If you’re someone who’s been reading Other Voices for awhile, it probably comes as no surprise to you that we chose to focus our finale issue on the city that’s given us so much. We were founded in 1984 in Highland Park, a north shore suburb of Chicago, and since 1990 our offices have been based at a quintessential “urban” university: the University of Illinois at Chicago. Many of our staff members live and work in Chicago, or did at the time they first got involved with the magazine. But this final issue of Other Voices (my 20th as an editor!) is about a whole lot more than “gratitude.” Chicago, to us, represents exactly what Other Voices has always been about: diversity, discovery, originality—and a little bit of an edge.
Chicago has long been a city full of rich literary history, yes—but what we’ve chosen to focus on here is the thriving, vibrant present day lit scene in our hometown. We all love Hemingway and Algren (well, O.K., most of us do!), and we at OV are lucky enough to have Chicago legend Stuart Dybek on our Board…but many of the writers Chicago is “known” for have been dead for decades, and even the fabulous Dybek has been living in Michigan for longer than I’ve been editing Other Voices. Meanwhile, in the past 10 to 15 years, Chicago has become a world-class city of writers, emphasis on the world. Now home to celebrated writers from Bosnia, Nigeria, Cuba and just about anywhere else you could throw a tack at on a map, we also boast our share of literary “transplants” from both coasts of the United States, from Cris Mazza of California to Elizabeth Crane of New York. Gone are the days when the “Chicago style” of writing meant tough blue-collar (white) boys on the mean streets of the city (though this school is, thankfully, alive and well, as exemplified by Don De Grazia’s bestselling novel American Skin)—“Chicago writing” now means, quite simply, writing by someone who…well, lives here. And that can mean anything at all!
Chicago is home to many stellar universities—Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul, UIC and University of Chicago to name a few—that all have writing programs, as do some of the more arts-focused schools like the School of the Art Institute and, of course, Columbia College Chicago, home of the innovative Story Workshop. We also boast some of the best literary magazines in the country—ACM, StoryQuarterly and Triquarterly have all long made the Chicago area their home alongside Other Voices. When OV Books launched in 2004, we seemed to be the only city-based publisher of fiction, but since then, several others have popped up, including Featherproof Books, edited by Jonathan Messinger (in this issue.) And few cities could offer more reading series and open mics than the city of Big Shoulders, which is not only home to Bookslut Jessa Crispin and her impressive series, but dozens of others like second Story, Sunday Salon and R.U.I. (Reading Under the Influence, where I took my first shot of Jameson—and then another—after delivering my son in 2006!)
In short, Chicago has everything a writer could want. Some might qualify “except a big, corporate publishing industry like New York’s or London’s,” but I’ve come to believe, having worked in Chicago publishing for a dozen years now, that the absence of big marketing engines and glitzy commercialism have benefited Chicago writers for good, not ill. In other words, you don’t have to live next door to Binky Urban or Judith Regan (ah, Binky probably lives in Connecticut anyway, and Judith’s totally disgraced, but you know what I mean) to get a New York book deal if that’s what you’re seeking. And if it isn’t…well, Chicago’s got you covered. Better yet, no pretentious “writers-as-celebrities” vibe flies in this city. Even if we’ve diversified well past Algren’s day, at its heart Chicago is still a down-to-earth city (if now earthy in a more global sense), where most literary events are free, involve booze in a plastic cup, and no designer garb is required. In other words, everybody here’s having a blast.So welcome to Other Voices’ Chicago. Our only regret is that not every major Chicago l iterary player could be included in these pages—in many cases because we weren’t accepting novel excerpts, only short stories in earnest. But from international heavyweights like Aleksander Hemon to national bestsellers like Audrey Niffinegger to fiction-publishing virgins like Sheba White, we’ve done our best to represent the Chicago scene “as it is.” We hope you’ll enjoy your visit!