The Need to Be Rational: Debra Monroe on Her New Memoir, “My Unsentimental Education”

Memoir No Comments »
debra monroe close up

Debra Monroe/Photo: Suzanne Reiss

By Amy Danzer

In her new memoir, “My Unsentimental Education, ” Debra Monroe—author of “On the Outskirts of Normal, ” “Shambles,” “Newfangled,” “A Wild, Cold State” and “The Source of Trouble,” whose work has won numerous awards—uses her characteristic dry wit and stylish prose to give us glimpses into pivotal instructive moments in her life. She takes us through different stages in her edification by way of formal education, jobs, career and relationships—from her working-class roots in Spooner, Wisconsin to where she now teaches writing at Texas State University, San Marcos. As she navigates these different terrains and phases in her life, she learns much about the influence people and places can have on a person, but also the power of one’s own wanting. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World”

Anthologies, Flash Fiction, International No Comments »

Flash Fiction International pbk mech.inddRECOMMENDED

Some anthologies are guaranteed to be piles of good literature. Edited by a trio that includes James Thomas and Robert Shapard, editors of the influential “Sudden Fiction” anthologies, “Flash Fiction International” is such an unlikely disappointment. Given their history with flash, it is unsurprising that the stories are excellent.

The duds are few, while the strong ones stab unexpectedly, sometimes literally, like Edgar Omar Aviles’ “Love” in which a mother suddenly stabs her daughter to save her from a life of poverty. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50 2014: Who Really Books in Chicago

Chicago Authors, Lit 50 3 Comments »

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
Read the rest of this entry »

A Writer of Place: Chicago Icon Stuart Dybek Returns With Not One, But Two Books at Once

Chicago Authors, Fiction, Story Collections No Comments »

sdybekBy Brendan Buck

Stuart Dybek is a Chicago writer, through and through. He grew up on Chicago’s South side in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods in the fifties and sixties, and holds graduate degrees from both the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Loyola University. He is the author of two collections of poetry, “Brass Knuckles,” published in 1979, and “Streets in their Own Ink,” from 2004. Dybek is best known for his contributions to the short story form. His collections include the “The Coast of Chicago” from 1990 and “I Sailed With Magellan,” from 2003. These collections and the stories within laid out new rules for the short story. Call it flash fiction, call it micro fiction, call it brevity. Dybek is a master.

When I called Dybek, he was in the middle of rewriting a piece for  Lucky Peach, the themed food and writing quarterly magazine. During our chat we discussed flash fiction, the importance of place in his work, and the two collections he has out this June, “Paper Lantern: Love Stories” and “Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Stories,” both published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “City of the Big Shoulders: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry” edited by Ryan G. Van Cleave

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Poetry 1 Comment »


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 »

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2010

Lit 50 14 Comments »

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 »

For the Love of the Game: Billy Lombardo takes the field with his new novel

Chicago Authors, Fiction, News Etc. No Comments »

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 »

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 »

Better Read than Dead: My reading experience

Chicago Authors, Lit Events No Comments »

By Brian Costellon1380747546_30201169_8193

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 »

411: Way with Words

Lit Events, Readings No Comments »

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.