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 »
Photo: Jasmine Kwong
The Seminary Co-Operative Bookstore, a cornerstone in Hyde Park for more than fifty years, has been busy settling into their new location at 5751 South Woodlawn. And while they’ve moved only a few blocks away, it begins a new era in the store’s history. The bookstore, which operates as a member-owned cooperative, designed the new location with its community in mind. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer an abundance of natural light, a contrast to the former location’s basement browsing area. “The new space has worked out incredibly well,” says the Co-Op’s general manager Jack Cella. “Every day people come in and comment on how much they like it, even those who were prepared to dislike it because they have such fond memories of the old location.”
The Co-Op’s history became the focus of University of Chicago alumni Jasmine Kwong and Megan E. Doherty when their alma mater bought the building where the bookstore had long leased space. The two formed the Seminary Co-Op Documentary Project aimed at covering the bookstore’s rich history. “We discovered that we wanted to document the Co-Op, appreciated that we had complementary approaches, and decided to join forces,” says Kwong. They began to collect documents, interviews and photographs from members and patrons. Read the rest of this entry »
By John Wawrzaszek
Chicago proclaims print is not dead. Annual events like the Chicago Zine Fest (March 8-9) and the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, or “CAKE,” (June 15-16) are evidence of the growing local support for Chicago’s self-publishing community. The latest to join the cause is the University of Chicago Library, as they present “My Life is an Open Book: DIY Autobiography,” an exhibition focusing on woman self-publishers from Chicago.
The university’s library has been actively collecting zines and self-published materials for their catalog. “We were very excited by their diversity and how alive they feel,” says Sarah Wenzel, bibliographer for Literatures of Europe & the Americas at the university. “We thought other people would like to see the artistry, writing and variety of the collection.” And that is exactly what you can expect from the exhibit. Local self-publishers and artists are featured on display, ranging from personal zines to mini-comics. Read the rest of this entry »
“Culture of Opportunity: Obama’s Chicago: The People, Politics, and Ideas of Hyde Park” could have been written without that middle phrase, a nod to the man that, as author Rebecca Janowitz points out, ninety-seven percent of Hyde Park residents voted for in 2008. But Janowitz decides to frame her narrative of a neighborhood she argues is exceptional and unique around Barack Obama, giving her history a plot arc and relevancy that makes her accessible to Obama fans at large.
Dedicated researchers willing to dig through dusty back issues of “Hyde Park Herald,” or even residents of the neighborhood with more than a passing interest in the area’s history and a couple years under their belt will find there’s not much new information, but that’s not Janowitz’s fault. As her title indicates, she’s interested in a different audience. She wants to share what’s instinctual to Hyde Parkers with the rest of the world: Barack Obama is, in part, a product of a community built on diversity and intellectualism, and the belief that these qualities are strengths, not weaknesses. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Read the rest of this entry »
By Laura Castellano
Elizabeth Crane exudes happiness. Her broad smile and frequent bouts of laughter seem to come easily. “I don’t know if it’s just my nature or not,” she says, “but I certainly have not always been this happy.”
The acclaimed author explores the aforementioned sunny attitude in her new book of short stories, “You Must Be This Happy To Enter.” Crane’s past collections, “All This Heavenly Glory” and “When the Messenger is Hot,” touched on failed relationships and death. The new stories have a decidedly more uplifting theme (though the same sharp wit). Her optimism, she says, comes partly from teaching at “fine schools” (including the University of Chicago and Northwestern) from her recent successes as a writer, and from the solid relationship she has with her husband.
Read the rest of this entry »
A unique sense of intimacy prevails in Pauline Chen’s first book, “Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality.” In this engrossing memoir, full of surgical detail, Chen, recipient of the George Longstreth Humanness Award at Yale, meditates on her experiences as a student and physician. She reveals her own fear of death, as well as the problems the medical community has in teaching doctors to confront this sensitive (and inevitable) issue. From her med-school cadaver to her beloved Aunt Grace, she methodically examines how learning to deal with death can offer some important insights into life. Although rich in scientific explanation (case studies and facts abound), “Final Exam” satisfies both sides of the brain. Beautiful prose is infused throughout, proving Chen’s ability as an empathetic surgeon and a skilled writer. “There is something intensely personal about surgery,” she writes. “Our hands are in our patients’ bodies, caressing them as no lover ever could.” (Laura Castellano)
Pauline Chen reads from “Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality” January 31 at International House at the University of Chicago, 1414 East 59th, (773)753-2274, at 6pm. Free.
The Seminary Co-op Bookstore sits at the bottom of a set of gray stairs, polished to sheen from years of wear, in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary across the street from the main quadrangles of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. It unfolds in a series of differently shaped passageways, the ceiling crisscrossed with pipes and ducts and the concrete floor sounding with the muffled footsteps of sneaker-clad patrons. Sitting on the wooden shelves, like artifacts in the wall recesses of a catacomb, is the largest collection of academic titles in the United States. “I don’t think there’s a question [that we carry the most academic titles in the country]. We’re the largest single customer for a lot of university presses,” explains Jack Cella, the closest thing to a general manager for the consumer-owned Co-op and its sister store 57th Street Books, in another basement three blocks away from the seminary. Read the rest of this entry »