Chicago's New Literature

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Chicago's New Literature

Literature is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think about Chicago. The NBA championship winning Bulls are a more obvious claim to fame, along with the blues, and Chicago's propensity for corruption and organized crime. But tough, feisty Chicago has always been a writer's town, and its literature has reflected the bluster of the place, keeping pace with the city's evolution from a dirty sprawl of stockyards and steel mills to a downtown of towers surrounded by a patchwork of low-rise neighborhoods as varied in ambience as the cultures of people who call them home.

The work of the old guard--Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, and Gwendolyn Brooks--is essential to grasping the essence of the Chicago soul, but there has been a vibrant literary flowering over the past five years, a surge in creative energy that has pushed Chicago writing far beyond any regional category. The city boasts writers writing in every imaginable form and in voices as notable for their precision as for their passion and originality, writers such as Sara Paretsky, Li-Young Lee, Scott Turow, Ana Castillo, Leon Forrest, Reginald Gibbons, April Sinclair, Luis Rodriguez, David Foster Wallace, and James Park Sloan. The depth and breadth of the Chicago spectrum is just hinted at in the titles selected here.

Chernoff, Maxine. American Heaven. Coffee House Press, dist. by Consortium,1996, $21.95 (1-56689-041-1).

Chernoff's compelling characters represent various aspects of Chicago life. Irena, a mathematician, has left her frustrating life in Poland for Chicago, but can only find work as a caretaker in a luxurious lakefront high rise. Her employer, a renowned jazz musician, reflects the artistic side of Chicago life, while his neighbor, Jack Kaufman, a gangster turned real-estate mogul, personifies the city's wheeling-and-dealing tradition.

Cumpian, Carlos. Armadillo Charm. Tia Chucha Press, dist. by Northwestern University Press, 1996, paper, $10.95 (1-882688-09-0).

Cumpian's poems have the velocity and breathlessness of stories told to friends who expect to be entertained but will interrupt if given the chance. …