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May-July 2009

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13 authors are honored for best books of 2008

Chicago novelist Aleksandar Hemon and Macomb, Ill., historian John E. Hallwas accepted prizes May 12 at the Society of Midland Authors' annual awards banquet. They were among six winning authors and seven finalists honored for writing the Midwest' s best books of 2008. The emcee of the event was author and professional comedian Paul Frisbie.

Hemon, who won the Society' s fiction award for his 2002 novel Nowhere Man, won this time for his novel The Lazarus Project. In his acceptance speech, Hemon said he recently noticed that a memorial plaque has been installed near the Lincoln Park home where Police Chief George Shippy once lived. Shippy shot and killed a young immigrant named Lazarus Averbuch at the home in 1908, sparking the mystery that inspired Hemon's novel. Now, in the wake of Hemon' s book, the neighborhood has a marker reminding people of Averbuch's fate.

"The memory of Lazarus Averbuch was resurrected," Hemon said. "This isn't due to my book, but rather to the power of the written word."

He credited an earlier nonfiction book about Averbuch, An Accidental Anarchist by Walter Roth and Joe Kraus, for bringing the story to his attention.

"This amazing little book prompted me to write my book," he said. "The memory of this 19-year-old kid who was shot for no particular reason by a Chicago police chief is now alive among us."

Hallwas accepted the biography prize for Dime Novel Desperadoes: The Notorious Maxwell Brothers. In his speech, Hallwas remarked that historians and nonfiction writers often face the perception that their books are just collections of facts.

"The illusion is that this book is the inescapable truth about this topic." In fact, he said, "Like novels, histories and biographies are constructed.They' re shaped by the author' s vision."

Hallwas' book profiles a band of outlaws who were as famous as the James gang in the late 1800s. Hallwas said he tried to learn who these young men were, even though many aspects of their lives will always be unknowable.

"You might define a writer as someone who seeks and reveals truths that are not self-evident," he said. "The Maxwell Brothers were even more complex than we can know now. They were not just desperadoes — they were men."

Two finalists in the fiction category also appeared at the ceremony, held at Chicago' s Congress Plaza Hotel: Tony Romano, author of If You Eat, You Never Die, and Jeffery Renard Allen, author of Holding Pattern.

The Society also honored books by several authors who were unable to attend the ceremony. Carol Jean Carlson, one of the judges in the adult nonfiction category, said that the winner, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, is "really one of the best books I've ever read."

In the children's fiction category, judge Ilene Cooper praised Louise Erdrich, who won for The Porcupine Year, saying: "Erdrich proves once again that she takes as much care with her books for children and young adults as she does with her novels and stories for adults." In the children's nonfiction category, judge Jane Howard said the winner, Candace Fleming' s The Lincolns, "totally captivated me."

Describing the winning poetry book, Ronald Wallace' s For a Limited Time Only, judge Mark Arendt said it is "filled with a sense of wonder of delight."

Chicago Sun-Times books editor Teresa Budasi received the James Friend Memorial Award for Literary Criticism, which was announced by Beverly Friend. Accepting the honor, Budasi said, "I am really proud of the fact that the Sun-Times sees the value of maintaining a book-review section."

Longtime Society of Midland Authors board member Stella Pevsner received a distinguished service award. Introducing her, SMA Treasurer Richard Frisbie noted, "She has been an occupant of almost all of our offices."

The complete list of winners and finalists:

Adult Fiction
Winner: Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project.
Finalists: Tony Romano, If You Eat, You Never Die. Jeffery Renard Allen, Holding Pattern.
Judges: Donna Seaman, Mark Eleveld and James McManus.
Adult Nonfiction
Winner: Neil Shubin, Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.
Finalists: Eric Dregni, In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream. Daniel L. Everett, Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle.
Judges: Carol Jean Carlson, Cheryl L. Reed and Richard Prince.
Biography
Winner: John E. Hallwas, Dime Novel Desperadoes: The Notorious Maxwell Brothers.
Finalists: Thrity Umrigar, First Darling of the Morning. Curtiss Anderson, Blueberry Summer: Growing Up at the Lake.
Judges: Richard Lindberg, Robert Remer and Jim Schwab.
Children' s Fiction
Winner: Louise Erdrich, The Porcupine Year.
Finalist: Gary D. Schmidt, Trouble
Judges: Deborah Abbot, Ilene Cooper and Yvette Johnson.
Children' s Nonfiction
Winner: Candace Fleming, The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary
Judges: Charlotte Herman, Jane Howard and Marilyn Daleo.
Poetry
Winner: Ronald Wallace, For a Limited Time Only
Judges: Mark Arendt, Anthony Burton and Richard Jones.

Biblio File

Donald Ray Pollock in May was named the recipient of the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers for his debut story collection Knockemstiff. The stories, praised as "startling, bleak, uncompromising and funny … as raw as American fiction gets" by the San Francisco Chronicle, center on the residents of a tough Midwestern American town. The PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut work – a first novel or collection of short stories – represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise. The winner receives a cash award of $35,000, a stipend intended to permit the pursuit of a second work of literary fiction.

Extending the Society' s international reach, Connie Goddard is joining the Peace Corps and going to Romania to teach for the next two years.

It' s unheard of for SMA Board Member Mark Eleveld to miss the annual awards dinner, but it happened this year. The reason? Eleveld was at the White House, helping to organize a poetry reading (sort of a re-creation of the Society' s April poetry program, but with less-distinguished guests). A grateful President Obama has promised in return to put his impressive political operation at Elevel' s disposal when he runs for re-election to the SMA board.

Robert Collins will speak July 14 at the National Archives of Kansas City, 400 W. Pershing Rd., Kansas City, Mo., at 6:30 p.m. The speech will be titled "Jim Lane & the Kansas-Nebraska Act." The talk is related to the Archives moving to a new location, and to one of their exhibits, on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Also, Collins' second novel, Lisa's Way, is finally available in print form (the e-book came out months ago) from eTreasures Publishing. Also, Collins (a 2008 SMA Biography finalist for his Jim Lane book) expects to have another railroad book out soon through Amazon's CreateSpace POD service, an update of his Ghost Railroads of Kansas. Also, Collins now has an author profile at Goodreads.

The May 15 issue of Booklist published Keir Graff' s short story, "The Read," an affectionate parody of Cormac McCarthy' s "The Road." In "The Read," a book reviewer confronts life after the apocalypse.

Eugene Kennedy is back writing a book, titled Redeeming Eros, after a bad illness in Florida.

David Radavich is retiring from teaching at Eastern Illinois University and moving permanently to Charlotte, N.C., where his wife' s relatives "live cheek by jowl," after more than three decades in the Midwest. That should give him, he says, "something new to write about!" He adds: "I have been delighted by the way in which SMA has revived its activities and spirit in the past few years."

Word came in too late for our "New Books" columnist (who' s already on summer vacation) that Kevin Mattson has a new book coming out. But Biblio File never sleeps, so here' s the scoop: "What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?": Jimmy Carter, America's' "Malaise," and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country is due out June 23 from Bloomsbury USA.

In a May 6 report on the then-upcoming SMA book awards, chicagoist.com wrote this: "The Society of Midland Authors is kind of like the literary Mensa of the Midwest. Since its founding in 1915, members have included Poetry magazine founder Harriet Monroe, founder of the U.S. Settlement House movement Jane Addams, social theorist Daniel J. Boorstin, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg."

In a May 7 Huffington Post posting, Jane Smith (see New Books) wrote of the challenges of having a name that often is used as a sample name on forms. "When I tried to get a reader's card at the Berkeley (Ill.) Public Library, the librarian sent me to the on-line registration form," Smith wrote. " ‘Fill in your name,' it said at the top. ‘For example (imagine a little blue box here) Jane Smith.' So I filled in my name, which by some bizarre coincidence happened to be the same as the one provided on the screen, but the program would not accept my entry. I asked for help, and the librarian abandoned her rather brusque tone as soon as she saw the problem. Suddenly she was exhibiting a degree of affection I do not usually inspire in strangers. ‘No, dear,' she said, patting my hand and speaking in a very slow and soothing voice. ‘That's just an example. We need to put your name here.' "

SMA Board member Rosina Neginsky organized and was one of the participants at "The Symbolist Movement: Its Origins and Its Consequences" from April 22 to April 25 at Allerton Park in Monticello, Ill. Neginsky spoke about Mallarmé' s unfinished poem, "Les Noces ' Hérodiade."

The February 2009 edition of Literary License reported that J. Niimi' s book R.E.M.' s Murmur (Continuum, 2005) had recently been released in Kindle format. Now R.E.M.' s Murmur is also available in audiobook format, available either through Amazon.com or directly from Audible.com' s Web site, www.audible.com.

Former SMA President Joanne Koch (see New Books) writes to say that all SMA members are invited to a reception at 6 p.m. June 23 to chat with Julia Keller at NLU, 122 S. Michigan. Keller will then lead a $30 three-hour writing workshop that night, 6:30-9:30 p.m. Workshops on June 25 and June 27 will feature John Conroy, Dawn Turner Trice and Tim Kazurinsky. All four workshops and a Saturday lunch with the authors are $100. For more info, go to www.writersweek.nl.edu, contact Joanne Koch at jkoch@nl.edu, or call (312) 261-3103.

Charlene Ann Baumbich (see New Books) was scheduled to be one of the authors when the Hiawatha Valley Education District hosted its annual Young Writers Conference on May 14-15 at Winona State University in Minnesota.

Scott Turow and his mother Rita Turow were in a May 10 Chicago Sun-Times feature about Mother' s Day.

Gail Lukasik, author of the Leigh Girard mystery series set in Door County, Wis., will celebrate the launching of her new book, Death' s Door, at 7 p.m. June 9 at the Bookstall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm Street Winnetka, Ill.

Michael Argetsinger launched his new book, Mark Donohue: Technical Excellence at Speed in front of a standing-room-only crowd April 25 at the Watkins Glen Elementary School in Watkins Glen, N.Y., with a cast of Donohue family members, engineers, mechanics and team managers who all shared their reflections.

The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett was one of 10 books selected for students to read in this year' s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Public Library' s annual global reading challenge. Also, students at Mccombs school in Des Moines recently spent three weeks studying an interdisciplinary unit centered on the Balliett' s book Chasing Vermeer. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich was also one of the choices.

Harry Mark Petrakis, whose most recent book was The Shepherds of Shadows, a sequel set during the Greek War of Independence, spoke at the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center in Chicago May 17. His topic: "Freedom or Death – The Struggle for 1821."

The Aiken (S.C.) Standard on April 25 praised Arnie Bernstein for a "workmanlike job" on his new book, Bath Massacre. A Chicago Sun-Times profile on Bernstein by Biblio File' s alter ego, Thomas Frisbie, ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on June 7.

Alzina Dale, who' s been slowed recently by a hip replacement, is hoping her next book will be out in time for the Bouchercon 2009 World Mystery Convention in Indianapolis this October. Her book isn' t a mystery, but has a lot of stories about mysteries, writers and her young life abroad.

The Peoria Journal Star in an article about John E. Hallwas winning the SMA Biography Award, quoted him May 15 as saying he wrote a series of articles on the Maxwell brothers (the topic of his winning biography) more than 25 years ago and kept a file of information running. "Finally, I knew that there would be enough information out there to support a book-length biography," he said. "I launched into the project, which took nine years of focused research and took me to eight states." Hallwas told the Journal Star he usually has a few books in the writing process at the same time. The one closest to being completed is about the Civil War-era home front in western Illinois.

Paul McComas' still-kickin' college band, The Daves, was scheduled to headline May 9 at the "Best-Boss Benefit" (a fund-raiser for Carol Kent, a friend who is battling cancer and for Carol' s fave charity, the Evanston Animal Shelter) at Carol' s cafe: the cool and eco-conscious Pick A Cup Coffee Club in Evanston. (Paul does bass and vocals.) McComas also won the inaugural "Best Short Feature" prize at the Talking Pictures Festival for his horror homage, "Blood of the Wolfman." He shot the majority of "Wolfman' s" 8 mm footage in 1975 at age 13. McComas, who has an MA in film from Northwestern, used an analog splicer to meld together segments from more than 40 different childhood films, with new scenes shot on Super 8. He transferred the footage to digital, adding post effects and sound tracks. As a novelist, McComas is currently collaborating on a sequel to the sci-fi classic Logan's Run with original author William F. Nolan. It is scheduled to hit the shelves in conjunction with a new Warner Bros. film adaptation of the original in 2010.

Author Eric Dregni will be in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas this summer promoting his SMA prize-winning travel memoir In Cod We Trust: Friday, June 26, 7:30 p.m., Minnekirken Lutheran Church, 2614 North Kedzie Boulevard (Logan Square), Chicago, (773) 252-7335 and Sunday, June 28, 2 p.m., Boswell Book Co., 2559 N. Downer Ave, Milwaukee (414) 332-1181.

New City' s "Lit 50," out in May, included incoming SMA President Robert Loerzel. Outgoing President Jim Merriner has gone to the family homestead in Ohio for the summer to recuperate from his two-year term.

The June 3 New York Times carried a profile of slam poetry and its creator, Marc Smith, "Like it or not, Mr. Smith' s concept has become a global phenomenon, especially among young people," the Times said. Smith' s and Kevin Stein' s poetry performance at this year' s SMA poetry program is on YouTube (the link is posted on the SMA Web site).

Here' s what Aleksandar Hemon said in the June 10 New Yorker: "I quite like the literary scene in Chicago, where I' ve lived (apart from the Paris stint) for the past 17 years. There is plenty of solidarity and friendship among the writers, and the readers appreciate their local authors, if for no other reason than because they did not succumb to the temptations of gloss and glamour, and move to New York."

Stephen Kinzer will be traveling during June to Saudi Arabia, Turkey. Iran and Israel. His book All The Shah's Men (reissued last year in paperback) is quite topical again as President Obama spoke recently of the CIA's coup d'etat in Iran in 1953.

Note: This is a combined May-July issue of Literary License, allowing our vast editorial staff to catch up on summer reading. The next issue, also a combined one, will be August-September.

Rain intermittent, authors out in force at Printers Row

Twenty of our members signed up for the Printers Row book fair, which ran June 6-7 this year. That' s the most authors we have had in recent years.
We also had a better tent location (V-3) than we have had in recent years. It was right in the middle of the line of tents on Dearborn, which was a good spot for lots of foot traffic, Rich Lindberg reported.
Rain, which has been a staple of Printers Row the last couple of years, showed up again and by Saturday' s end had pretty much destroyed two large posters that coordinators Carol Carlson and Rich Lindberg had brought to help promote our authors in our tent.
"Even though the weather was not exactly the best (intermittent rain and temperatures that defied breaking out of the upper 60s), the turnout was great," Arnie Bernstein said. "We had a healthy number of people stop by, talk with the authors and learn more about what/who the SMA is and what we do. Plus, we signed and sold a lot of our books. All in all, a great two days."
"Printer' s Row is an experience all its own," Cynthia Olson said. "You meet great people and find wonderful books. It's a great time to share ideas and experiences. (I only wish our time slots could be longer!)"
And here is our report from Anastasia Royal: "At Printers Row this year, was it my imagination or were people more curious than usual? It was as if hours in front of the computer during the exceptionally sun-less Chicago winter had made them fiendishly eager to mill around and look at books and booths and other real-live human beings. Everyone who passed by V-3 seemed talkative and friendly – maybe there was already a feeling of nostalgia for printed matter because of the hype about the very future of books and if there will indeed be one! I know I felt the preciousness of books more acutely than ever."
The SMA Printers Row tent is available to all SMA authors.

New Books

The Typewriter Satyr
University of Wisconsin Press,
March, 2009

Dwight Allen, whose first book, The Green Suit, was a finalist for the SMA Adult Fiction Award for 2001, has published his third book of fiction, a novel called The Typewriter Satyr.
The Typewriter Satyr is flush with colorful characters, including a Syrian coffeehouse owner who believes the Bush government is after him, a Buddhist monk who grew up in rural Wisconsin, a painter known as the Rabbit Master, and a homeless writer who roams the streets of Midvale in search of a missing shoe.

Shared Stages:
Ten American Dramas of Blacks and Jews
Dramatic Publishing Co.,
May, 2009

This May, Joanne Koch' s play "Stardust," winner of the Nantucket Short Play Competition, was published by Dramatic Publishing Co. Shared Stages: Ten American Dramas of Blacks and Jews, an anthology that includes "Driving Miss Daisy," ‘Fires in the Mirror." Koch' s and Sarah Cohen' s "Soul Sisters" has toured to 30 universities and communities around the country and is now being used in many schools. Koch also has collaborated with composer Ilya Levinson and lyricist Owen Kalt on a new musical about an irreverent comic who sold millions of comedy records in the ' 50s and ' 60s. "Belle Barth: If I Embarrass You, Tell Your Friends" was produced by Theo Ubique Theatre at the No Exit in November and December, with the amazing Bethany Thomas in the lead. "Belle" has been recommended for a Jeff Award and was praised by Chris Jones of the Tribune and Bill Williams of the Reader. Koch' s adaptation of Saul Bellow' s "A Silver Dish" will be published in a special tribute anthology honoring her frequent collaborator who just passed away, Sarah Blacher Cohen.

What's New at the Zoo?
Sylvan Dell Publishing,
July, 2009

Suzanne Slade' s new picture book coming out this July is What' s New at the Zoo? from Sylvan Dell Publishing. Slade will be reading and signing this new title at the Children's Museum on Navy Pier, July 12 from 11:00 - 12:30. She also be signing at the Sylvan Dell booth during the ALA conference on July 12, 2:30-3:30, and July 13, 12:00-1:00.

Don't Miss Your Life!
An Uncommon Guide to Living With Freedom, Laughter and Grace
S&S/Howard, June, 2009

Here' s what Publishers Weekly said about Charlene Ann Baumbich' s new book: "Baumbich, an award-winning journalist and author of the Dearest Dorothy fiction series, has set out to accomplish what few Christian humorists have succeeded in achieving: making her readers laugh deep from the belly while simultaneously trouncing on their faulty ‘religious' beliefs. Baumbich' s writing style is such that readers will feel as though she' s conversing with herself and they are her most fortunate eavesdropping audience."

The Inn Keeper:
An Unregistered Death
Echelon Press LLC,
April, 2009

The Inn Keeper: An Unregistered Death is Luisa Buehler's sixth in her Grace Marsden mystery series. A runaway slave and a society girl lie entombed in an Oak
Park cellar. Forensic evidence adds a twist; the remains were entombed 80 years apart!
Separated by age, gender, social status, and basic human rights, the mystery of their identities and their deaths is overshadowed by the unlikelihood of their final resting place. Grace is drawn into the bizarre discovery when an early police report casts suspicion on her friends. She curtails further involvement until she sees the specter of the runaway slave.
He waits outside the building that has hidden his remains for 90 years. He looks to Grace for justice and compassion. Can she deny him in death what he fought to gain in life?
Here' s what SMA member Harriette Gillem Robinet said, "The Underground Railroad, tunnels, hidden rooms, a Judas quilt. . . . Congratulations! You have another winner."

Chicago: Yesterday and Today
Publications International,
April, 2009

Richard Lindberg' s and Carol Carlson' s new book is a lively narrative about the people, places and incidents of history long forgotten or ignored in the standard guide books. From Norwood Park to Pilsen and down to Back of the Yards, the authors resurrect colorful snippets of lost city history with a wonderful collection of "then and now" photographs and drawings. Did you know there were once toll gates on Milwaukee Avenue destroyed in a night of fury by angry commuters? That up until her death in 1920, Anna Carlo-Blasi was officially recognized as the "Queen of Little Italy?" That promoter "Paddy" Harmon built the Chicago Stadium and died penniless? That Oprah Winfrey' s studio was once an indoor roller-skating rink in the 1880s? That the oldest house in Chicago is not the Widow Clarke House but the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House in Norwood Park?                         

Business Valuation for Dummies
Wiley Publishing,
April, 2009

Lisa Holton and valuation expert Jim Bates published Business Valuation for Dummies for Wiley Publishing in April. Holton, an author and ghostwriter who presented the SMA' s Jan. 13 program on For Members Only: A History and Guide to Chicago' s Private Clubs, is a former Chicago Sun-Times Business Editor and runs The Lisa Co. in Evanston, Ill. This is her 14th book.

Waiting for the Alchemist
Louisiana State University Press,
2009

Waiting for the Alchemist is a posthumously published collection of poems by longtime Society of Midland Authors member Mark Perlberg, his fourth book of poems. Mr. Perlberg died last year (see the September, 2008, Literary License.)
Ted Kooser, winner of the Society' s 2005 and 1981 Poetry Awards, writes on the book' s back cover, "I have been following the poetry of Mark Perlberg with great interest for more than 20 years. I have always been impressed by his authenticity."

The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream
Bloomberg Press,
June, 2009

The Audacity of Help: Obama' s Economic Plan and the Remaking of America
Bloomberg Press,
August, 2009

John Wasik has two new books coming out this year (they are coming out close together because the first one was delayed):
The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream explores the myriad causes of the U.S. housing bust and proposes solutions on how to make residential housing more affordable, sustainable and socially beneficial in the future.
The Audacity of Help: Obama's Economic Plan and the Remaking of America is an analysis and overview of President Obama' s economic stimulus
and budget plans with examinations of who will benefit and what needs to be done.

The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants
Penguin Press,
April, 2009

Jane Smith's book about Luther Burbank – the most famous gardener on the planet a century ago – is "lush, but hardly sentimental," the Chicago Tribune said. Smith tells how Burbank learned the secrets of breeding and crossbreeding ordinary plants from farm and garden until they were tastier, hardier and more productive than ever before. "There was always light in this book that brings Burbank to pulsing life even as it teaches plant science, patent law, eugenics, evolution and the fate of the prickly pear," the Tribune said.
Love and Obstacles
Picador,
August, 2009

Aleksandar Hemon, who won the 2009 Society of Midland Authors Adult Fiction Award, has a new collection of short stories out: Love and Obstacles, which received starred advance reviews from three of the trade publications. Publishers Weekly said Hemon "again beautifully twists the language in this collection of disquieting stories. The 1992 Bosnian war colors in the background of all the tales, who settings range from Africa to Chicago and Sarajevo." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, said, "Hemon infuses everything, from a freezer to bees in a hive, with barbed insights.

Hemon is world-class writer of seismic depth, riptide humor, wine-dark language."

Too ‘regional' ? Publishers like to stay in comfort zone

Writers on Writing: Arnie Bernstein

When Arnie Bernstein set out to write about the 1927 school bombing in Michigan' s Bath Township, he immediately ran into a disapproving audience: publishers.
"A lot of publishers said it was too regional a story," Bernstein said. "I kept fighting that. That is like saying [the shooting spree at] Virginia Tech was too regional – does it have to be in New York? It was frustrating at times."
The publishers also thought the 1927 event was too far in the past, he said.
Bernstein persevered and eventually linked up with the University of Michigan Press, which published Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing on March 16. It tells the story of Andrew Kehoe, who – upset by a tax levied to fund a new school building – set off a series of blasts in Michigan' s Bath Township, killing 45 people and injuring 58. Many of the victims were children at the Bath Township school, where Kehoe set off the largest blast. The book was published 10 years after the 1999 school killings in Columbine, Colo.
Fortunately, Bernstein' s saga has a happy ending.
"I have been very pleased with the University of Michigan Press," says Bernstein, whose previous three books were published by Lake Claremont in Chicago, which focuses on Chicago books. "We are getting some national attention. They have been doing a great job."
Before the University of Michigan Press stepped in, every major publisher turned the book down because it was too regional, Bernstein said. Six weeks after he closed the deal, however, the shootings at Virginia Tech took place, in which a gunman killed 32 people. Naturally, he thinks had that happened sooner, he might well have attracted much more interest from national publishers.
For example, Houghton Miflin Harcourt in February published Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Sicle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror by John Merriman. The book, which describes an 1894 bombing by a young radical intellectual in France' s capital and subsequent attacks might have attracted a major publisher because it is set "in the exciting international city of Paris," Bernstein points out.
"My agent said that if you want to interest major publishers you need to find a more national story or one associated with one of the coasts, preferably New York or the East Coast," Bernstein said. "The West Coast is a good location because publishers think people in Los Angeles will read the book and be interested in making a movie, and publishers want to sell movie rights."
Some authors he knows have speculated, Bernstein says, that more writers will find themselves in the future turning to smaller presses.
"All the majors are having problems," he says. "University and regional publishers are going to fill the void. The major publishers don' t want to take a chance. They want to make money right away."
Bernstein says he persevered because he thought it was a story that needed to be told.
"A lot of people are shocked that Columbine wasn' t the first," he says. "[Bath Township] is a small community. They didn' t even have electricity the day of the bombing. The school had electricity because it had a generator. It really was the quintessential, rural Midwestern town with glowing nostalgic thoughts. It was like the Roaring ' 20s went right past it."
His experience with Bath Massacre, Bernstein says, taught him a lesson about publishing.
"I learned a lot," he said. "Ultimately, if the story is good one, don' t let [the publishers' attitudes] get in the way."

'Chicago poetry has reached the four corners of the world'

Q&A With David Hernandez

David Hernandez, who has published seven books of poetry, has been called the "unofficial poet laureate of Chicago" and wrote the inauguration poem for Mayor Harold Washington. He was also commissioned by the city to write and perform an original poem commemorating the city' s sesquicentennial birthday. He was the first recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Outstanding Poet of Illinois award and also won the Illinois State Library Patron' s Choice award. In 1971, he founded Street Sounds, a poetry music group that SMA member Kevin Stein said "blends defy lyricism with expert musicianship, bridging the chasm between so-called page and performance poetries." Literary License recently caught up with him for a Q&A.

Literary License: Chicago is the home of the poetry slam, and recently Chicago poets helped set up a reading at the White House. What does this say about the vitality of poetry in Chicago?

David Hernandez: There' s always been an extremely vital poetry scene in Chicago. This city is a neon lady that nurtures quiet or introspective, loud and brassy poets. There isn't one given day in this city that a poetry event isn't happening. In both Ivy and Beer Halls, the park, the schools, cafes, you name it and the word-dealers are there. Poetry slams, performance poetry and recitals make poetry accessible to the public. It encourages people from all walks of life to listen and most importantly to participate. It validates that creativity in all of us and we have fun with it.
The slam is an international event now and Chicago is the Mecca of it all. Chicago poetry is the product of her vitality, and her poems have reached the four corners of the world. The city sponsors after-school programs and summer jobs for our youth where they get paid to do art, music and write poetry. How great is that? Also, it' s not only Chicago that' s hopping with poetry, it' s also the whole state. Our poet laureate of Illinois, Kevin Stein, is putting us on the map and bringing us all together. That's powerful stuff. He's a great poet.

Literary License: Do you prefer performing your own poetry or publishing it for others to read?

David Hernandez: Both. I love performing and publishing poetry for others to read. I write poetry for the page and for the stage because I love the intimate challenge of the craft.

Literary License: How did you get started as a poet?

David Hernandez: I began writing poetry 53 years ago at the age of 11, and I never stopped. I knew then that I was going to be a poet for the rest of my life. Ms. Greenspan, my sixth-grade teacher, during a poetry session stated that "poets have a creative license, they can create their own language." I asked, "Does this mean poets don't have to worry about spelling or being grammatically correct?" She answered, "theoretically yes." I said, "Bingo! I'm a poet!" Of course, once I discovered the language of poetry and the craft of writing a poem, I fell in love with it. One of my masters was a sculptor who told me "you give form to formlessness," and that stuck with me.

Literary License: Do you have a favorite among the poems you have written?
David Hernandez: Two things
happened to me in 1971. My first book of poems titled Despertando/Waking Up was published, and I founded my poetry/music ensemble "Street Sounds."
Since then I have written, published, performed and recorded many poems. Some of my favorite poems are about this neon lady I grew up with called Chicago and the people who live here. Sometimes I would lock myself up so I could write more introspective poems, but I got bored with myself. I found out that deep down inside, I'm really superficial and I need the people sights and sounds in order to create.

Literary License: What are you working on now?

David Hernandez: Right now I am working on programming some shows in my Blue Line Studio, preparing some prose and poetry manuscripts including writing plays. I am also writing poems and songs for my group "Street Sounds" and teaching my 11-year-old daughter the family business.
She plays violin with the Chicago Youth Symphony, and once in a while she plays with my group. Recently, she noticed that I pay my musicians, and now she wants money plus her name on the flyers. Imagine that! That' s learning the family business.

Literary License: When will you next perform with Street Sounds?

David Hernandez: My next performance with my poetry/music ensemble "Street Sounds" will be at the Green Mill Lounge on Sunday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m. This is the Poetry Slam hosted by my longtime friend Marc Smith.
Finally I want to say that I consider it an honor to be a member of the Society of Midland Authors. What great writers we have!


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