Street Smart Chicago

About the Island: The Cuba to Chicago to Cuba to Chicago journeys of writer Achy Obejas

Andersonville, Kenwood, Lit, Literary Venues, News etc. No Comments »

By Tom Lynchkaloian-067

On an unusually warm and muggy evening in early March, a sizeable crowd has gathered at Andersonville’s Women and Children First Bookstore, all here to help celebrate the release of “Ruins,” local author Achy Obejas’ new novel. All seats taken, some are forced to stand in the back, near the table that supports the bottles of champagne and large white cake, with the book’s title and the author’s name scribbled across it in edible coloring. After a few announcements, Achy’s introduced, and she sweetly refers to W&C as “home base”; her reading’s received well-everyone’s here to see her, after all-and afterwards, you get the sense she’s relieved by the audience’s lack of questions, that she’d rather not be at the center, with all eyes on her. Either that or she wants to hit the booze and cake as soon as possible.

“I still get really nervous,” Obejas says. “Nobody believes me when I say that, but I still get insanely nervous about reading.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tip of the Week: Story Week 2009: Part Two

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Columbia College’s Story Week 2009 continues Thursday and Friday, kicking off with an event featuring the school’s playwriting students, who stage scenes from their work, at Film Row Cinema on Wabash. Later in the day at the same venue a panel discussion ensues, titled “On the Rise: Chicago Theater and Beyond,” featuring About Face Theatre Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar, Goodman’s Tanya Palmer and Oobleck Theatre genius Mickle Maher. Friday offers a conversation with “The Girl on the Fridge” author Etgar Keret at Hokin Annex, plus a celebration of F Magazine, with Keret, Mort Castle, Augustus Rose and Betty Shiflett, later in the evening. The big event is Thursday night’s “Literary Rock & Roll” party at Metro, featuring Nami Mun, Lydia Millet and “Lush Life” author Richard Price. You should never miss an opportunity to see Price. (Tom Lynch)

Columbia College’s Story Week 2009 runs through March 20; visit for complete details. 

411: Come Out Come Out Wherever You Are

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The Newberry Library’s latest exhibition, “Hidden Then Found: Women’s Stories from the Newberry Manuscript Collections,” is the result of happenstance. While the library’s special-collections curators were combing through Chicago Daily News reporter Robert J. Casey’s manuscripts, they had stumbled across his wife Hazel MacDonald’s work from the first half of the twentieth century. Realizing that MacDonald, as well as fellow journalists Kay Ashton-Stevens, Emily Hahn and Georgie Anne Geyer, deserve a chance in the spotlight, curators “thought it would be an interesting concept to feature their work and highlight their accomplishments,” says the exhibit’s curator Lisa Janssen. In honor of Women’s History Month, “Hidden Then Found” is a tribute to their struggles as well as their groundbreaking contributions in journalism. The exhibit, which runs through Saturday, showcases the women’s experiences through photographs, newspaper clippings and personal letters. The exhibit is part of the library’s Spotlight Series, “which highlights new materials that the Newberry Library has acquired,” Janssen says.

Duck Soup

Food & Drink, Lit No Comments »

9781416556688By Michael Nagrant

He might eat foie gras on occasion, but even if you’re an animal-rights advocate, there’s no question that Mark Caro is a great human being.  The Chicago Tribune scribe and author of the new book “The Foie Gras Wars” gave a reading at Borders in Lakeview last Thursday. He opened the affair with a duck joke told by his young daughter, which engendered a bout of crying from his other daughter who was a tad jealous of her sibling’s moment in the limelight.

As the father of a 2-year-old, I’m pretty sure I would be terrified and would be shuttling off my son in a similar moment.  Instead, Caro gallantly humored his daughters, and continued to allow their occasional involvement, while he entertained with rapturous story and smartly answered questions for over an hour. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Bin Huntin’

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For a moment, forget about our new president’s vow to hunt and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. What if it’s already been done? In Chicago-bred author George Matheos’ new book, “The Man Who Killed Osama,” the novel’s protagonist, Jake Darren, kills Osma Bin Laden twice. (Bin Laden is actually killed a total of four times during the course of the book.) “The basic assumption of the book is that most Americans, if not most of the world, would love to see Osama killed-many times over,” Matheos says. Matheos’ idea for the book was inspired by numerous news reports that surfaced every so often that Bin Laden might have been dead. “The intention was not to write a book about Osama per se but of the circumstances of his death,” says Matheos. “What would an average American from Chicago do if he had the opportunity to kill Osama?”

Tip of the Week: Story Week 2009

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One of the city’s top literary events of the year, Columbia College’s Story Week begins on Sunday, and as usual features the best of the bunch-students and faculty-of the school, plus some high-profile outsiders, at various events scattered throughout the city. This week kicks off with the “2nd Story: Storytellers” event at Martyrs’ on Sunday night, featuring readings by CP Chang, Molly Each, Deb R. Lewis and Doug Whippo. Saturday features a Q&A with “Blue Angel” author Francine Prose at the Harold Washington Library, plus a reading at Sheffield’s Beer Garden by local crime guy Marcus Sakey. The Nelson Algren Tribute, Tuesday at the Harold Washington, features appearances by Joe Meno, Billy Lombardo, Stephanie Kuehnert, Bayo Ojikutu and J. Adams Oaks. On Wednesday at the Spertus Museum, Rick Kogan discusses Studs Terkel in a tribute to the man, with Donna Seaman, Bill Young, Alex Kotlowitz, Don De Grazia, Drew Ferguson and Ann Hemenway. And that’s just the first half of the festival. (Tom Lynch)

Story Week 2009 runs March 15-20 at various venues. Visit for complete details.

Tip of the Week: Mary Pat Kelly

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An epic novel that documents one family’s emigration from Ireland to the United States during the great potato famine—Chicago, in fact—Mary Pat Kelly’s enormous epic “Galway Bay” paints a picture of the nineteenth-century Irish-American experience with thrilling, if a little overwhelming, results. Let’s face it, though—there was no way this book could’ve been short. Gritty, though not as gritty as “Angela’s Ashes, ” and romantic, though not in an abysmal “Far and Away” way, Kelly weaves her plot with historical intricacies and brilliant observations that could only come from an authority on the subject. Spanning six generations, Kelly’s most impressive feat is her ability to naturally allow space for the passage of time. A former nun, Kelly’s an award-winning documentary filmmaker and former producer on “Good Morning America” and “Saturday Night Live,” plus has a PhD in Irish literature. “Galway Bay” is a meaty novel, rich with color and hope. (Tom Lynch)

Mary Pat Kelly discusses “Galway Bay” March 9 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, and March 11 at Women and Children First, 5233 North Clark, (773)769-9299, 7:30pm. Both events are free.

Where Dreams Lie: Inside the strange compelling worlds of Jesse Ball

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By Tom Lynchjesseball_014

Growing up in Long Island with a father in social service and a librarian mother, Jesse Ball was a hyperactive kid. He was held back in kindergarten as a result—yet, because he showed signs of budding intelligence, he was also enrolled with the gifted students in advanced classes. At one point, he would bounce between special education and elevated study at the same time, one class right after the other. He also liked to draw, vivid doodles of grotesque demons, with such frequency he was sent to see a psychoanalyst. When he was 5, he mailed some drawings to the Queen of England. In response, her Lady in Waiting wrote, “The Queen has asked me to write to tell you she liked your drawing very much…”

Such a colorfully ironic childhood is that of fiction, it’s no wonder Ball grew up to be a writer, though the man himself contends that when he was young the first thing he wanted to be was a garbage man, because, as he puts it, “They get to ride in the back of the truck.” Second was writer. Read the rest of this entry »

Giving the Bissness

Lit, News etc., Rogers Park No Comments »

eulabissEula Biss brings it in “Notes from No Man’s Land, ” her collection of essays published this month. Touted (and praised) as a book about race, “Notes” is that and more. “Opening a different kind of dialogue is where I see a possibility for me to do something meaningful as a writer,” says Biss. Identifying the lack of discussion about race as a “chronic problem” in this country, Biss works to create a conversation where we don’t “police each other so closely,” where we can think clearly about race because “we aren’t afraid of saying the wrong thing or being exposed as racists.” The title essay of “Notes” is about moving to Rogers Park, and while Biss is a relatively recent arrival, she’s already endowed with the signature Second City directness, both outing Chicago as a “hyper-segregated city” and asserting that it will take more than one election to end racism. “Part of my project is to be as forthright as possible,” Biss says. (Meaghan Strickland)

Thug Life

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Raised by real-life gangsters in 1960’s Chinatown, Frank Pulaski has been inspired to compile an art project involving handmade books about gangster life in Chicago. His book, titled “Gangster Lit,” is composed of art and words all cropped and stitched together to tell a visual story. “To my limited knowledge, the three books of ‘Gangster’ comprise the first book-art novel—ever, 84,000 words,” Pulaski says. “There’s lots of book-art stuff out there with plenty of words built into them, but no one has ever made a novel in the book-art form.” With the help of numerous other writers contributing to the project, Pulaski says that the story being told can head in one of any number of directions, all depending on where the next writer wants to go. “‘Gangster’ takes a critical attitude towards most art forms, visual, written or otherwise, asking, ‘What’s all this shit about?’ A gangster stands at the edge and not in the center. A gangster uses his or her head and is always thinking, thinking, thinking…for at the end of the day, it’s all about the ideas.” (Micah McCrary)