These twenties are roaring with a different clamor than the last decade to follow a global pandemic, at least in arts and letters. What does the advent of artificial intelligence mean for the future of human creation, or even existence? What will come out of the other side of the biggest Hollywood strike, encompassing both writers and actors, in sixty years? And does technology portend the body public succumbing to a body electronic?
Our role in the world seems increasingly ephemeral, which is why so many of us take refuge in the endurability of words on paper, whether in novels, poems, essays or biographies. And Chicago’s role in the world of literature has never been stronger, with many writers hitting the bestseller list in the last year, including several on this year’s Lit 50 list, as well as Hall of Famers like Rebecca Makkai and Jonathan Eig. And the poetry! So many great poets in a city where poetry has its own shrine and is revered in a way that seems like a dream. And our own poet laureate!
And yet, these times. Who would have imagined that so much of the country would, in this age, wage war on the written word, attacking books, libraries and even librarians for daring to exist?
Which is why it’s a dream realized to have a library like we do here in the Chicago Public Library, where its response to the national censorship movement is to declare itself a sanctuary for controversial books and to display them front and center. Our library is celebrating its 150th birthday right now, a heritage that dates back to the Great Conflagration that consumed this then-young city. As challenging as these times are, think about that: one of the primary concerns then, in a time of mass homelessness and destroyed livelihoods, was to make sure we had books.
In these twenties, the future of the library is an ongoing discussion. But its role and its relationship to the community is more vital than ever, which is why we are so thrilled to have done the photo shoots for Lit 50 inside the walls of its flagship, the Harold Washington Library. And we’re confident that it, and the books that fill its shelves, will be just as vital in the next century, too. (Brian Hieggelke)
Lit 50 2023 is written by Donald G. Evans, Billy Lombardo and Mary Wisniewski.
All photos by Sandy Morris | Sally Blood Photo.
Shot on location at the Harold Washington Library.