In Thomas Dyja's cultural history of Chicago, "The Third Coast," he writes that in Nelson Algren's day, "being Chicago's Famous Writer was like winning the heavyweight title — there was only one at a time, and you kept the belt for as long as you could beat all comers." That's not true anymore. But while you may know the names of many of the city's heaviest hitters — Gillian Flynn, Chris Ware, Stuart Dybek — Printers Row Lit Fest offers a chance to become familiar with many more. This week's roundup features five Chicago-area authors — some more established than others — who each published debut novels within the past year.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
Little Known Facts by Christine Sneed
What's it like to live in a movie star's orbit? In "Little Known Facts," Christine Sneed examines the lives of the adult children, ex-wives and friends of a Robert Redford-ish celebrity. Curtis Sittenfeld called it "juicy enough to appeal to our prurience but smart enough not to make us feel dirty afterward." Sneed is also the author of the story collection "Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry."
The White Forest by Adam McOmber
This genre-blending debut follows Jane Silverlake, a heroine who can see souls in man-made objects — a talent she finds useful when a friend goes missing after falling in with a secret society. McOmber told Printers Row this year that he'd always been drawn to Gothic fiction; the first adult book he read as a kid was by Edgar Allan Poe. "That's just what appeals to me, those kinds of outsider things," McOmber said. "I feel haunted."
Robinson Alone by Kathleen Rooney
Kathleen Rooney's "Robinson Alone" channels the alter-ego of Weldon Kees, a poet who disappeared in San Francisco in 1955. Rooney, who (like Kees) is a Nebraska native, tells the older poet's story in a novel-in-poems. Rooney is the founder of Rose Metal Press. She also is involved in the Chicago Poetry Bordello series and Poems While You Wait — a service that offers poetry written on demand at street fairs and other events for $5.
The Six Granddaughters of Cecil Slaughter by Susan Hahn
Susan Hahn, a poet and former TriQuarterly editor, told Printers Row this year that in 2003 she declared she'd never write prose again. "All I wanted to do was break it up into a poem," she said. But soon she found herself writing stories about a Rogers Park family during the early 20th century. She realized these stories were meant to be pieced together as "The Six Granddaughters of Cecil Slaughter."
A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal
Benjamin Lytal goes back to his hometown in "A Map of Tulsa," a semi-autobiographical work of fiction. Jim Praley, the book's protagonist, moves out East for college and to work at a magazine, but finds himself drawn back to Tulsa and a woman named Adrienne. But of course, each time Jim returns, he is different — and so, too, is the city and his perception of it.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times