Head to City Lit for a Bibliotherapy Session

Last weekend, I made my first visit to City Lit Books in Logan Square. This was exciting for a number of reasons: First, I finally live in Chicago (not the suburbs) and I am determined to visit every independent bookstore I haven’t been to yet (and hence also write many more posts on this site). Second, I feel a little tied to City Lit as the founder of LitCity. And third, this month they’re featuring a Book Apothecary, curated by bibliotherapists.

I’ve always been a supporter of therapy and a lover of books, so I was naturally thrilled about this concept. After interviewing a number of independent publishers in the Chicago area*, I found their answers to “Why is reading so important?” the most interesting. All of them said, in some form, that reading develops empathy — it feeds the soul. This resonated with me, as I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many people I’ve met who say they “don’t like reading” or “can’t remember the last time they read a book” seem to be lacking just a bit in the empathy area. Or perhaps that’s just my lack of empathy for non-book lovers. Either way, reading truly is one of the easiest methods to access different perspectives and experiences from your own.

We’re also comforted when reading because we suddenly feel a little less alone. We see there are others who experience the same frustrations and pains we do. And then sometimes we see that maybe our struggles aren’t so bad or so difficult to overcome — we’re inspired by the stories of others who overcame greater odds.

On a Saturday evening, City Lit opened its doors to those looking for a little comfort, and invited five writers to read from works they would prescribe. Kyle Beachy, Rebecca Makkai, Kathleen Rooney, Martin Seay and Christine Sneed all read from their selections and highlighted the ailments they hoped these books might help.

Immediately following the readings, bibliotherapists were available to hear about your ailments and prescribe their literary treatments. At the front of the bookstore were shelves of books marked “bibliotherapy” and matched with common maladies. It is this extra touch that I loved and that will bring me back to the store. It would have been easy for these to just have been a series of readings, but the personalization really made it feel like the store had an interest in both sharing great works and getting to know its customers.

On hand as the bibliotherapist that night was writer Ben Tanzer. I’ve seen Ben’s name attached to a number of local literary events, so I think it is safe to say he is a Chicago literary scene celebrity. I trusted him to give good recommendations, and he didn’t fail. My boyfriend and I came to him with our ailment of “Perfectionism,” mine leaning toward excessive people-pleasing. He recommended something a little edgier, a little less perfectly pleasing, and with a little humor. As any good book lover and bibliotherapist would do, his recommendation led to several other recommendations, until we had a pretty full prescription card (yes, the bibliotherapists actually had their own version of prescription pads). He assessed what types of books each of us liked to read and what might match our personalities. Among those he recommended to me are, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres, “Once I Was Cool” by Megan Stielstra, and “Meaty” by Samantha Irby. I’ve officially added these all to my reading list.

In addition to more books, I’ve also discovered another bookstore I’ll be making frequent visits to. City Lit is great space for intimate literary events and leisurely book browsing, all supported by a friendly and engaged staff. The Book Apothecary is running now until the end of April, so make sure to stop in for your prescription!

 

*So, it’s now been about four years since I interviewed these independent publishers and I’ve yet to follow through on my promise to share these clips on this website. I’ve also claimed I’d make several comebacks and revamp this website. I once had interns. But the 9-to-5 life took over, so I’ve decided to take this all is it comes and am posting when inspired. You may one day actually see these videos…or they’ll be so old that I’ll end up recording new ones and sharing them with you. Either way, it’s a win.

Guts & Glory Reading Series

Samantha Irby reading from her Love Letter to White People

Samantha Irby reading from her Love Letter to White People

Location + Time:

On June 18, 2014 I attended the Guts & Glory live lit event at Schubas Tavern located on 3159 N Southport Ave.— a third Wednesday of the month series featuring storytellers spilling their guts through prose, essays, and poetry.

Atmosphere + Feel:

The show took place in Schubas upstairs room. Walking up the wooden stairs to the right of the entrance made me feel like I belonged to a secret club. Upon entering, I immediately cursed myself because even though the room was a decent size, every folding chair had been taken or somebody had laid their light saber-length umbrella across the row. Thankfully, a fully stocked bar sat to the left helped me forget about my rain-sodden shoes, and I found an unoccupied large leather chair situated in the back of the room. I suggest arriving thirty minutes prior to avoid being the individuals standing in the corners of the room.

The venue was dimly lit, with a string of fairy lights strung around the performer’s stage. Overall, the upstairs room felt intimate, reminding me of the secret room I had just entered, and the secrets the performers were about to share.

Performers + Quality:

As the Facebook event promised, this spoken lit series was all about “badass storytellers telling badass stories.” Those badass storytellers included Kate Duva, John Burger, Renee Albrecht-Mallinger, Samantha Irby, Janna Sobel, Dina Walters, and Keith Ecker. Topics ranged from infertility and abortion, to identity and class social structure, to bachelorette parties and popping doodoo bubbles. Each story was highly personal, but related in such an informal, refreshing way. The audience felt free to converse with the speaker, as the speaker felt free to break from their reading and laugh or point out an audience member. This structure may not appeal to everyone, but I found it lovely and refreshing to be able to move about, laugh, and generally not feel as if I were listening to a eulogy. The whole performance felt as if I were sharing secrets with friends.

John Burger, as he retells the tale of love and 'doodoo bubbles'

John Burger, as he retells the tale of love and ‘doodoo bubbles’

Kate Duva reading a graphic story about a bachelorette party gone awry.

Kate Duva reading a graphic story about a bachelorette party gone awry.

The Marble Room Reading Series

Location + Time:
On April 13, 2014, at 4 PM, I attended the Marble Room Reading Series, a third Sunday of the month series, located at Wicker Park’s The Parlor. $5 at the door, the venue/location is located at 1434 N. Western Ave.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The Marble Room, started by writer and professor Kathleen Rooney and Olivia Lilley and co-curated by Timothy Moore, began on June 16, 2013. By far, this series was one of the most enjoyable, laid-back, and engaging reading events I have been to in all of Chicago. Whether I am biased because Kathleen Rooney was my former professor at DePaul University makes little difference (okay, maybe it makes some difference). Upon walking into the space, I was immediately welcomed and thanked for attending. The space itself feels like a living room because, well, it is a living room! This characteristic makes a huge difference in the listener’s comfort level. There was something so intimate and rewarding about the setting, certainly something that sets The Marble Room apart. Rooney, Lilley, and Moore encouraged attendees to have cheese and crackers, wine, and cake while we watched, grinning, with the alertness of a deer. Yes, cake. Yes, a deer. Leave the stuffiness at the door.

Performers + Quality:
Aside from a warmth and intimacy permeating from the space itself, the handful of readers were absolutely fantastic. They included Angela Narciso Torres, author of her first book of poetry, Blood Orange, Kathleen Rooney herself, author of her debut novel, O, Democracy!, Ladan Osman, author of her chapbook, “Ordinary Heaven”, and David Maclean, author to his memoir, The Answer to the Riddle is Me. All readers were varied in their styles but still engaging in their own distinct ways, as attendees (a full crowd) soaked in poetry and prose, fiction, non-fiction, and something in-between. That something in-between is what kept us wanting. An unceasing, ongoing want.

Wit Rabbit Reading Series

Location + Time:
On February 4, 2014, I attended the Wit Rabbit Reading Series located at Quencher’s Saloon, on the corner of Fullerton and Western in Logan Square – first Tuesday of the month series that showcases prose, poetry, and other dramatic written genres.

Atmosphere + Feel:
Upon walking into the space, there appears to be two separate rooms dictated by a red curtain: the bar area and the performance area. The bar space has a popcorn dispenser (because really, what good is a bar without popcorn?), various intermingling smells, a calendar/chalkboard of monthly events, flags and beers associated with that particular country, a small bookshelf lined with newspapers and magazines and, last but not least, the head of a deer overlooking the bar counter (and giving the patrons a death stare). The overall vibe in this room is friendly and energetic and I appreciated its vibrancy without any tangible sense of over-crowdedness.

The stage/performance area is separated by a curtain and upon gliding in, the room here isn’t too large and isn’t too small. There is a quaint intimacy evident but it is still a breathable and accessible space. There are a few benches, stools, and tables along the perimeter with a general open standing area in the middle. It is mostly dimly lit with several blue and orange spotlights directed onto the mounted stage area. There are bar beer handles situated atop the perimeter of the ceiling, a piano in the corner, a ‘Quencher’s Ave’ sign, a large mirror on one wall, a TV in the corner, cathedral-like panels on the ceiling, large speakers above the stage, and a chalkboard of the day’s readers/performers. All of these details certainly do not overwhelm; rather, there is much to appreciate aesthetically here.

Performers + Quality:
Although one reader was not able to make it to this event due to inclement snowy weather, the host was quite gracious for everyone who was in attendance: “Thanks for being here in the slushy advent of February!” + “Thanks for braving the elements!” While some performers read directly from passages in their own books, others read from poetry collections and first-person non-fiction essays. I enjoyed the variety of genre and though some readers chose to explain their work more heavily than others (due to their teaching background), most readers were vibrant and engaging.

Editors Speak at StoryStudio Chicago

Maria and Panelists

Maria Hlohowskyj, Brian Solem, Ben Tanzer, Sarah Dodson

On what was a warmer-than-usual Saturday afternoon this March, StoryStudio Chicago hosted a panel of local literary magazine editors in their comfortable loft space in Ravenswood. The room quickly filled up with writers, taking every available seat, and all of them eager to hear what editors had to say about the submission process. The panel of experts included: Sarah Dodson, executive director of MAKE Literary Productions; Ben Tanzer, director of publicity & content strategy for Curbside Splendor; and Brian Solem, co-founder and editor of graze.

Storystudio Chicago’s Creative Programs Manager (and DePaul MAWP alum) Maria Hlohowskyj served as the moderator. Being a writer herself, Maria asked all the pressing questions writers might have had about submitting work to these well-known and respected Chicago magazines.

The panel was a great excuse for me to get out and discover the wonderful resource that is StoryStudio Chicago. It feels like a writer’s space the moment you walk in, and it was the perfect spot to drop by on a Saturday afternoon to hear from local literary leaders. I found two interesting pieces came out of this event for me: Of course, the first was insight into the submission process, and second was the growing collaborative community now forming around Chicago literary ventures.

When it comes to the submission process, here’s what we learned:

  • Always read the magazine before you decide to submit.
  • Most editors seem to prefer digital submissions these days, but they’ll always want to produce a physical copy in the end.
  • It’s okay to follow up with editors about your submission.
  • Get out to events and meet the people who run the magazines you like and want to submit to.

I found the last tip the most fascinating, and it certainly hints at this community that is forming in Chicago. Ben Tanzer was the first to mention that he enjoys meeting the writers, and he also said writers should be submitting their work now because this is a very exciting time for the literary scene in Chicago. It’s becoming greater and bigger, he said, and you should submit so you can be a part of something great. We should try to have as many people as possible be a part of it, and I couldn’t agree more.

All of these editors were clearly friends in the journey. I asked how they worked together, if these literary leaders were as collaborative as they seemed to me, and they all agreed this is something they are in together. They root for each other’s success, and Brian mentioned that the other panelists were inspirations to him as his co-founder and he worked to build Graze.

After the panel, the editors stayed and talked to each person who had questions or comments to share with them, and they were among the last people to leave. This is not something many panelists at events I’ve been to have done with such enthusiasm — often editors can seem inaccessible or unapproachable. But in this exciting time for writing and literature in Chicago, it’s clear that we’re about to enter a far more collaborative space, one that values writers, editors, and readers alike. After all, we all have one common goal: sharing our stories with the people who want — and possibly even need — to hear them most.

Be sure to check out Curbside Splendor, MAKE magazine, and graze magazine. And to learn more about StoryStudio Chicago, visit their website and drop by their free class open house event on Thursday, March 27th at 6 PM.

Panelists Talking

The panelists stayed after to talk with the writers.

PanelCrowd

The panelists spoke to a room full of writers

Essay Fiesta (February)

Location + Time:
On February 17, 2014, I attended the monthly literary reading series Essay Fiesta, located at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. This event starts at 7 PM on every third Monday of the month.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The last time I went to Essay Fiesta at The Book Cellar, it was in the glorious tresses of a fall October and it was themed as mostly Halloween-esque. This time around, the bookstore was neutral in its theme but ever so vibrant, as always. Although not as many people were in attendance as last time around, most seats were filled and there was still a lot of energy in the room. Hosts Willy Nast and Karen Shimmin certainly did not fail in bringing the funny: they began with their unique Essay Fiesta theme song, Nast on an accordion, Shimmin singing and on a mini xylophone. Basically pure magic. One aspect about the reading series I appreciate is the charitable donations to 826CHI, a non-profit organization for children/young adults between the ages of 6-18 in support of the growth of their writing skills. What more could you want from a FREE event that also supports the excellence and success of our youth?

Performers + Quality:
When the clapping and excitement commenced, the six readers performed various real-life accounts of a particularly serious, sentimental, or humorous event in their lives. Both hosts performed as well, sharing stories that are always engaging. I appreciated how some of the performers took the time to consider their audience and engage/react to them, such as blurting out, “Everyone’s making faces!” which got a laugh out of the crowd. Simply put, Essay Fiesta is thoughtful, warm, and cozy, just like your favorite blanket. It is almost impossible to have a bad time here.

LitCity312 Review: That’s All She Wrote

Location + Time:
On February 9, 2014, I attended the That’s All She Wrote reading series located at their new venue The Savoy in Wicker Park – every 2nd Sunday of the month event featuring non-fiction essays.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The new home of That’s All She Wrote is a snazzy oyster and absinth bar and restaurant on Milwaukee Ave. Upon walking into the eating area, I was immediately immersed in an array of warmth and fancy. The hostess led me to the back nook of the restaurant to a curtained-off room. Here is where all the magic happened! I was surprised by how small the actual audience and pseudo-stage area really was, but this wasn’t necessarily a negative trait. I enjoyed the intimate feel of the arrangement. The walls are adorned with brick and the long and short tables laid out along the perimeter are made of cherry dark wood and the leather bench on one side is like something out of a Z Gallerie boutique. The most striking part of the entire space is the long, vertical beautiful paintings of various women on the opposing walls. They seemed to have a mysterious, melancholy mood and are enhanced by the candle-light that quietly illumines the room. This is truly a very adult atmosphere. I was mostly impressed by the bar manager who approached everyone who attended the event (including me), asking if they are able to consume alcohol. Moments later, he revealed a tray of absinth/cocktail shots (called miniature Moscow mules), free of charge for everyone! It was not long before the faint trickle of oyster and alcohol enveloped the room in a warm embrace. Although I didn’t quite enjoy the taste (it was a conglomeration of flavor, floral and otherwise), I certainly appreciated the thought and gesture. I realized then that The Savoy planned this celebration of sorts because this was the re-launch of the series at its new home.

Performers + Quality:
Although there were some technical microphone difficulties that ate up a lot of time at the start of the event, the hosts and the audience took it in stride until everything was eventually taken care of. At one point, I overheard one of the hosts say, “There is a pubic hair” (on the microphone). This, of course, made everyone laugh. By the time the event went underway, the six readers all provided real-life anecdotes of a particular moment(s) in their lives. I was impressed by how funny and theatrical some of the performers ended up being. I also appreciated how there was generally a very good balance between serious subject matters and light-hearted subject matters. It made for a well-rounded reading series, bound to please most audience members in one capacity or another.

Open Door!

Location + Time:

On February 18, 2014, I attended the Poetry Foundation’s monthly literary reading series Open Door! On the third Tuesday of every month the Poetry Foundation on 61 W Superior St. invites two professors and two students from Chicago universities to read their work.  The event starts at 7:00pm sharp.

Atmosphere + Feel:

The event took place at the Poetry Foundation on the Near North Side of Chicago. The multi-million dollar building boasts a library and an event hall. The readings happened in the event hall. The hall was very modern with full glass walls looking out into the city. It is a sheek affair and attracts a crowd. It’s also free so for those looking for a cheap night this would be perfect! The night I attended there had to be a least 100 people in attendance. The crowd mostly consisted of students and Poetry Foundation members. Some people were nicely dressed in full suits but there is not a formal dress code. I got to the event ten minutes before 7:00 and it was almost filled up, so get there early! Also don’t be late because the doors will be closed and the event starts at 7:00 on the dot. While a little more formal then other events we have reviewed on LitCity, this event is a great way to see up and coming writers, both students and professors in the city of Chicago.

Performance + Quality

The event featured two professors and two students that those professors believed were exemplary writers. The two professors were Quraysh Ali Lansana of Chicago State University and Lisa Fisherman of Columbia College. The two students were Keith Wilson of Chicago State University and Amy Lipman of Columbia College. All four of these writers were tremendous. Each of the writers were unique with completely differently styles of their own. Quaraysh, Lisa, and Amy mostly focused on poetry while Keith Wilson read an epic poem on Nat Turner. The writer who stole the night though was Quaraysh Ali Lansana. His short but hilariously witty poems are fun but thought provoking. His hysterical poem on the contents of an actual memo handed out to English Professors at CSU had the crowd rolling. Be sure to check out Quaraysh’s work and upcoming book, Wal-Mart Republic. All in all, if you want to see remarkable young writers churning out some really interesting poems, then go to this event. It’s a great way for these students to gain some exposure for their work!

 

Homolatte!

Location + Time:

On February 4, 2014, I attended the reading series Homolatte at Big Chicks in Uptown. This reading series featuring LGBTQ writers runs the first and third Tuesday of every month at 7:30.

Atmosphere + Feel:

Big Chicks is essentially a bar and a diner. The reading series took place in the diner. The diner had approximately 25 tables so it’s a decently big place. The decorations throughout the diner were a little cheesy but it felt like a classic, cozy diner. I arrived at 7:20 and got a seat near the makeshift stage. The event didn’t start until 8:00. Because it was a rather cold night, the event was intimate. There were about 10 people at the event including the two writers. While it had small crowd, it felt like a personal reading. I can imagine in the summer this event would be more crowded. It is free series, so if you’re on a budget, this would be a perfect event! They do encourage you to order food (which was very good) and drink to support the series. They send around a donation bucket where you can throw a couple bucks to the readers of the night, as the event is free. This was predominantly a LGBTQ bar and event but they obviously welcome any sexual orientation! As a whole, it’s a very quaint but inviting atmosphere.

Performers+Quality

The event was hosted and curated by Scott Free. Scott Free is a fun, eccentric musician. He started the night by playing his own music, which was average but entertaining. The two featured writers of the night were Nicki Gee and Monica Del Castillo. Nicki focused primarily on poetry while Monica focused on songwriting. They were quality writers and had very excellent material. The content of the poetry and writing was primarily LGBTQ-based, which was great to hear! The performances as a whole took an hour. It was rather short performances but it kept you interested the whole time! I would recommend this event to anybody who wants to hear from quality LGBTQ writers.

LitCity312 Review: Uptown Poetry Slam!

Location + Time:

On January 26th 2013, I attended the Uptown Poetry Slam at the famous Green Mill Cocktail Club. Every Sunday from 7-10, Marc Smith and Company hold an open mic including a featured artist and a slam competition. 

Atmosphere + Feel:

The venue feels straight out of the 1930s. Half-crescent booths and white cloth tables are scattered through the floor. As I walked in the brute bouncer asked for my I.D. and seven dollars. After paying, I rushed to find a seat, seeing that the place was filling up quick. Other than the fifteen or so table booths, the venue had a large bar for you to grab a quick cocktail. I got to Green Mill quarter to seven and the only seats available were at the bar, so get there early if you want to grab a booth. The place itself is pretty large with a stage at the end with two mics and a band. The band played smooth jazz throughout the night. The lighting was low so it was hard to get a look at most of the audience, but generally it was people in their 20s and 30s. It wouldn’t be the best place to bring your kids especially because of the vulgarity on stage. Green Mill doesn’t serve food but feel free to bring your food, they welcome it! As a whole the atmosphere was really relaxed and it’s definitely a place to bring a larger group. 

Performers + Quality
 

The event started right at 7:00pm exactly. The eccentric, but famous Chicago Slam Poet Founder Marc Smith ran onto stage. From the start you could tell this was a very audience-involved event. People would yell at Marc and he would yell back. They had chants and phrases only true regulars would know, but it doesn’t feel too intimidating for first timers. The event started out with newcomers getting a chance to read their poems. Poets got to decide if they wanted the jazz band to play behind them while they perform. Cliché as it sounds, it really did make the poetry sound more artsy. The one unique part of this open mic is that the audience has a say if the poet can keep on reading. If the audience starts snapping they want the poet to stop. If the audience starts stomping, they want more. The quality of the beginners was hit and miss but in general it was fun to just be a the part of the audience. After a short intermission, the featured poet, Joel Chmara, performed his slam poetry. He was the hit of the night with strange but hilarious poems such as “You Are What You Drink.” After Joel was a slam completion. Each participant had three minutes to recite their poetry and each poet would get a score from the audience, one to ten. The event as a whole was hysterical. As an audience member, you felt as if you were on the stage and you get a wide variety of very good slam poets. I recommend this place to anybody that wants to see the birthplace of slam and get a taste what the city offers!