Tag Archives: Chicago

Visitors: Two Readings, One Book

16 Oct

With book publication comes book promotion. In the last ten days, I’ve given two readings, one in Chicago at DePaul University, and one in my current hometown, Columbia, Missouri, at Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices/Seeing Visions series.

I gave my first public reading when I was in graduate school, probably in 2004. This was in a small room at the Millennium Student Center as part of some kind of “Attend UMSL!” promotion. Or maybe it was for something else. Anyway, I read a flash fiction piece, my voice cracked, sweat poured down my arms, and I was grateful that it was over. Since then, I’ve maybe given a reading a year—for graduation from my MFA program, on stage with ten other readers at a public pavilion where I read dead last and it was so dark by the time I was up I literally couldn’t see anyone in the front row, with the poet Richard Newman at Chesterfield Arts in suburban St. Louis, at Dressel’s Pub along with five other readers, Get Lost Bookshop here in sunny Columbia—and, yes, actually, that might be it.

Not a lot of practice. And certainly not with a book in hand, which, I was warned (thankfully) is much harder: can’ t let that sucker snap shut on your fingers, the print is probably smaller than you’re used to, the spacing on the page is smaller, all things that I needed to keep in mind.

Chicago: I had to be in the Windy City for work anyway, the writer Amina Gauter invited me to read at DePaul University in a reading pitched as “Writers as Editors, Editors as Writers.” I read with Phong Nguyen, who runs the wonderful journal Pleiades. We were in one of the multipurpose rooms; windows to the right, good soundsystem with a mic (though both Phong and I used our “professor” voices and skipped the tech help), sandwiches and snacks (nomomomom…), plenty of rows of chairs, and a terrific crowd of about forty people, mostly made up of DePaul students and faculty.

Prior to the reading, Phong and I talked about reading preparation  I said I was nervous; he said he never became nervous before a reading. We both had our “reading copy,” a version of our book that was dogeared and marked up, the passages and words, sometimes whole paragraphs, we didn’t need crossed out. I waffled on what to read: an excerpt or an entire story. Amina insisted I had time to read a whole story. Phong read first, and was phenomenal. I read second and was shaky: mispronounced words, a tendency to trip off my words, dry-mouthed (I forgot my water!).

After, we took questions about journal editing. I rambled, bounced from subject to subject, often forgetting what the question was, unable to come back to earth. Phong was a pro, answering questions with precision like Roger Federer chewing up an unranked opponent. Lesson learned: clear mind, clear reading. Also, sandwiches are good. I ate two of ’em.

Columbia: A bonus of this reading is that I had been to the venue many times before—Orr Street is a reading series unaffiliated with an university, and I’ve heard a range of terrific readers there before. It’s intimate and cozy, with wonderful artwork on the surrounding walls. In Chicago, I didn’t bring my own books. This time? Sho’nuff! I also brought beer koozies with my book cover on ’em (yes, yes I did), slapped a couple of PBRs in ’em, set up my Mr. T figurine (yes, yes I did), and plugged in my Square thingamajig into my phone to hock some books. About as different from Chicago as it could be.

Once again, I read second, following Peter Gardner, an emeritus professor of anthropology  And like last time, I was unsure what to read. Because my friend Alison was there, and she had the same affinity as I do for him, I read my story “Sparring Vladimir Putin.” I only had time to read the second half, which was okay with me, and while no one every comes up to you and says “Your reading blew goats” I got the feeling that people that were there did dig it. Still, some mistakes, some mispronunciations, tripped over words, etc. I’ll get the hang of it.

What mattered was that some of my close friends and favorite people (like this poet and this poet) were in attendance. That I had blast. That there were beer koozies! Hopeful my next reading, which is in my hometown, Cincinnati, at this joint, will be just as much fun.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

Vouched on the Road: Chicago with James Tadd Adcox

28 Jun

In the second of my road trip posts, I visit with James Tadd Adcox of Chicago for some a few days of city living and great times.

My road trip took me next to Chicago to hang with James Tadd Adcox (though who calls him James? I call him Tadd. I like how it thumps!). Tadd is a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago and head honcho of Artifice. He is the author of the recently released The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, out now from Tiny Hardcore Press. Most importantly, he is a fun dude who loves Chicago.

I read his book, this ambitious and (obviously) incomplete and great map-in-stories, a week before visiting Tadd. Stemming from a project where Tadd wrote a flash fiction piece a day for a year (he never missed a day!), these are stories that let you bite into them and bite back, with some touching mix of morality and humor and deep emotion. Here is Tadd reading my favorite story from the book:

Pre-Visit Mini-Interview with Tadd

1. How long have you lived in Chicago?

I’ve lived here around 5 years. Different neighborhood every year or two: Ukrainian Village, Humbolt Park, Pilsen, Logan Square.

2. What are your favorite pieces of Chicago?

I really love Pilson. I lived there for about eight months. It’s kind of an island, it feels like it’s connected to the rest of the city through warp zones or a series of underground tunnels.

3. What brought you to Chicago? What keeps you in Chicago?

I originally came to Chicago because I realized that a friend of mine was paying less in rent here than I was, in Lafayette, Indiana. At the time I was finishing up an MFA at Purdue, and didn’t have any definite plans for my future: I just wanted to move somewhere interesting and find some mindless work and write.

The first year I was in town I worked a lot of really terrible jobs: I was a “data entry specialist,” a canvasser, at one point I got paid to sit in the audience for a daytime talk show (that was a pretty good one, actually, though it wasn’t steady or well-paid enough to live on). Eventually I decided to apply for the PhD program at UIC, and that’s what I’m doing now–working on a PhD and teaching.

4. How has Chicago influenced your writing?

Hm. I’m not totally sure. Certainly there’re a ton of writers in Chicago, and I feel like knowing and talking to all of these people influences what I do.

Chicago’s maybe a little more open to formalist or non-realist work. Or maybe that’s just the small-press scene in general. But there’s a pretty huge, supportive small-press scene in Chicago. If nothing else, it’s nice to have other people around you writing, so that you don’t feel like it’s a totally crazy thing to be spending your time doing.

5. If you could live in any city, what would it be and why?

Oh man, I’ve got a list. In the US: Boston, Milwaukee, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Kansas City, Anchorage, Savannah–Savannah’s a big one. Savannah’s gorgeous. Somewhere in Virginia–Charlottesville, maybe? Charleston, both of them.

Outside the US: Buenos Aires, Monterrey, Vienna, Heidelberg, Berlin, Santiago de Compostela, Barcelona, Helsinki, Glasgow, Toronto, Lyons, probably I’m forgetting some.

I’d really like to be able to city-hop, live in a place for a couple of years, head somewhere else. I don’t like feeling like a tourist, like I’m somewhere without having any reason to be. But I do really like the feeling of living someplace new, figuring out how life works there, etc.

6. How’s the literary scene in Chicago?

Pretty friendly, I’d say. It seems like the number of readings has fallen off a little over the past year, but it’s possible that I’m just being a little more asocial recently. Hard to say.

7. Describe Chicago in three words.

I’m terrible at these. I always want to be super-witty, but everything I come up with just seems “clever” (in the sense of clever that means “actually kind of annoying”). Here, let’s try just being descriptive: flat, navigable, (nevertheless fairly often) surprising.

“Flat” is something that I’ve come to really like, particularly since my main form of transit in the city is biking.

I realize that the parenthesis is a bit of a cheat.

8. What are you most stoked to show me in Chicago?

I’m pretty excited about taking you to Feed, which is this awesome chicken place on Chicago Ave. It’d be great if we got the chance to go to Maria’s, which is one of my favorite bars, down in Bridgeport. Do you have a car? Or a bike, a bike would work too. Some form of non-CTA transportation will make this a lot easier. There are a couple of great bookstores: Quimby’s and Myopic, the Seminary Co-op down in Hyde Park. The Garfield Park Conservatory, which is one of my favorite places in the city, and also one of the primary ways that I survive winter. The Harold Washington Library, which is the big one, downtown. The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute, duh.

I am particularly stoked to introduce you to Malort at some point. Do not Google “Malort.”

(Ed. Note: Oh, I got some Malort. Gracious, I didn’t know people actually drank laundry detergent.)

One of my favorite experiences was visiting the Chicago Cultural Center’s exhibit Morbid Curiosity with Tadd, fellow Indiana-man Chad Redden, and that Akron knucklehead Joshua Kleinberg. From the collection of Chicago-dude Richard Harris, this is a massive, two-room collection of death artifacts. Ranging from pieces for The Day of the Dead to a collection of skulls (one even covered in diamonds!) to modern-day war protest pieces, this collection is shocking and a beautiful reminder of the (sometimes) uglier part of existence. As it is a free exhibit running until July 8th, I definitely suggest this for any Chicago visitors.

As one enters the collection, this monster of a painting (only a third-sh of it captured here), “Death March,” rattles expectations right. (Pardon the stoked-shaky-hands picture!)

A few nights before I headed to Chicago, the band Cloud Cult played a show in Indianapolis. Several pals, including Vouched top dog Christopher, went to it and said WOW. As I was getting together some plans for Chicago, I found out that Cloud Cult were playing a free show at Chicago’s Millennium Park on my second night in town. A host of several free concerts every summer, this amphitheater is perfect for such things, big and booming and beautiful. Though not a huge fan of Cloud Cult’s jams, I had a fabulous time at this show with Tadd, Kleinberg, and other Chicago friends, rolling around in the grass.

I like this picture of Tadd at the Cloud Cult show.

Tadd showed me several rad eating places, including a Logan Square diner that cured two hangovers during my visit. My favorite place though was the catalyst for the first of those hangovers, The Boiler Room. The atmosphere is borderline kitschy at times (like the “L” theme in the restroom), but it certainly makes up for it with great booze specials and awesome pizza. Like the PB&J special (a slice of Pizza, a tall boy of PBR, and a shot of Jameson for seven bucks). Like how they only take cash, but if you use the ATM, they reimburse your transaction fee with a shot of Jameson. Like Jameson soft serve ice cream. A visit here on my first night in town was the right move, oh yes.

Tadd also took me to two of Chicago’s raddest book stores, the ultra-independent Quimby’s and the packed-with-goodness used shop Myopic (below is Tadd at Quimby’s). Appropriately (I guess I can play that here), I snagged Chicago Stories by Michael Czyzniejewski from Chicago’s Curbside Splendor Press at Quimby’s (selections of these available in places like Tadd’s Artifice Magazine and The Collagist, among others).

Always exciting to see a friend’s work at the cool book shop. Even cooler to see it in the window, as The Map of the System of Human Knowledge chills in the window at Quimby’s. Apparently, Quimby’s is stellar when it comes to consignment, so THUMBS UP TO THEM OKAY.

Another exciting city, another cool writer pal, another hunk of rad experiences. Big thxxxxx to Tadd and everyone else in Chicago for their hospitality and fun spirits and Malort.