vibe, Village Voice, The Believer) crafts “How to Wreck a Nice Beach—The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop: The Machine Speaks” which is exactly what its title promises, a loose history of a once-top-secret tool for wartime communication and later an over-the-top gadget for special music effects. How often do you get Adolf Hitler and Fab Five Freddy into the same conversation? Fortunately, Tompkins is a wordsmith with ample verve and rapier wit. He augments the potentially dry first half of the book, the science and war stuff, with a nice selection of old photographs of bulky machines and the serious-looking folks who manned them, the kind of pictures that get used in ironic advertising mashups nowadays, Read the rest of this entry »
Stop Smiling occupies a small storefront on Milwaukee Avenue, but inside big changes are occurring. The long-running locally produced magazine, thick with interviews with anybody from George Plimpton to Pete Rock, has transitioned to the book world. Stop Smiling Books launches this week in partnership with New York’s Melville House Publishing. Editor-in-chief JC Gabel explains, “I never really cared to deal with advertising. it was just a necessity of running a periodical. With the books we could eradicate that from the business model and just sell the medium. The medium is the message.” Gabel also talks of economic issues and the desire to keep the Stop Smiling team together. “It was becoming an impossibility to afford to do [the magazine]. And really the most important thing was we wanted to keep our creative team together. With the books we had a little bit more flexibility.” The first title under the Stop Smiling name comes out this week, Dave Tompkins’ “How to Wreck a Nice Beach” followed by the June release of Chicago native Sam Weller’s “Listen to the Echos: The Ray Bradbury Interviews.” Gabel, who is in New York helping to promote Tompkins’ book, remembers conversations with authors and friends where they felt they had just not been taken care of by their publishers. “We’re going to take a lot of the guerilla marketing and D.I.Y. approaches we had with Stop Smiling,” says Gabel. Look for Stop Smiling to host a handful of events later this month and early May. (Peter Cavanaugh)