STEAL THIS STUFF: What Writers Can Learn from Over the Rhine

Okay Writers. If you’ve been tucked safely away from Great Music over the last two decades, you may be new to the “aggressively beautiful” music of Over the Rhine.

Today, the husband/wife duo Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist are invading my column, not just because they’re critically acclaimed songwriters—but because, with lyrics that threaten to cross over into literature (I KNOW), they’re fitting guides for any writer.

And perhaps more significantly: after 20 years and too many albums to count, they’re still crafting, experimenting, and connecting. In fact, tomorrow (Sept 3) they’re releasing a new double-album—as in, too many songs for one record.
Nice problem. (PS. Listen while you read: Stream the new record online.)

Full disclosure: Linford and Karin are friends of mine (we met when Ellery opened for OtR). So as their release date approached, I snagged Linford to tell us about his influences, sources, books he’s loved, lines he’s stolen, his practice as a writer.

Hark, writers of all stripes: This guy knows his craft. Steal his wisdom.
And OtR fans old and new: You’re welcome.

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Reading the Environment: Book Artist Melissa Jay Craig

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In Ploughshares’ Book Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Book and paper artist Melissa Jay Craig gets an earful. (Image credit: <a href="http://ziagallery.net/hughes.html"Anne Hughes, ZIA Gallery)

Book and paper artist Melissa Jay Craig gets an earful. (Image credit: Anne Hughes, ZIA Gallery)

Whether she’s rescuing and repurposing discarded mass-produced paperbacks or harvesting wild plants to make her own paper, Melissa Jay Craig’s always discovering new “reading materials” in her environment.

Working her own kind of alchemy, the award-winning, Chicago-based artist has transformed these natural and manmade materials into sculptural, book-like hybrids: delicate, leafy books that bud, blossom, and decay with the seasons; poisonous-looking “bookshrooms” delivering pointed political statements; canned paperbacks that become trash after they’re consumed; and a single, poignant volume that mirrors the artist’s own hearing loss.

I interviewed Melissa Jay Craig via email earlier this month to learn more about the methods behind her fascinating body of work.

PSHARES: Much of your artwork concerns reading: both the printed words in books and the wordless communications in nature. Are you telling us “books” are everywhere to be read?

MJC: It’s not so much that “books” are everywhere; it’s more that I want to point out that we are always “reading.”  We’re taking in, processing and responding to information everywhere, constantly.Continue Reading

Binding Community: North Branch Projects Turns Pizza Boxes into Books

Regin Igloria at North Branch Projects. (Image: Nora Maynard)

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In Ploughshares’ Book Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Frustrated by the gulf between the contemporary art world and the people he cares for most, visual artist and bookbinder Regin Igloria founded North Branch Projects in the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up, Albany Park. In this small, independently run project space, Igloria offers hand bookbinding sessions free of charge six days a week, using inexpensive, often re-purposed materials. He calls these informal gatherings “community binding.”

A refreshing departure from the usual white cube gallery space, North Branch Projects exudes a sense of youthful energy and fun. Located in a bright, airy storefront on a residential street dotted with walk-in clinics, discount clothing stores, and jobber shops, its neon welcome signs invite curious passersby to slow down and take a closer look.

Once inside, the visitor is greeted by cheery yellow walls, a large worktable, and shelves and display cases plentifully stocked with bookbinding materials and tools, as well as an impressive array of finished books. To the back of the main workspace is a collection of handmade hula hoops and a ping pong table that has seen many heated tournaments. A mirrored disco ball hangs cheekily from the ceiling above.

We interviewed Igloria via email earlier this month to get his thoughts on this remarkable ongoing project.

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A Day in the Life at 826CHI

This post was contributed by Julia Ventola.

Tucked away in the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park, 826CHI is a thriving non-profit writing and tutoring center, dedicated to Chicago’s six- to eighteen-year-old students.  It is a member of Dave Eggers’ national organization, at which, throughout the country, volunteers and staff alike tutor over 30,000 students a year. That’s a lot of pens and pencils.

826CHI reaches about 4,000 of those students, thanks to the help of an inspiring staff and over 300 volunteers. These kind folks not only help students with their homework and writing skills, but they also run the super secret spy store that serves as a “cover” for the center. When students first enter the building, they walk through a small storefront that sells everything a sleuthful spy might need on any of his most daunting missions. Fake mustaches? Check. Binoculars? Check. Legends and keys to the most mischievous of maps? Check.

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Literary Boroughs #31: Chicago

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the thirty-first post on Chicago, by Larry Sawyer. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Chicago is equal parts haute couture and bizarre Americana, a quality reflected in its literary scene. Chicago is also expansive and writers here do have fairly catholic tastes. There are also so many of them, it would be impossible to name them all here.Continue Reading

Following Tommy

Following Tommy
Bob Hartley
Cervena Barva Press, July 2012
104 pages
$17.00

I was asked to review “Following Tommy” in part because I’m a Chicagoan. Bob Hartley’s first novel is set in the West side of the Windy City, and if anyone can recognize Chicagoness, tap into that essence and understand an author’s grilling and plating of said essence, it must be another Cubs fan.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what Chicagoness might be. It may not exist, and perhaps I’ve woefully misunderstood my assignment. “Review this book,” the book reviews editor said, and I heard “You, with your Midwestern-yet-refined urban sensibilities: you must know this thing, this center-warm, charred crusty outside thing, like a Chicago-style steak. Show us the way.”

I have few literary reference points, however, even if I’ve got the assignment correct. Chicago authors—the Hempels, Hemons, Burroughses, Andersons, Dicks, and Egans—are all writers I’ve either never read (Egan, Hempel, and Burroughs), or writers whose works most familiar to me have no Chicago scenery (Hemon’s Bosnia, Anderson’s Ohio, Phillip K Dick’s world of crippling depressive insanity). Saul Bellow’s in there too—never read Augie March—and I’ve heard him called the quintessential Chicago writer.

“Following Tommy” is my test kitchen, then. And like the ketchup you’ll never find on a Chicago hot dog, an absence caught my eye as I was walked through the west side of town, circa 1962: landmarks. Continue Reading

Literary Boroughs #29: Evanston, IL

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the twenty-ninth post, on Evanston, IL, by Kristen Mitchell. —Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Stretching north from Howard Street and west from Lake Michigan, and located just 13 miles north of downtown Chicago, Evanston is a vibrant community with one of the largest and most diverse art communities in the state of Illinois. Evanston has many identities: college town, dining hotspot, cultural hub, and entry to the wealthy North Shore — and the city itself is culturally, economically and racially diverse. It’s home to Northwestern University, which opened its doors in 1855 to ten students and has since grown to around 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students; it boasts a lively downtown area full of shops, bookstores, parks, diners and coffee shops; and there are many community led arts and culture initiatives, which makes Evanston a fantastic home for creative-minded people, especially writers.Continue Reading

Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?

At my job working the early morning Hydration Stations along the lakefront path serving Gatorade to Chicago-area runners, I work with a 19 year old who also works at the duty-free at the airport (she’s the one who looks at your ticket and tells you that you can’t shop at her store unless you’re on an international flight.) I am twice her age, getting paid the same, so my wounded ego has reconfigured itself so that I tell myself I’m a kind of Dian Fossey. She is my ape. I chart her vocalizations and behaviour.  I tell myself I’m studying her to learn about her, rather than studying her in order to discover new ways of talking about myself.

I tell myself things like this all the time.

She’s saving up for a Louis Vuitton purse. We get paid ten bucks an hour so I have no idea how many hours she’ll have to work in order to buy it. She says that she already has a knock-off of the purse she wants and now she wants the real thing.  She says it’s the quality of the leather that lets you know it’s real.

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The Ploughshares AWP Book Review Competition

There won’t be any book reviews on the blog this week, mostly because we think you should all be at AWP in Chicago instead, buying—and attending readings of—as many books as you can.

More importantly, though, if you happen to be at AWP, make sure you also take some time from your busy panel-going and book-buying schedule to stop by the Ploughshares table, where you can enter our very first Blog Book Review Competition.

The format is simple: we give you a small card, you write us a book review in one sentence, of any book you like—past, present, or even, if you feel like showing off your publishing industry connections, future. Winners will be chosen both for creativity, and success as a satisfying review; we’ll publish our favorites here, and the best will also get the chance to contribute a full review to the blog.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself to Chicago, and we’ll see you there!

A Ploughshares Guide to #AWP12 Chicago

Sarah Stetson, former intern and current Ploughshares reader, bravely manning our table in 2011.

AWP 2012 in Chicago is fast approaching, and boy, are we excited! AWP is an annual conference organized by Associated Writing Programs where writers, small and big presses, literary magazines, and writing programs gather to talk about writing, reading, and submitting. Apparently this will be the biggest AWP conference yet, with 10,000 attendees.

We hope you find the information gathered here helpful in planning your AWP trip. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but it’s just enough to get you pumped pre-trip without exhausting you.

General information and social media help

For the most comprehensive list of what’s going on at AWP on- and off-site, it’s best to visit the official Associated Writing Programs website here. If you’re on Twitter, you should also follow @AWPWriter (official) and @AWPTweets (unofficial). Putting a permanent search in your Twitter application for hashtag #AWP12 will keep you up-to-date on other happenings from attendees. (Oh, and follow us too @Pshares [if you haven't already], because I’ll be tweeting AWP related things all week.)

“Required” Reading pre-conference

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