Interviews

Beyond the Book Club: Chicago Authored Spotlights Local Lit

He has a book club. She has a book club. Here a book club, there a book club, everywhere a book club!

This is only a slight exaggeration, as Chicago boasts a proliferation of book groups, ready to discuss everything from classics to YA to New York Times bestsellers. (Meetup.com lists over 35 book clubs in the metropolitan area.) Amongst this frenzy, CHM Unbound: More than a Book Club distinguishes itself for allowing readers to interact with local literature in new and unusual ways.

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CHM Unbound is part of Chicago Authored, the exhibit and event series organized by the Chicago History Museum. However, Chicago Authored is “not what you would expect from a museum,” program manager Ilana Burton clarifies. “Nothing is behind glass cases. Here, you can eat and drink and socialize. It’s designed to be experiential.”

In the exhibit, an airy, open space more reminiscent of a library’s area for children than a historical museum, postcards depicting Chicago scenes dangle from wires. Visitors are encouraged to write messages relating to the city. “(773) for life!” one reads. Another states,

“A few years ago I heard Stuart Dybek read from [his novel] I Sailed with Magellan and realized Chicago authors are still brilliant, relevant, and distinctly ‘Chicagoan.’ Chicago literature is in good hands.”

Why the focus on Chicago writers specifically? “We learn about our city from writing it,” Burton explains. A placard on the wall agrees: “Authors of fact and fiction, prose and poetry, have shaped how we see the city. Writers have authored Chicago.”

A community bookshelf showcases the abundance of literature written by Chicagoans. And CHM Unbound, their flagship program, features three different series, each centered on a book by a local author: O Democracy! by Kathleen Rooney, Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, and The Good War by Studs Terkel. Each series is comprised of three sessions led by a Museum expert, featuring guest speakers and behind-the-scenes tours.

Hairstyles of the DamnedBecause Hairstyles of the Damned is about growing up punk, this series explores antiestablishment fashion and identity. The leader, costume curator Petra Slinkard, explains, “I wanted to investigate our sense of self as it relates to style.” At the session I watch, attendees bring in their old high school photos and memorabilia. I was fascinated to see these women in turtlenecks and blazers show off their ticket stubs from the first Lollapalooza or their 1980s mixtapes. One is labeled, “The Aux Mix Tape: a collection of righteous songs from bands that have played the Auxiliary Art Center in Chicago.”

As we ooh and ahh over the big hair and the Limited sweaters, she asks each person, “Who were you at this moment in time?”

“I think I’m the same woman, with appropriate age adjustments,” one woman answers honestly. It’s hard to imagine such conversation happening at a regular book club.

While the CHM Unbound series are already underway, you can still attend Chicago Authored’s other programs. They’re hosting Silent Reading Parties on February 13 and 20, where you can show up and read to yourself but not by yourself. “It’s kind of like going to the gym,” Burton says. “You’re all alone together.” These events are free, no reservations required.

At the Stories with Nine Strangers events, you’ll be sent to a “unique space” within the Museum, where you’ll be given a short story to read and discuss with other strangers. Afterward, you’ll get to nosh on beer, wine, and appetizers. Tickets are $20 and available for Thursday, February 25, Tuesday, March 22, and Thursday, March 31.

Or you can just visit the regular exhibit, which does not yet have a closing date. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. Ticket information for all these events available at Chicago Authored.

Photos provided by Chicago History Museum.

Categories: Interviews, Lit

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