One Book, One Chicago

After teaching my daughter’s class about DaVinci and making Picasso Portraits with my son’s kindergarten class, I took the train downtown and met up with Ellen Prather of 8 Eyes Photography to walk over to the Harold Washington Library. It was a glorious, sunny afternoon in Chicago, and I was looking forward to the conversation between Audrey Niffenegger and Neil Gaiman, whose book Neverwhere was chosen as this year’s One Book, One Chicago.

Audrey Niffenegger and Neil Gaiman (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

They did not disappoint. After collecting our tickets and posters, Ellen and I found our seats in the second row and waited: watching the crowd and eavesdropping on bits of conversation about Neil and Amanda, Neverwhere, twitter, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Dr. Who.

Following an eloquent introduction by Mary Dempsey and a word from the sponsor (Allstate), Audrey and Neil began with a comfortable conversation about London and “Magic City Books,” as well as the inspiration and evolution of Neverwhere. Neil and Audrey discussed creativity, generosity, readings, and fairy tales (among other things) and then opened up to questions from the audience.

Audrey Niffenegger and Neil Gaiman (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

My favorite of the answers to questions from the audience were those that led Neil and Audrey to talk about their process. As a writer, this is the part of interviews that most interests me. I love hearing about how other people find inspiration and deal with challenges. They talked about “writer’s block” and the ways they circumvent it, and each described a few of the books they are currently reading.

One young boy in my row asked about the inspiration for Coraline, which launched Neil into a conversation of how his daughter Holly (now in her twenties and a milliner in London), would jump up on his lap after school and dictate stories rich and dark and populated by all manner of monsters, ghosts, and other mothers. Unable to find ghost stories for five-year-olds, he decided that he would write some.

The story made me laugh because it reminded me so much of my youngest, my blueberry girl, who is full of scary stories and wild rides of her imagination. It was one of many times that Neil would describe something about his writing process, and I found myself nodding enthusiastically, thinking to myself: I thought only I did that. I thought only I thought that. Always nice to hear those echoes from someone I admire.

Time flew by. It was over in an hour, and Audrey and Neil graciously took their leave.

Neil Gaiman (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)


Chicago Classics and writers who love them

With the busy Words & Wheels weekend in LaCrosse, I didn’t get the chance to blog properly about the Chicago Classics reading.

Happy to be a part the celebration of Chicago literature, I read along with 20 local writers at Lincoln Hall (what used to be the Three Penny Theater back when I was a student at DePaul). It was a diverse and talented group, and I enjoyed listening to the selections from Chicago writers familiar and obscure. That kind of camaraderie is one the reasons I became involved with the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame in the first place, to reconnect.

As readers and audience members waited in the bar for the theater to open, I did a bit of people-watching and had a chance to chat briefly with Rick Kogan, whom I hadn’t seen since the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last Fall, and Randy Albers, who chairs the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago and is the founder of Story Week. I also made the acquaintance of Richard Babcock, the editor of Chicago Magazine, and we had a nice little chat about Chicago theater and Studs Terkel (I had decided to read from Working for my selection. He would read from Sister Carrie.)

Once we were allowed in, folks took their drinks and nibbled from the buffet while standing around and talking. I looked around for familiar faces. A few people with whom I had gone to graduate school at the School of the Art Institute were planning on attending, but I didn’t see them. I looked around for Bayo Ojikutu from DePaul, but he arrived later. Thankfully Audrey Niffenegger was there, and I was able to briefly chat with her. (I look forward to seeing her interview Neil Gaiman next month at one of the events around One Book, One Chicago.)

The program began with an introduction by Randy Albers. Then our charming and witty emcee,  Rick Kogan took over and kept things moving on our tight schedule. Each reader was given approximately five minutes to set up the author and read from the text. Many of the readings I recognized, but a few were new to me. All were a joy to hear. I made note of writers whose works I plan to pick up in the future: Stephen Elliott, Leon Forrest, Cyrus Colter. Most people lingered back in thebar after the event, but I had to rush home to get ready for our early departure to La Crosse the next morning.

I haven’t been able to find a lot of coverage on the event, but here are some highlights from Friday’s Story Week 2011 (the Chicago Classics event begins at 2.00 minutes).

The evening was a wonderful sampling of Chicago’s literary landscape and a reminder of our rich history.  I am proud to be a part of it.