Guide Bliss and Other Short Stories (Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction)

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I was lucky to grow up knowing that writing stories was something I did well. My first real publication happened when I was an undergraduate pursuing an English degree. Stan asked if I would sign his copy of the journal in which my story appeared. Unfortunately, they wanted a novel, and all I had was a handful of stories. I talked about this with Stan during our meeting, how I wanted to publish more stories, and put together a book, how I needed to begin a novel. Stan had listened, and sipped his coffee, and then held up his hand, Whoa! He eyed me, bemused.

I felt an enormous urgency to produce, to embark on a career. The novel was what they wanted, and what I felt I must provide. That was over twenty years ago. What intervened was a lot of writing and waiting. Form letters of rejection, and hand-written notes of regret.

Bliss and Other Short Stories

Correspondence with editors, like C. I attended college classes, wrote one novel, then another, and another. Four novels in all. In those years I like to think that I acquired other talents besides writing. I received my Ph. I had my third child. I made lunches in the morning, cleaned house, did school pick-ups and drop-offs, revisited lost high school subjects like Algebra, and taught freshman composition. I made sure my stories were out in the world, even if it was just a small, literary world. I took pleasure in their being read. How the Dead Dream is a haunting novel about suffering of animals as humankind becomes the dominant force on the planet and we enter an age of extinction.

A profoundly humanist and satirical writer in the constellation that includes Twain, Vonnegut, Murakami, and DeLillo, Millet is a write ascending. Audrey Niffenegger Audrey Niffenegger, a Chicago writer and an artist who makes fine art books the old-fashioned way, is best-known for her first novel, the internationally acclaimed bestseller novel, The Time Traveler's Wife , an evocative blend of science fiction and straight-ahead literature. Niffenegger's stunningly moody prints possess the sly gothic subversion of Edward Gorey, the emotional valence of Edvard Munch, and her own brilliant use of iconographic pattern, surprising perspective, and tensile line in the service of a delectably otherworldly sensibility.

This conversation took place in September Harry Mark Petrakis Harry Mark Petrakis is a quintessential Chicago storyteller, one of the most compelling and venerable writers ever to walk this blustery city's streets and look into the heart of its struggling and blessed citizens. Petrakis is also a memoirist and essayist; his collections include the wonderfully candid and very moving Tales of the Heart.

A legend and an inspiration to many, a man of warmth and wisdom, Harry Mark Petrakis has seen many changes in life and literature. He appeared on Open Books in March Alexis Pride. Chicago writer Alexis J. Pride is a playwright, producer, founder of the AJ Ensemble Theater Company, a professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago, and a fiction writer. Her first novel, Where the River Ends , is a fiery fictionalization of the life of a revolutionary and controversial Chicago educator, Corla Hawkins, known far and wide as Momma Hawk.

Pride's protagonist, Emma Rivers, battles her way through a rough girlhood on the South Side during the s. She found refuge in books, but suffered betrayal and violence at the hands of those she loved best.


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Emma struggles mightily against great odds to get control of her life, becoming a teacher and a principal renowned for her unorthodox style and profound dedication to inner-city children. Pride's intense and insightful novel dramatizes the trauma engendered by the cruel matrix of poverty, racism, and sexism in an indelible portrait of a courageous teacher able to transform the lives of neglected teens because she needs them as much as they need her.

Alexis Pride appeared on Open Books in May Susan Straight. Susan Straight writes empathic and dramatic fiction about family, race, class, immigration, men and women, and the long shadow of slavery. Straight is also a superlative essayist and writes commentary for National Public Radio. The recipient of a Lannan Foundation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship , she teaches creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, her lifelong hometown.

Susan Straight spoke on Open Books in May Read an excerpt of the transcript of her interview. Mark Swartz. Mark Swartz is nervy, inventive, and very funny writer, a satirist intrigued with individuals and societies run amok. Swartz suggests that reading can become a perilously isolating and alienating obsession, and that the library can be an overwhelming and bewildering labyrinth, an oppressive manifestation of the mind's complexity and humanity's folly. In H2O , Swartz zaps forward in time to depict Chicago as a chaotic and decrepit city-state.

Clean tap water is but a cherished memory, so toxic is Lake Michigan.

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In fact, the earth's entire freshwater supply is imperiled. Enter Hayden Shivers, a hapless filter and drain engineer who discovers a miracle. Swartz's shrewd, jittery, and noirishly atmospheric speculative tale about a bumbling antihero and dire environmental trauma brings an irreverent and parrying voice to ecofiction and casts a fractured light on follies petty and catastrophic. Mark Swartz appeared on Open Books in January Jean Thompson Heartland writer Jean Thompson forges adept and imaginative tragicomedy fueled by her fascination with just how awry things can get and just how outrageously we can run amok.

Evincing a dry and precise wit and an impressive fluency in inner monologues induced by long-stoked anger, self-loathing, and loneliness, she portrays people on the edge in her moody short story collections -- The Gasoline War s , Little Face and Other Stories , and Who Do You Love , a finalist for the National Book Award -- and her well-wrought novels, including Wide Blue Yonder and City Boy , a portrait of a catastrophically malignant marriage.

Thompson continues to explore the dynamics between men and women, as well as the diminishment of rural life, family weirdness, what being female is really about, and living in war time in her spectacular collection of pitch-perfect short stories, Throw like a Girl. Jean Thompson appeared on Open Books in June Hillary Carlip brings high energy, high standards, unbridled creativity, an effervescent sense of humor, and deep insight into everything she does. A performer as well as a writer, Hillary's penchant for alternative personalities finds extraordinary expression in A la Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers , a book of stories and photographs in which Carlip transforms herself into 26 diverse and compelling characters based on her extensive collection of lost-and-found shopping lists.

According to Booklist that would be me :. A populist Cindy Sherman, an American Tracey Ullman, a female Eddie Murphy, and a disciple of Lily Tomlin, Carlip used her quirky collection of discarded shopping lists as inspiration for 26 characters, assuming the identity of men and women shoppers of various ages, backgrounds, and preoccupations.

Each of Carlip's ingeniously composed, funny, and insightful vignettes is a microcosm of struggle and hope. Hillary Carlip is also a fabulously talented web designer. In fact, you're experiencing one of her online creations this very moment.

Stumbling into Immensity

Chicagoan Joel Greenberg is a birder, a naturalist, a lawyer, an environmental activist, a tireless researcher, and a passionately observant, insightful, involving, and witty writer. His first book is a magnum opus, the unprecedented, avidly detailed, entertaining and illuminating A Natural History of the Chicago Region.

In this beautifully made book rich in historical photographs, Joel teaches us about prairies and marshes, ravines and rivers, the shore of the great lake Michigan, oak savannas and grasses, butterflies and mussels and orchids and turtles and coyotes and hawks and geese. He also writes incisively about a burgeoning, incessantly busy, and shortsighted human population and the rapid and transforming changes Chicagoans have brought to what was for so long an incredibly fertile wilderness.

Growing out of his extensive research for A Natural History of the Chicago Region , this unique anthology begins with the diary of Father Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, a Jesuit who explored the area in , and moves forward to In between are many surprises. Listen to Greenberg tell the intriguing stories behind this eye-opening collection. Nancy Goldstein is the first to create a book devoted to the life and work of pioneering cartoonist Jackie Ormes , a "tireless" artist of conscience and prominent activist. Glamorous and audacious, Ormes created seductive, technically exceptional, and slyly hard-hitting newspaper cartoons that entertained, inspired, and provoked readers with indelible female characters: precocious and sharp-tongued five-year-old Patty-Jo and her forbearing fashion-plate older sister Ginger; and Torchy, a beautiful "campaigner for environmental justice and racial equality.

Goldstein recounts with enthusiasm and insight the trailblazing cartoonist's remarkable story from her birth in Pittsburgh to her celebrity-filled life in Chicago, and keenly analyzes Ormes' influential cartoons and the role black newspapers played in the struggle for racial equality. With a generous selection of Ormes' "forward-looking" cartoons resurrected for the first time, and sharp insights into the adversity Ormes faced as a woman of color and an artist, Goldstein's Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is a rare and affecting reading experience.

Also on the show is Tim Jackson, who contributed precious artwork to the book. He talks about Jackie Ormes from his perspective as a Chicago-based, nationally syndicated cartoonist, and a cartoon historian working on a book titled Pioneering Cartoonists of Color. Tim Jackson has been cartooning since he was a kid in Dayton, Ohio, hoping to use the art of cartooning for good.

Currently living and working in Chicago, his vibrant and socially conscious cartoons have appeared in the Chicago Defender and diverse newspapers across the country. Jackson's passionate interest in the work of earlier generations of African American cartoonists inspired his "Pioneering Cartoonists of Color" project, soon to be published in book form. A journalist with a keen sense of story, the literary chops of a novelist, and an intrepid approach to research, Harvey takes readers on wild rides. In Painter in a Savage Land , the itinerary includes a doomed sixteenth-century French fort on what became the site for Jacksonville, Florida; the streets of Paris and London where Huguenots and Lutherans were burned at the stake, and the high-tension auction rooms of Sotheby's.

The riveting story of the long-lost artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues is a veritable tale of nine lives. Harvey marvels at the "epic strangeness" of his subject's elusive life story and its embrace of radically different, if equally tumultuous worlds. With a vivid cast of real-life characters, gorgeous illustrations, unforeseen and hugely entertaining side journeys, and a diabolical surprise ending, Harvey's groundbreaking biography blows the dust off significant chapters in European and American history and makes for a rousing read.

Happily, Harvey proves to be an equally entrancing conversationalist. Open Books, as I say at the beginning of every show, is about outstanding books, remarkable writers, and the fine art of reading. It's a celebration of the communion between reader and book, reader and writer. When I speak with writers, our conversation roams easily back and forth between the real world and the world of ideas and the imagination, a realm we share by virtue of our ability to read, and the boundless pleasure and knowledge we acquire through books, magazines, newspapers, and web sites.

But I often wonder what life would be like without this key to the workings of other minds, this portal onto other places and other times. Millions of Americans do not read well enough to enjoy books, or even read instructions, menus, street signs, or medical prescriptions. If you cannot read and you cannot write, you cannot participate in our society.

You are silenced. You feel invisible. I wanted to listen to the stories of people who refused to remain without a voice, without a presence. And I wanted to talk to people who are dedicated to helping others learn to read, to write, and to work with confidence, dignity, and pleasure.

Thanks to friends, I made my way to an amazing place, a dynamic and loving community, Literacy Chicago , a not-for-profit organization located at 17 N. State Street in Chicago's Loop www. A school that, to quote its mission statement, "empowers individuals through words. Here are some of the voices of Literacy Chicago. David Rothenberg is a uniquely gifted, multifaceted, and intrepid thinker and artist. A writer, philosopher, musician, and ecologist, Rothenberg is the author of Sudden Music , Hand's End , Always the Mountains , and Why Birds Sing , a remarkable and unique mix of science, history, literature, art, and music that has been published in six languages and turned into a BBC documentary.

Rothenberg is also a composer and jazz clarinetist, who plays music with birds and other animals as well as with other people.