Co-director, MA/MFA in Creative Writing program at Northwestern University
Sandi Wisenberg continues to lead the Masters in Creative Writing program at Northwestern along with Reginald Gibbons, and more recently became the “unofficial publisher” of Triquarterly Online, the student-edited web journal that took the place of the venerable print publication in 2010. As a writer, Wisenberg continues her prolific and eclectic output, with parts of a forthcoming novel and a prose poem about Passover among her recent publications. But she’s not limiting herself to the traditional bounds of academia, by any means: she says she’s going to be decorating the window at the Lakeview Food Pantry, marking her “first foray into window-dressing.”
Founder and Executive Director, Open Books
Creating a literary Chicago depends upon grooming the next generation of readers—and if Stacy Ratner has anything to say about it, the city’s in good hands. As the founder and commander of Open Books, she’s fighting illiteracy one (used) book at a time: since its launch in 2006, the non-profit has used the proceeds from their donation-stocked second-hand bookstore to fund various literacy initiatives. This summer, Ratner and company will be debuting the latest arm of their venture. True to its name, the ReadThenWrite program matches teens with mentors who’ll guide them through immersive reading projects, then help them pen and publish their own newly-inspired prose.
Founder and Director, StoryStudio Chicago
When she wanted a place to hang out with her fellow writers, develop as a writer and be somewhere that helped cultivate her writing, Jill Pollack discovered such a place didn’t exist in Chicago. It was 2003 and she had closed her consulting business to pursue writing full-time. When she couldn’t find the place, she made it. Jill Pollack is the founder of StoryStudio Chicago, which is now hitting the ripe old age of eight and serving more than 650 writers each year. StoryStudio helps aspiring artists in Chicago grow in their craft of writing, and Pollack is the gardener behind it all. “Looking further into the future, StoryStudio’s goals include having three robust locations in Chicagoland and a thriving mix of classes and events for the amazing writers who come through our doors,” Pollack says. She also notes that September brings the new “Writers in Training at StoryStudio” program for writers in grades 6 to 12. “After that?” she says, “Maybe we’ll get some sleep.” The pillow may have to wait, since in her spare time, Pollack has been a major force in the creation of the rapidly growing Chicago Literary Alliance.
It was crass. It was hilarious. It was performance art. If art is the marriage of content and form, then this was—as the man himself might have put it—a “fucking masterpiece.” For the five months it ran, the then-anonymous @MayorEmanuel was a testament to the possibilities of the medium. It wasn’t the first faux-twitter feed, but it may well have been the best. Shortly after the election, the secret was out: the genius behind the madcap satire of Chicago politics was none other than Columbia College journalism prof Dan Sinker. @MayorEmanuel is hardly his first mark on the Chicago literary scene. He’s the founder of the legendary Punk Planet, a more-than-music magazine that chronicled the progressive underground from 1994 until its tragic folding in 2007, and the brains behind CellStories, a collection of smartphone-accessible fiction launched in 2009. For the moment, though, his other projects are on what he calls a “@MayorEmanuel-imposed hiatus,” as he puts the finishing touches on a compendium of the tweets, due out from Scribner this fall. “It’s crazy,” he says. “I’ve done so many projects in my time, and this is the one that’s truly broken through. I still kind of scratch my head. But it’s incredibly fun.”
Susan Page Tillett
Executive Director, Ragdale Foundation
Susan Page Tillett is as much a curator of Illinois history as she is a sculptor of its cultural future. She has worked with the Chicago Historical Society and has spent the last eleven years as the executive director of the Ragdale Foundation, one of the largest artist communities in the country. The Ragdale Foundation provides a massive creative space for artists of any stripe to work at the fifty-acre plot of Lake Forest’s historic Ragdale House. Since 1976, the artists who have passed through the sprawling estate include Audrey Niffenegger, writer of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and Elizabeth Alexander, who was chosen by President Barack Obama to compose a poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” to read at his 2009 inauguration.
Social Media Manager, Chicago Tribune
Amy Guth has her hand in many literary cookie jars, and is building an ever-growing presence in the Chicago world of words. She began running the locally focused Printers Row book section of the Chicago Tribune’s website in 2009, co-hosted the “Alex and Amy” weekend radio show on WGN 720, has one published novel (2006’s “Three Fallen Women”), and is now working on another. Around all that she’s made time to write sketch productions at Second City Training Center, found the Pilcrow Lit Fest and co-host the popular reading series Reading Under the Influence, where guests are invited to take a shot before reciting both famous and original pieces.
Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen
Co-Owners, Women & Children First
They may be promoting their ebook sales these days, but some things never change: above all, says co-owner Christophersen, “our job is to be on hand to help customers find the book that’s right for them at this particular moment.” Over the past thirty-two years, the pair have built their feminist bookstore into an Andersonville icon, equal parts progressive bastion and literary haven. “We’ve always thought of feminism very broadly,” she says, explaining her and Bubon’s role as largely curatorial: the goal is to follow (and sometimes, lead) cultural shifts through an evolving inventory of books exploring those new ideas. In addition to their usual lineup of between ten and fourteen events every month, the pair are in the midst of gearing up for this fall’s Women Writer’s Festival—a weekend conference of literary ladies—which they’re hoping will become an annual highlight.
Co-director, MA/MFA in Creative Writing program at Northwestern University
Poet, translator, critic, fiction writer, English prof—and, opposite wife Cornelia Spelman, half of one of the city’s literary power couples—Gibbons fires on all cylinders: he writes, he writes about writing, and he grooms the next generation of writers. Since his ninth collection “Slow Trains Overhead: Chicago Poems and Stories,” came out last spring, he’s been focused on brewing new projects. “A book of poems, also a book about poetry, and some fiction,” are all in the works, he reports. And while Gibbons finds inspiration in the city, he also inspires it: along with fellow Lit 50 vet Sandi Wisenberg, the former TriQuarterly editor co-heads Northwestern’s creative writing MFA.
Co-founder, publisher, Third World Press
Undaunted by his clash with Chicago State University, Madhubuti found a new home in academia last year as the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Professor at DePaul University. Madhubuti resigned from his teaching position at Chicago State University in April of 2010 after he was removed from the staff of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing. Madhubuti, who had been director at the center he co-founded, said he chose to leave after the head of the school, Dr. Wayne Watson, asked him to teach four courses a semester instead of one as well as removing him from the staff of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center. Madhubuti concerned he wouldn’t have time to write, left the school. (His Third World Press is the largest black-owned publisher in the United States, and his own “Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?” has sold more than a million copies.) Presumably, at DePaul, Madhubuti had time to both teach and write—this year, he taught two courses on art and race and the Black Arts Movement and held faculty and public lectures.
Director, UIC Graduate Program for Writers
Cris Mazza, known widely for her career as a novelist with a catalog of more than ten books featuring frank and honest depictions of female sexuality (and, ironically, for coining the term chick-lit), has also spent the last eighteen years as the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Graduate Program for Writers. There her focus is on fostering young writing talent and preparing them for life as a professional, making UIC a haven for authors-to-be. The program, which has graduated numerous published authors, is aimed at not only developing novels-in-progress, but also teaching them everything from editing anthologies to running their own literary magazine.