11. Audrey Niffenegger
A multidisciplinary powerhouse—she’s earned a respectable reputation as a graphic novelist and printmaker, as well as a writer of pop literary fiction—the “The Time Traveler’s Wife” author has yet to top her 2003 megahit. But while her second novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry” (2009), couldn’t match the splash of her first, and the highly anticipated “Time Traveler” film adaptation faded away without much buzz, the Columbia College Book Arts professor’s got major tricks up her sleeve yet. Niffenegger’s “The Night Bookmobile,” a serialized graphic novel for the London Guardian, hits the shelves in book form this year, she’s got an art exhibit at Printworks slated for September, and a third novel, “The Chinchilla Girl in Exile,” is in the works.
12. Sara Paretsky
When Sara Paretsky’s first novel, “Indemnity Only,” was published in 1982, it revolutionized women’s roles in mystery fiction. Her whiskey-drinking, fist-throwing protagonist, V.I. Warshawski, discarded the way women had been portrayed as the damsel in distress, and proved women, too, could solve crimes. Paretsky has written twelve other best-selling novels, including “Dead Lock,” “Tunnel Vision,” “Bleeding Kansas,” and a book of essays, “Writing in an Age of Silence.” Paretsky is also a regular contributor to The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune and The Guardian. Paretsky and her husband, both University of Chicago graduates, have lived in Chicago for more than forty years and now reside on Chicago’s South Side. She is currently on tour promoting her newest book, “Hardball.”
13. James McManus
Even after “Positively Fifth Street” became a bestselling phenomenon, McManus wasn’t finished with poker. After a nonfiction foray into the world of healthcare, “Physical: An American Checkup,” the School of the Art Institute teacher released “Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker” last fall, a straight-up history of what he’s called America’s true pastime. McManus has professionally become so associated with poker that it seems he’s the only voice to trust on the subject, and his stirring writing backs it up—“Cowboys Full” explains volumes of American history through this everyday card game, from the Old West to Obama.
14. Elizabeth Berg
On her blog, Minnesota native-turned Oak Parker Elizabeth Berg states, “I try to write a book a year.” This nurse-turned-prolific-author has written several award-winning novels, including “Open House,” which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, “Durable Goods” and “Joy School,” which were both named ALA Best Books of the Year, and “Talk Before Sleep,” which was short-listed for an Abby Award. In 1997, she won the New England Book Award. Berg has been recognized by the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library for her work. Her best-selling titles include “The Year of Pleasures,” “The Day I Ate Anything I Wanted,” and “Dream When You’re Feeling Blue.” Her most recent novel, “The Last Time I Saw You,” was released in April.
15. Patrick Somerville
A Green Bay, Wisconsin native, Patrick Somerville earned an MFA from Cornell University and has taught creative writing and English at Cornell, Northwestern University and The Graham School of the University of Chicago. After an acclaimed story collection in 2006, his first novel, “The Cradle,” was published in 2009, and The Chicago Public Library awarded Somerville the 21st Century Award, also in 2009. His work has appeared in GQ, Esquire and “The Best American Nonrequired Reading.” Currently, Patrick is working on his second novel.
16. Marcus Sakey
Consider him a young Chicago Elmore Leonard. Over the course of his four crime novels, Sakey has used the streets of Chicago as his canvas, and guns, cops, violence and moral dilemma as his color palette. Sakey’s work is so affecting, his first three novels—“The Blade Itself,” “Good People” and “At the City’s Edge” have each already been optioned for film adaptations and are making their way toward the big screen. His latest book, last summer’s critically acclaimed “The Amateurs,” tells the story of a group of friends who grow exhausted leading responsible, law-abiding lives. If you think all ends well for them, you haven’t read Sakey. Expect a new release from him next summer.
17. Joseph Epstein
Essayist, author, editor and Northwestern prof, Epstein is an institution in the world of Chicago letters. The former American Scholar editor (and frequent contributor to big-name mags) has opined on national character (“Snobbery: The American Version”), Fred Astaire (“Fred Astaire”), jealousy (“Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins”), Alexis de Tocqueville (Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy’s Guide), and friendship (“Friendship: An Expose”), among other topics. His latest venture—”The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff: And Other Stories,” which comes out this month—returns to the familiar Jewish Chicago of his last fiction collection, “Fabulous Small Jews.”
18. Jennifer Lancaster
New York native Jennifer Lancaster is the author of five books: “Bitter is the New Black,” “Bright Lights, Big Ass,” “Such A Pretty Fat,” “Pretty in Plaid” and “My Fair Lazy, ” which debuted in May. Her books explore “chick lit” topics such as weight loss, losing a job and suffering of a broken heart, with a voice that The Boston Herald calls “scathingly witty.” She also regularly writes on her blog, Jennsylvania. Jennifer is currently on tour promoting her latest book.
19. Gina Frangello
Chicago indie lit’s unstoppable force, both as the co-founder of OV Books and as a fiction writer in her own right. See the in-depth profile of Frangello here.
20. Amy Krouse Rosenthal
With readers young and old, Amy Krouse Rosenthal has been a mainstay on bestseller lists over the last few years and a singular cultural force who dabbles in all things creative. She has written a number of popular children’s books and books for adults that cover pregnancy, motherhood and her humorous musings on everyday life. Her children’s books’ characters include a self-defeating spoon and a pea who loathes having to eat candy at dinner. In 2005, Rosenthal’s “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life,” a memoir written from A to Z, was named a top ten memoir of the decade so far by Amazon.com. “One Smart Cookie: Bite-Size Lessons for the School Years and Beyond” comes out this fall from HarperCollins.