21. Simone Elkeles
Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Simone Elkeles is the New York Times best-selling author of four young adult novels, “Perfect Chemistry,” “How to Ruin a Summer Vacation,” “How to Ruin My Teenage Life” and “Leaving Paradise.” Her books have won several awards. Elkeles was also named Illinois Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. A sequel to “Leaving Paradise” is coming in November 2010.
22. Nami Mun
Nami Mun is a Korean-American novelist who grew up in the Bronx, graduated from UC Berkeley and earned an MFA from the University of Michigian. Nami has worked as a bartender, a street vendor and an Avon Lady, among other jobs. Her debut novel, “Miles From Nowhere,” (2008) was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Her stories have been published in Pushcart, The Iowa River, Evergreen Review, Witness, Tin Roof and elsewhere. She was also awarded the Whiting Writers’ Award in 2009. About what she is currently at work on, Nami says, “I’m working on a new novel, as well as a short story right now, but I’m in the early stages, which means the novel could end up as a short story, and the short story could end up in the trash.”
23. Stacey Ballis
The “Sex and the City 2” movie may be a universal disappointment, but chick-lit is alive and well and, thanks in part to Chicago’s Stacey Ballis. Since her literary debut, “Inappropriate Men,” Ballis has published four novels, with a fifth, “Good Enough To Eat,” scheduled to hit bookstores this September. She’s also contributed chapters to a handful of nonfiction anthologies, dished out lifestyle tips on “The Rachael Ray Show,” and written for various publications.
24. Alex Ross
In a city where contemporary comic-book legends generally fall into the “alternative” category, Ross boldly stands on the shoulders of superheroes, where his singular style of painting has made him the visual muscle behind some of the more compelling work originating from Marvel and DC, most recently “Justice Society of America” and various other special projects. (He’s perhaps most famous for his limited series “Marvels” and “Kingdom Come.”) Of late, Ross has been issuing lush coffee-table books of his artwork, edited and designed by the legendary Chip Kidd, most recently this spring’s “Rough Justice.”
25. Sam Weller
Ray Bradbury once said, “Sam Weller knows my life better than I do.” As the author of the award-winning “The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury,” Sam Weller is considered the leading expert on Ray Bradbury’s life and works. “The Bradbury Chronicles” was a Los Angeles best-seller and was named by The Chicago Tribune, and several other publications, as one of the best books of the year. Recently, Weller’s brand-new book, “Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews,” was excerpted in The Paris Review. Weller is a professor in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College, and the former Midwest Correspondent for Publishers Weekly magazine. He is currently working on a historical nonfiction mystery narrative and a collection of short stories.
26. S.L. Wisenberg
In 2009, Northwestern professor and prolific nonfiction writer Wisenberg released “The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” her literary obliteration of cancer taken from writings on her blog. Documenting her war with breast cancer, Wisenberg’s cutting wit and intelligent humanity succeed in making the experience seem less horrifying—though her straightforward approach to discussing chemo, losing a breast and even announcing the illness to her students shake your foundation. Sickness is daily, on the El, in class, in the doctor’s office, in front of the computer. Wisenberg shows us how human it all really is. She’s set to have material from a novel-in-progress published in the Seattle Weekly, and in May she received an Illinois Arts Council for the Individual Artist Project grant.
27. Reginald Gibbons
Just released in May, “Slow Trains Overhead: Chicago Poems and Stories,” Gibbons’ ninth book of poetry, takes on both Chicago’s greatness and its faults. His previous collection of poems “Creatures of the Day” was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry. The fiction writer, translator, literary critic and artist teaches English, Classics, Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern and blogs at the university’s “Center for the Writing Arts.”
28. Li-Young Lee
A celebrated poet and winner of countless awards and fellowships, Lee’s fourth collection of poems, “Behind My Eyes” came out in paperback last summer. Lee, whose father was a personal physician to Mao Zedong, was born in Jakarta and moved with his family to the United States in 1964. He has taught at Northwestern and the University of Iowa, and his 2001 collection, “Book of My Nights” received the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. “Breaking the Alabaster Jar,” published in 2006, is a collection of twelve interviews given by the highly influential writer in which he talks about the forces, personal and political, that have affected his poetry.
29. Laura Kipnis
The Philadelphia Enquirer crowned this Northwestern media studies prof “a younger and more libidinal Susan Sontag,” and she may indeed be among the handful of Americans who could be called “public intellectuals.” The former video artist turned cultural theorist sent heads rolling with her 2003 reexamination of adultery, “Against Love: A Polemic,” and followed it up with a controversial take on women’s issues, “The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability,” (2006). This summer, she comes out with “How to Become a Scandal,” which examines the bizarre phenomenon of “people really wrecking their lives while the rest of us watch and gloat about it.”
30. Achy Obejas
DePaul prof and novelist Achy Obejas offered the world her best work in spring of 2009, the heartbreaking “Ruins,” with Akashic Books. Focused on a family in 1994 Cuba, when the Cuban government allowed anyone to leave the island, the Havana-born author creates a breeding ground for both dreams and grief. Previous Obejas work includes novels “Days of Awe” and “Memory Mambo,” and she also translated Junot Diaz’s award-winning book “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” from English to Spanish. You can’t discount her glowing 2007 chapbook either—in “This Is What Happened in Our Life,” Obejas approaches her poetry with the command of her fiction work.