If Amy Newman’s On This Day in Poetry History is topping your must-read list, you’re certainly not alone. Poetry lovers here at EPL have been clamoring for a copy since the summer, and demand for her follow-up to Dear Editor only continues to grow. Described as a “dazzling new collection” by the NY Times, On This Day in Poetry History finds Newman exploring the lives of poetry heavyweights such as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Berryman in search of that elusive “moment when a person becomes a poet.” A wholly innovative mix of biography and stunning verse, Newman’s latest showcases what Image praised as her “true mastery [of the] ability to play with language.” We recently spoke with the Northern Illinois University professor via email about rediscovering poetry in Manhattan, the history and allure of the “Confessional” poets, the challenges of biographical poetry, and how her favorite poem from the book came into being.
On the rainy evening of September 27, 1999, Dr. Clark Elliott was en route to DePaul University to deliver a lecture when his car was rear ended at a Morton Grove stoplight. Shaken but seemingly uninjured, Elliott continued on to DePaul’s campus unaware he’d suffered a concussion that would dramatically alter his life. In his remarkable new memoir The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back, Elliott details the harrowing effects of his concussion along with his remarkable recovery almost 10 years later with the help of two cutting-edge Chicago doctors. This Monday, November 7th you can hear Dr. Elliott discuss The Ghost in My Brain when he visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 7 p.m. In anticipation of his visit, we recently spoke with him via email about the debilitating concussion symptoms he fought to overcome, brain plasticity, the groundbreaking work of Drs. Donalee Markus and Deboray Zelinsky, and the reasons he wrote his book.
Lloyd Davidson is an Evanston photographer who made his Local Art @ EPL debut back in 2015. Now the retired NU Life Sciences Librarian has returned with a fresh collection of breathtaking nature photography captured everywhere from New Zealand to the American Southwest to James Park. You can catch this inspired show on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library through the end of September, and you can view more of Dr. Davidson’s work by visiting his online gallery. Recently we spoke with him via email about his artistic inspirations including Kafka, Picasso, and Edward Weston, his three simple rules for capturing the perfect shot, the Louis Pasteur quote that is his motto, and the rich Evanston art scene.
Patrick Shiplett is an Evanston artist who is the latest to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. A cartoonist whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, NY Times, and Washington Post, Shiplett’s exhibit features nearly three dozen cartoons he presented to the New Yorker’s editorial staff before they explained “there was no room for a cartoonist [his] age in their lineup.” Titled Too Old for the New Yorker, Shiplett’s cartoon collection is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library where you can catch it through August 31st along with selected writing from his blog. You can find more of his cartoons and writing by visiting his website, and we recently spoke with him via email about his artistic origins, pitch meetings at the New Yorker, advice for aspiring cartoonists, and his blog.
Donna Wesley Spencer is an Evanston photographer, founding member of Perspective Gallery, and the latest artist to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. Her exhibit Inside the Frances Willard House is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library where you can catch it through July 30th. Featuring sixteen gorgeous interior shots of Willard’s home at 1730 Chicago Avenue, the exhibit celebrates one of Evanston’s greatest historical treasures and serves as a visual appetizer for the grand reopening of the Francis Willard House Museum in September 2016. You can learn more about Spencer’s work by visiting her website, and we recently spoke with her via email about her artistic origins, falling in love with the Willard House, and what’s new at Perspective Gallery.
Even though Cyndee Schaffer always knew her mother served during World War II, it was still a little hard to believe. “She was always a very quiet person,” says Schaffer, “and that she found the courage to join the military just amazed me.” In fact, Schaffer’s mother – Mollie Weinstein Schaffer – served as an enlistee in the newly-formed Women’s Army Corps from 1943 to 1945 during which time she sent home hundreds of letters describing bombings in England, landing in Normandy just weeks after the Allied invasion, and serving in Germany after VE Day. Her fascinating letters have been collected in the recent book Mollie’s War, and this Sunday, July 17th at 3 pm you can join Cyndee Schaffer when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room to read excerpts from the book and share Mollie’s WWII memorabilia. In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with Cyndee via email about her work editing and researching Mollie’s War, her favorite of her mother’s WAC experiences, the lost art of letter writing, and what she hopes readers take away from the book.
The Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Project recently announced the 2016 winner of its annual writing competition, and now your list of “must-read” books is officially one title longer. Choosing from the best self-published fiction Illinois writers have to offer, librarians throughout the state selected Geralyn Hesslau Magrady as this year’s winning author for her excellent historical novel Lines–. Set in 1870s-era Chicago and filled with incredible period detail, Magrady’s book explores the historical struggles for workers’ rights and gender equality while tracing the life of Livia Haas – a young German woman who experiences first love and terrible loss while surviving both the Great Fire and the Haymarket Affair. Though her summer is packed with statewide book readings and signings, Magrady recently paused to speak with us via email about her contest experience, her real-life inspiration for Livia Haas, research at the Berwyn Public Library, Emily Dickinson, and what she hopes readers will take away from Lines–.
Amina Gautier writes short stories, and her short story collections win awards. It’s about that simple. Back in 2011, for instance, her debut collection At-Risk earned the Flannery O’Connor Award and the First Horizon Award among other honors, and her 2014 follow-up Now We Will Be Happy won the Praire Schooner Book Prize. This past February Gautier continued the trend with The Loss of All Lost Things – a gripping collection of fifteen stories that explores the unpredictable ways in which characters deal with the loss of their loved ones, careers, reputations, and hometowns. Not only did her third collection win the Elixir Press Award in Fiction, but Gautier was also included on Newcity’s 2016 Lit 50 list and is set to receive the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award in October. Back on May 9, Gautier visited EPL to read from The Loss of All Lost Things as part of the 2016 Evanston Literary Festival, but if you missed her that night, have no fear. You can catch her this Saturday, June 11 at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, and what’s more, we recently spoke with her via email about her love of the short story form, her creative process, and the challenges of writing intimately about loss.
Abby Geni insists she’s “always been a novelist at heart,” and with her provocative debut thriller The Lightkeepers, it’s clear the Evanston native is following her true calling. Part murder mystery, part ghost story, The Lightkeepers tells the twisting tale of nature photographer Miranda as she begins a one-year residency on the Farallon Islands – a remote, untamed archipelago off the California coast. Shortly after arriving, Miranda is assaulted by one of the six biologists studying the islands, and when her attacker is found mysteriously dead days later, she must struggle to face the reality of her assault as the violence escalates around her and suspicions run wild. An insightful exploration of the nature of recovery and the harsh indifference of the natural world, The Lightkeepers was described by the Chicago Tribune as both “an accessible page-turner” and “an astonishingly ambitious debut [that] like many literary classics… raises questions about humanity that are anything but light.” Back on April 25, Geni visited Bookends & Beginnings to read from The Lightkeepers as part of an EPL-sponsored event also featuring author Ben Nadler. If you missed her that night, however, have no fear because we recently spoke to her via email about her novel’s origins, bringing the Farallon Islands to life, and the human disconnect with nature.
The 2nd Annual Evanston Literary Festival might be nearing its conclusion, but rest assured, there is still plenty of book-loving fun to be had this weekend thanks to Northwestern University, Bookends & Beginnings, the Chicago Book Expo, and your very own EPL. What’s more, here on Off the Shelf we’ll continue featuring interviews with some of the participating authors, poets, and graphic novelists even after the festival wraps. Next up is poet Dina Elenbogen. A teacher of creative writing at the University of Chicago Graham School and of Jewish Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago, Elenbogen is the author of the poetry collection Apples of the Earth and the recent memoir Drawn from Water: An American Poet, an Ethiopian Family, an Israeli Story. She has received fellowships and awards from the Illinois Arts Council, the Ragdale Foundation, the Evanston Arts Council and Hilai Artists Colony in Israel, and her work has appeared in magazines including December, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, Tikkun, and Rhino as well as in anthologies such as Lost on the Map of the World, Where We Find Ourselves, and Brute Neighbors. On Saturday, May 14th at 5:30 pm, Elenbogen will share her work as part of the “5 Poets, 20 Poems” reading at the Unicorn Cafe, and in anticipation, we spoke with her via email about her poetic origins and inspirations, her writing process, and his new poem “Missing.”