Chicago's Lit Scene Fans Its Feathers
Everybody knows New Yorkers are delusional, always thinking they’re the greatest. They think they’ve got the best pizza in the world. (Not a chance) They think they’ve got the best sports teams in the world. (Uh, no, but we’re disregarding the Cubs on this one.) They even think they’ve got the best literary scene in the world. (They’re kidding, right?) Sure, NYC’s home to big fancy-shmancy publishing houses, but where in the Big Apple are you going to find a reading series whose goal is to give you a “literary hangover” or a bookstore that shelves the children’s books in the front to keep the kiddies away from the erotica in the back? The correct answer is: Nowhere. Try Chicago. While writers in New York shove and elbow each other to grab the next book deal, writers in Chicago sit back, grab a beer, and enjoy each other’s storytelling.
So here’s a guide to the greatest literary scene in the world.
This goes without saying, but with Creative Nonfiction Week in October, Fiction Writers at Lunch throughout the year, and, of course, the Story Week Festival of Writers in March, Columbia College keeps Chicago’s lit scene pumping.
Harold Washington Library Center
400 S. State St.
The Chicago Public Library regularly hosts free literary events with world-renowned authors. Rushdie, King, Morrison—need we say more?
Printer’s Row Fine & Rare Books
715 S. Dearborn St.
Advertises itself as “a bibliophile’s dream.” With first editions and high quality antiquarian books by Twain, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck, to name a few, there’s more than enough to salivate over. One particularly drool-worthy book is a signed, first edition printing of Ernest Hemingway’s Three Stories & Ten Poems worth $225,000. Can you say “second mortgage?”
3730 N. Clark St.
This landmark music venue also hosts literary events, which include the Windy City Story Slam and, of course, Story Week’s Literary Rock & Roll.
3258 N. Sheffield Ave.
Reading Under the Influence (RUI), one of the most intoxicating (pardon the pun) reading series in Chicago, holds its monthly carousals here among staggering arrays of microbrews.
Women & Children First
5233 N. Clark St.
This indie bookstore rocks the feminist/queer-friendly vibe like nobody’s business.
The Book Cellar
4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.
Nobody knows the meaning of literary community better than The Book Cellar. This Lincoln Square bookstore sponsors book clubs, reading series, and local author nights featuring such literary big shots as Joe Meno and Elizabeth Crane. And besides, the people who work here are just plain nice.
1854 W. North Ave.
Zines, books on politics and revolution, magazines, foreign graphic novels, more zines, and porn comics are just a few of the things you’ll find at this hip, edgy, Wicker Park bookstore. Did we mention zines?
1564 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Myopic has a staggering selection of books (don’t forget to check out the basement), is open late, and has lots of quiet nooks for sitting, reading, or writing. Oh, and the cat’s really friendly, too.
Webster’s Wine Bar
1480 W. Webster Ave.
Red Kiva Lounge
1108 W. Randolph St.
The 2nd Story series holds its events at these venues. Another great Chicago reading series that’s all about eating, drinking, and performance-based storytelling.
1354 W. Wabansia Ave.
Tucked away among factories and various industrial-looking thingies, the Hideout is home to Chicago’s quirkiest lit events, including The Dollar Store reading series, where authors and entertainers read and perform pieces inspired by items bought for a buck.
Ye Olde Innertown Pub
1935 W. Thomas Ave.
Home to Quickies! reading series, where you’ve got exactly five minutes to read an entire work of prose. No excerpts allowed, and definitely no cheating, unless you want to be whistled and shamed off the stage.
The Green Lantern
1151 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Hosts The Parlor monthly reading series which also posts 30-minute podcasts of readings on its Web site. The Green Lantern itself is a gallery and small press that publishes beautiful books by “emerging or forgotten writers.”
Seminary Co-op Bookstore
5757 S. University Ave.
Known as one of the best academic bookstores in the world, Seminary Co-op’s flagship store boasts a dizzying selection of books on the humanities and social sciences. Plus, the employees are incredibly knowledgeable. Seriously, ask them anything.
57th Street Books
1301 E. 57th St.
Another Seminary Co-op bookstore. This one’s got a wider selection of general interest titles. If you’re looking for children’s or young adult books (or someone to read them to you), this is the place to go.
1501 E. 57th St.
Powell’s has two other locations in Chicago, at 2850 N. Lincoln Ave. (773.248.1444) and 828 S. Wabash Ave. (312.341.0748). These bookstores sell used, rare, and discounted books (particularly those of the academic variety)—perfect for the broke student.