Fiction Review: “Bats of The Republic:” by Zachary Thomas Dodson

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Zachary Dodson’s ambitious debut novel “Bats of the Republic” reminds me of what reading was like when I was young. It seemed more of a four-dimensional (your whole world and beyond) activity. I think it was this way for everyone. I’m sure it’s related to how on-fire our imaginations were then and how they amped up every activity, not just reading. I hadn’t mourned the passing of my childhood imagination, but after reading this book I wonder if I had simply forgotten how it felt. With “Bats of the Republic,” Dodson has created a book that sent me back to that immersive, obsessive time when my book became my world.

Zach Dodson—formerly of Chicago where he co-founded Featherproof Books in 2005—created this reading experience by pairing an ambitious story with startling book design. The story has two trails. The first follows Zadock Thomas in 1843 as he journeys through Texas to deliver an important letter for his employer. He hopes for the opportunity to ask the man’s daughter—whom he loves—to marry him. The second trail takes place 300 years in the future and follows Zeke Thomas in a dystopian Texas as he deals with a missing and never-opened letter written by his grandfather. Letters from Zeke’s fiancée Eliza to her best friend Leeya, letters from Eliza’s long absent father to her, transcripts recorded by the government, and a novel within a novel, supplement these two story lines. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50 2014: Who Really Books in Chicago

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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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Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2013

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NEWNEWCITYIt’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 »

Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2011

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Power in Chicago has been passed on. No, we’re not talking about that little office in City Hall, but that Oprah, she of the book club that long perched her atop this list, has flown the coop. So now it’s official. The City of Big Shoulders is Poetry’s town. It’s unlikely that Carl Sandburg would have ever imagined such an unlikely outcome when he crafted the city’s calling card, in verse, but it’s not even debatable. Not only can we claim Poetry magazine, the premier publication of its kind anywhere, but its wealthy sibling the Poetry Foundation will open a whole building dedicated to the form later this month. Plus, this is the town that created the Poetry Slam as well as Louder Than a Bomb, the largest teen slam anywhere. Talk about poetic justice. Read the rest of this entry »

Darkness Falls? Green Lantern Gallery calls it quits again, but a new venture arises

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The Green Lantern Gallery has had a tumultuous year: after its initial incarnation was shut down due to a city ordinance, Green Lantern director Caroline Picard teamed up with featherproof books’ Zach Dodson to create a multimedia art space. Temporarily housed in Ukrainian Village, the idea was for the revamped Green Lantern Gallery to eventually move into permanent digs designed to foster inter-art collaborations—a gallery, office space for the two presses, The Paper Cave indie bookstore, a performance space and a café/bar, staffed by four year-long artists-in-residence.

For now, though, Picard’s dream will have to wait. With the lease up on their temporary space and unable to find a suitable long-term home, The Green Lantern Gallery is closing up shop. “We did want to have one last hurrah in the space we had, though,” explains Dodson. With that, “The Last Annual Midwest Pop-Up Bookshop” was born. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2010

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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 »

Reading Preview: Christian TeBordo

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If Chicago’s Featherproof Books is like that pirate radio station you don’t want your parents to hear you listening to, their latest book—Christian TeBordo’s “The Awful Possibilities”—is that song you heard last night that is at once exciting and provocative yet dark and uncomfortable enough that you have to curb your immediate desire to tell the first person you see. “I never really set out to write a collection, ” says TeBordo. “So there’s about ten years of stories in there.” The book, which was officially released earlier this month, is another physical benchmark from the young guys at Featherproof. “There’s nothing that I hate more than when you read a book and you close it and the cover is not the book you just read,” says Zach Dodson, who is responsible for the designs and illustrations at Featherproof. “The Awful Possibilities” is a dark book, and throughout you see these black goo-monsters taking over the pages. “I was worried about it when I started working with them,” says TeBordo about the design of the book. “I didn’t know how to communicate what I wanted.” Dodson, however, brings a solid resume to the table and assuages concerns pretty easily. “I ask them what the book looks like in their brain,” says Dodson about his process. Hence the goo-monsters taking over, “the same way darkness in his [TeBordo’s] stories just takes control, takes over.” (Peter Cavanaugh)

Christian TeBordo reads at the Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee, (773)227-3530, April 26, 8pm. The night’s lineup includes Chicago’s own Lindsay Hunter, Tim Kinsella, and Adam Levin along with Jeff Parker and DJs Eric Marsh and Baby Sloth.

Reading Preview: Literary Death Match/Hideout

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Opium Magazine presents its fifth Chicago Literary Death Match at Hideout on this April Fools Day, featuring a panel of three judges presiding over four readers who read their work to the death, so to speak. Featherproof Books’ Zach Dodson, stand-up comic Cameron Esposito and Trap Door Theatre’s Tiffany Joy Ross are our judges for the evening, while the readers are The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Q. Telfer, Uncalled-for Readings’ Tim Jones-Yelvington, Green Lantern’s Caroline Picard and Kevin Leahy. Opium’s Todd Zuniga and Comedy Central blogger Dennis DiClaudio host the activities. A night of literary debauchery, Literary Death Match leaves some blood on the floor. It being April Fools and all, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few tricks were in store. (Tom Lynch)

April 1 at Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, (773)227-4433, at 8:30pm. $5-$8.

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2009

Bookstores, Chicago Authors, Lit 50, News Etc. 17 Comments »

dsc_2664cIs 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 »