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Chicago Book Review IS NOT Chicago Review of Books

CBR_Logo2I don’t know why Chicago Review of Books chose a name so similar to ours when they launched a year ago, more than two years after Chicago Book Review began publishing, but they did. And so there’s been a lot of confusion since then, primarily on Twitter.

Now, however, since Chicago Review of Books decided that they would not review any Simon & Schuster titles in light of that house’s decision to publish Milo Yiannopoulos’s forthcoming book, we here at Chicago Book Review have been catching a lot of shit.

WE ARE NOT THE SAME PUBLICATIONS.
WE ARE NOT RELATED IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER.

If you’d like to complain about or harass Chicago Review of Books, you can find them at https://chireviewofbooks.com
You can email them at chireviewofbooks@gmail.com
You can tweet at them at @bookschicago

We here at Chicago Book Review have been on an unintended hiatus since July due to an accident suffered by the publisher and founder of CBR. In addition, we only review books that have some kind of direct connection to Chicago and/or the Midwest, so the Yiannopolous thing isn’t really a thing with us. Furthermore, we have made no statements whatsoever regarding Yiannopolous or Simon & Schuster, and we have no intention of doing so.

If you want to freak out over this issue, please direct your freakishness to Chicago Review of Books and not to us here at Chicago Book Review.

Thank you.

—Kelli Christiansen
Publisher/Founder
Chicago Book Review

 

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Much More Than Half

CBR_Logo2Meet Me Halfway:
Milwaukee Stories
by Jennifer Morales

When Johnquell, a  seventeen-year-old African-American with a college scholarship, passes away after a gruesome accident in his white neighbor’s home, his community must find ways to bridge the gaps between races, ages, and orientations in their neighborhood. In nine linked short stories, Jennifer Morales untangles the complicated relationships among African-American and Puerto Rican teens and their white classmates and teachers, Vietnam vets, Latino landlords, former Black Panthers, and all their sprawling families as they search for common ground.meet me halfway

Morales’s collection is truly masterful, diving deep into her characters and layering them one on top of another to weave the vibrant tapestry of the Rust Belt neighborhood. Each of the nine stories highlights a different member of the community, and the author fully develops each, inhabiting the unique and believable voices of a grade school girl, an elderly racist neighbor, a sexually confused middle-aged woman, and many others. Morales’s thorough fearlessness extends beyond the voices of the characters; she penetrates the contemporary culture of racism and bigotry in a way that elicits empathy and demands respect from even the most detached of readers.

But Meet Me Halfway accomplishes something that many race stories don’t: This collection doesn’t divide good from evil, but paints the community in endless shades of gray. In the first chapter, readers are introduced to an elderly woman who cannot fathom why her best friend would go out of her way to cook dinner for her black neighbors. Later on, though, Morales tells this woman’s own story, and we see her as a widow rattling around in a too-large house, struggling to come to terms with her age as her family pressures her to move into an assisted-living facility. In no way does Morales excuse or undermine the bigotry her book addresses; rather, she villainizes the behavior while portraying its perpetrators as complex, multidimensional human beings. In this way, because no one “antagonist” is beyond repair, there is hope for a better future.

Meet Me Halfway has already been chosen as the Common Reading Experience for the incoming class at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and this is a title that truly deserves that recognition. Morales, who lives in Wisconsin, tells a Wisconsin story—a Midwest story—using one of the country’s most segregated cities as a backdrop. But the fact is that her message is evergreen and universally relevant, and her approach is gentle and insistent, preaching a vision of the future that makes room for every voice and every creed.

Four-Star Review

April 2015, Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press
Fiction/Short Stories
$19.95, paperback, 192 pages
ISBN: 978-0299303648

—Reviewed by Sarah Weber

Learn more about the book.
Read more about the author and her work.

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Voices That Need to Be Heard

CBR_Logo2“It’s getting down to crunch time.”

So says Jeff Pfaller, cofounder of Midwestern Gothic, a journal “dedicated to featuring work about or inspired by the Midwest, by writers who live or have lived here.” Pfaller is talking about the 2015 Voices of the Middle West literary festival, a one-day event cohosted by MG and University of Michigan’s Residential College.

Middle_West_Logo_hiresThis is the second year of the festival, which this year will be held March 21 in Ann Arbor. The festival originated in a brainstorming session with some of the journal’s interns. Pfaller and the MG staff instantly loved the idea. “It sounded phenomenal and right up our alley,” he says. “It just made a lot of sense as a natural extension of our mission.”

With its mission to generate conversation about Midwestern voices and shine a spotlight on the region, the lit fest has proved a terrific avenue to do just that. The festival will bring together authors and readers, writers and publishers, and students and faculty from the University of Michigan. Among the day’s events are various panels about publishing and writing, storytelling sessions, an open mic event, and a keynote address from award-winning author Stuart Dybek, a writer and poet whose latest works include Ecstatic Cahoots, Paper Lantern: Love Stories, and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. Dybek, who is Writer in Residence at Northwestern University, will be joined during the day by a variety of literary folk, including Peter Ho Davies, Laura Kasischke, and Marcus Wicker.

Portrait Stuart Dybek

Author Stuart Dybek, 2015 Voices of the Middle West keynoter

In addition to featuring a number of Midwestern authors, Voices of the Middle West will highlight the work of a variety of local and regional publishers. Attendees can browse the pop-up bookfair, which will include exhibitors from such journals as BathHouse Journal, Fortnight, and Michigan Quarterly Review as well as publishers Curbside Splendor, Dzanc Books, and Switchgrass Books, among others.

Also featured during the festival will be 826Michigan, a nonprofit writing center with which MG partnered to publish Tell Me How It Was, an anthology of stories written by middle school students. It’s a project that is near and dear to MG’s heart, Pfaller says, not least of which because it provides a venue for young writers to be heard.

“Someone in middle school gets to say they’re a published author,” Pfaller notes. “These are thirteen-year-old kids. We got some stories about sports heroes and everyday things, and we also got students who were commenting on bigger events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. They were nuanced, funny, and heartbreaking stories. We were really happy with what came out of the project.”

The anthology will be launched during an afternoon session, and it is just one of the projects that will be highlighted during the day. In fact, Voices of the Middle West is designed to expose readers to the work that is coming out of the region, whether literary journal, indie press, micro press, or university press, whether print or digital. Pfaller and the MG crew believe that the time is right for just such exposure.

“There’s been a renaissance in Midwestern literature in the past several years,” Pfaller says. “Several presses and publications are focusing on it. More authors and writers are happy to identify that they’re from the Midwest.”

It’s a theme that seems to resonate with authors, writers, publishers, and readers alike. Last year’s festival attracted about a thousand attendees, and attendance is expected to double this year. That’s due not only to more publicity and some great word-of-mouth marketing but also to the fact that this year’s bookfair is double the size of last year’s and because the festival has attracted panelists from across the country.

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Attendees browse and mingle at the pop-up bookfair

The event also attracts attendees from far and wide. Although most attendees are locals—fans of Ann Arbor’s thriving literary scene—Voices of the Middle West attracts folks from across Michigan, from Wisconsin, and from the Chicago area.

Voices of the Middle West is a “celebration of the Midwest voice,” and it seems to be tapping into an audience hungry for writing with local flavor that appeals to readers of all tastes. In bringing together a stellar collection of writers, poets, and publishers—and readers, of course—the festival is helping to build the literary community in the region. It’s one that Pfaller says is ready for some attention.

“It’s a thriving, vibrant community with so many presses in the area,” he says. “It’s a great community. The audience is already ripe for it. Hopefully this will show that the Midwest has a lot to offer.”

—Kelli Christiansen

Voices of the Middle West runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 21 at University of Michigan, East Quadrangle, 701 E. University Ave., Ann Arbor. For information, visit http://midwestgothic.com/voices/

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