DiverCity: Urban Stories

What makes a city? Bricks and mortar? Steel and glass? Skyscrapers and parks and plazas? Living in the home of Adler and Sullivan and Burnham, we are tempted, as Robert Hughes says of Rome, to see architecture as the feature that "gives [cities] their character. It is a thing in the world, irrefutably present. . . ." And certainly, in one sense, the buildings and public spaces of Chicago do constitute a story—especially one of a city that rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871.

But a city is more than its architecture or its public spaces or its infrastructure. Above all, a city is its people and the stories, real and imagined, that through which they tell their lives, their histories, their cultures, their relationships, and their place in the world. Stories define our identities, mark us as members of a community (or our many communities), and help us find meaning in our lives. They express our hopes, fears, desires, and disappointments, individually and collectively. Our shared stories shape our understanding of the city of which we are a part and help us see the place of that community in a wider social and historical context.

Stories demarcate our territory and our differences, one from another, but they also have the potential for promoting understanding among diverse populations, for helping us cross the borders that divide us (especially in this most segregated of American cities), and for creating a more unified sense of purpose and hope for our urban landscape. We are then, above all, a city of words. And in this year's Story Week, we celebrate the power of urban stories to foster a better future through the manifold visions that writers, performers, filmmakers, and other artists appearing at this year's festival will share with us.

Those stories will come to us from Chicago's wonderfully diverse neighborhoods, but also from elsewhere in the Midwest and from such far-flung cities as Havana, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Mexico City, Port-Au-Prince, and others. We will see cities of words constructed that are historical, modern, post-modern, and post-apocalyptic. And along the way, we will no doubt hear a few tales from the rural hinterland, too, which throw our urban stories into relief. All of these offerings—in fiction, creative nonfiction, poems, plays, films, songs, and visual images—will continue Story Week's 18-year mission, namely, to bring the very best and most diverse group of writers and artists at work today to our city in order to foster our own individual and collective vision by challenging us to see and think and act in new ways.

As in years past, we will present work by established, acclaimed authors from Chicago, the nation, and points beyond alongside writing by emerging authors who represent the path to the future. In addition to readings, conversations, and panels, we will continue to offer longstanding, exciting events back by popular demand, such as the opening-night 2nd Story reading, the Publishing Panel, our signature Metro Literary Rock and Roll show mixing words and music, and Chicago Classics, hosted by Rick Kogan, which features writers, lit people, and other notable personalities from diverse professions reading short excerpts from their favorite Chicago authors. This year, we are also offering some new wrinkles, such as the Writers Bootcamps, led by an agent, an editor, a publicist, a reviewer, and a publisher, each of whom will give tips on getting published and promoting work in the wider world, and a "come one, come all" open mic in which everyone is invited to read a short piece of creative work, an event very much in keeping with Story Week's populist emphasis.

We are especially happy this year to be partnering with Chicago's extraordinary Guild Complex to present a number of events leading up to and during the festival that showcase works by Latino and Caribbean authors, an initiative fostered by a generous grant from the Chicago Community Trust. This series marks the kickoff of a long-term project over the coming years to highlight work by underrepresented groups of writers, extending Story Week's attempt to reach out even further into Chicago's neighborhoods in order to promote the voices of writers and the importance of reading.

We are also, of course, very grateful for the wonderful support offered by the Illinois Arts Council, the Illinois Humanities Council, and the Driehaus Foundation, all of whom have been instrumental in ensuring Story Week's survival and forward movement during difficult economic times for the arts. In addition to Columbia College Chicago, we also thank those of you who have shown your support for Story Week through individual contributions.

Over its long history, Story Week has become the best and most diverse festival of its kind in Illinois. As a free series of events that encourages audience participation, it is also one of the most welcoming. So welcome to Story Week! We thank all of you for your own participation and encourage you to join in the dialogue with our remarkable range of authors, performers, editors, publishers, agents, reviewers, and other creative types, in the process feeling your own creativity emerging.

We know that you will enjoy the presentations, but we also hope that you will be inspired to sharpen your own vision, to tell your own stories, and to take the festival's conversation out into the streets, into your own communities. In so doing, you will join with others at Story Week in helping to build an even greater city of words in the future, one that recognizes the great strength in diversity and that encourages us to work toward creating a better, more peaceful, more generous, and more understanding world.

Randall Albers
Founding Producer, Story Week Festival of Writers
Professor, Chair Emeritus
Department of Creative Writing
Columbia College Chicago