Maybe this is one of those silly, self-centered illusions of life. Like the one about being the hero of our own life story. Or the one about the universe coming to an end when we die. But it sure seems from where I sit (in my classroom, in Chicago, just east of the corner of Division and Milwaukee, down the street from Young Chicago Authors and Nelson Algren’s old haunt) that Chicago is one of the centers of America’s literary universe. Maybe not as big-titted, tummy tucked, ass-lifted sexy as LA, or as swagger, swagger, yadda, yadda important as NYC—but what is?
At least it seems that an awful lot of poetry has been written about this city over the years. Not just by the big guns, like Carl Sandburg who, in one long, frequently reprinted poem named after our town, tried to do for Chicago what Walt Whitman did for Manhattan. But plenty of lesser-known poets, not to mention slam champs and runners-up and high-school poets hoping to be louder than a bomb, have tried to leap on and pin down some wild aspect of our untameable city. Ryan G. Van Cleave found enough contemporary poetry about this big, loud, crass, graceful, amazing city to fill a 174-page anthology. And the University of Iowa Press thought it was important enough, and interesting enough, to publish it. 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 »
By Tom Lynch
Billy Lombardo strolls into The Breakfast Club on Hubbard Street fifteen minutes late, having missed his stop as he took the train into the city from his home in Forest Park. He was writing, he says, finally making progress on something new, and he wasn’t paying attention. The author, though in his forties, exudes a childlike whimsy when he laughs at his mistake—he’s apologetic, but he wears an excited, goofball sort of grin that’s apology enough. He has a lot to smile about.
Lombardo’s first novel, “The Man With Two Arms,” was just released by Overlook Press, a baseball book about a father who teaches his son to throw with both his left and right arms; the son becomes Major League Baseball’s first superstar ambidextrous pitcher. This book follows last year’s acclaimed “How to Hold a Woman,” Lombardo’s collection of vignettes and short stories about a family suffering immense grief after the death of a child. His first collection of stories, the award-winning “The Logic of a Rose,” is a genuine Chicago book; Lombardo bases his stories in Bridgeport, the neighborhood in which he was raised, “a rich childhood,” he says.
Over coffee amongst the Saturday morning early-lunch crowd, Lombardo says that he gained the courage to write about his neighborhood once Stuart Dybek wrote about Bridgeport in “The Coast of Chicago.” “After I met Dybek I felt I had permission to write about some of the stories. This was right after Lenard Clark was beat up pretty bad, and that’s the only thing that people were talking about.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
By Brian Costello
I’ve been doing readings in, out, and around Chicago for nine years now. Thax Douglas, who ain’t dead yet, contrary to what the blogosphere was eager to tell you, helped out with my first reading. It was in the basement of Myopic Books. The story I read, an endless, meandering tale of two Peoria dads observing their sons’ Little League game in the thickest of “El-a-noy” accents, bombed, but the Schlitz and Swiss Cake Rolls I brought with me were a big hit among the transients who attended.
My next reading went a little bit better. I had befriended 2ndHand editor Todd Dills—a steadfast champion of this city’s literary scene if there ever was one—who published an essay I had written, a comparative study of crates vs. barrels. I read this at the Empty Bottle while setting off a squirt gun in the pocket of my khaki pants to make it look like I was pissing myself as I read. Read the rest of this entry »
How do you put your love for Barack Obama into words? At artist showcase and fundraiser Writers and Cartoonists for Obama, October 15 at the Chopin Theater, see and hear just how it’s done. All mediums, from song to print to cartoon, will offer a unique political message. The reception and signed-book silent auction will be followed by brief readings from each of the attending writers, which include Sara Paretsky, Stuart Dybek and more than fifteen others. “The readings will be political in the largest sense,” says organizer Sandi Wisenberg. Following the readings, there will be the viewing of the final Obama/McCain debate. All ticket sales ($60 at the door, $50 in advance) go to Obama for America, but those under the age of 25 will only have to pay their age to enter.
Chicago’s book world can be a quiet place. In part due to the solitary nature of the work, and in part due to the void of publishing parties that keep New York’s assorted gawkers journaling away, it’s easy to think nothing new is happening. Jeffrey Eugenides moves to town, Jeffrey Eugenides moves away, and no one seems to notice. Then, bam!, Aleksandar Hemon publishes “The Lazarus Project,” the comparisons to Nabokov resume and suddenly we’re the center of the universe again, if only for a moment.
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