Lonnie Walker

Lonnie Walker is celebrating an anniversary of the Wonder Bar. (Chicago Tribune / January 13, 2012)

Through the rain the writers and readers and listeners came, hustling into the Museum of Contemporary Art a few Friday nights ago to be part of an evening billed as "Chicago Classics." It was the final event in the estimable, enlightening and, for its organizers, exhausting six-day long Story Week Writers Festival, produced by Columbia College's Fiction Writing Department.

This was the 16th annual festival and, like the others, it was a feast of events such as readings, conversations, panels, performances and film screenings. This year's star was novelist/filmmaker John Sayles.

Randy Albers, the chair of the college's fiction writing department, founded the festival and has been its tireless champion. It was Albers and I who hatched the idea for this concluding gathering. Until last year, the final Story Week event had been a hit-and-miss affair, consisting of a few writers reading lengthy sections from their own works. I had been to some of these as an audience member and watched a few writers who appeared to have never spoken in public before. I listened to some works that were, frankly, pretty dull.

And so, one night sitting in the Billy Goat Tavern, I suggested this, more or less, to Albers: "Why don't you ask 20 local writers or other folks in the literary community to each select a writer who has influenced their lives or work and then have them read a short — something no longer than five minutes — selection from that author's work?"

This piece ran in full in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email.

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