An Interview with celebrated Evanston author Laurence Gonzales

Photo by John German

Laurence Gonzales’s impressive list of literary achievements just got even longer.  Already the winner of two prestigious National Magazine Awards and the Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, the bestselling Evanston author recently had the honor of seeing his acclaimed book Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival adapted for the Chicago stage.  Titled “United Flight 232,” the House Theatre of Chicago production opened to rave reviews on March 11 and runs through May 1 at the Chopin Theatre.  But that’s not all.  On March 21, Gonzales was also named a Miller Scholar of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) – an award previously received by author Neal Stephenson and actor-playwright Sam Shepard and given annually to “highly accomplished, creative thinkers who make profound contributions to our understandings of society, science, and culture.”  In celebration of all his good news, we recently spoke with Gonzales via email about the origins of Flight 232 and its journey to the stage, his plans for his twelve months at SFI, and his appreciation of the poet James Wright.

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An Interview with ‘Paris, He Said’ author Christine Sneed

sneedWe last talked with author Christine Sneed back in early 2011 shortly after she published her first short story collection Portraits of A Few of the People I’ve Made Cry.  Already the winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, her stunning debut became a magnet for literary awards and was eventually named a finalist for the LA Times’ Book Prize for First Fiction.  But Sneed was just getting started.  In the years that followed, the NU writing teacher has published two critically-acclaimed novels – Little Known Facts (2013) and Paris, He Said (2015), graced the cover of the NY Times Book Review, and continued to collect writing honors including the Carl Sandburg 21st Century Award and a Booklist nod for a Top Ten Debut Novel.  This Saturday, April 9th, you can hear Sneed read selections from her recent work when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 4 pm along with author and comedienne Julia Sweeney.  In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about the life of a successful novelist, her forthcoming story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, the resurgence of short fiction, and her favorite recent reads.

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Women’s History Month: Frances Willard

willardOur Women’s History Month celebration draws to a close as we highlight one final influential woman from history as chosen by you.  Last but certainly not least is Frances Willard who was selected by Glen Madeja – a 44-year Evanston resident and the Executive Director of the Frances Willard Historical Association which manages the Frances Willard House Museum, Memorial Library, and Archives.  Writes Mr. Madeja:

“Frances Willard was a visionary feminist, social justice advocate, and political activist in the late 19th century.  She was able to mobilize women across the globe to work for women’s rights and human rights when women generally had no empowerment in the public sphere.  The basis for our modern social welfare policies can be found in the initiatives fomented by Willard.  Many things we commonly take for granted today such as women’s right to vote, childhood education, protection of women and children at home and work, stiffer penalties for sexual crimes against girls and women, traveler’s aid, police matrons, pure food and drug laws, legal aid, and passive demonstrations are based on the pioneering work of Willard and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.”

You can learn more below about Frances Willard, and make sure to mark your calendars for July 2016 when EPL hosts a special Frances Willard House photography exhibit.  Stay tuned.

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Women’s History Month: Sandra Day O’Connor

sandra do'cOur Women’s History Month celebration continues as we highlight the most influential women in history as chosen by you.  Next up is Sandra Day O’Connor who was selected by Josie Johnson – an Evanston 4th grader, Irish dancer, and creative writer who will honor O’Connor tonight at Willard Elementary’s Wax Museum of American History.  Writes Miss Johnson:

“I think one of the most influential women is Sandra Day O’Connor who was the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.  She was a pioneer in women’s rights and completed her job even under intense scrutiny.  She made clear that a job can be for any gender, and she proved women are just as good as men.”

You can learn more about Sandra Day O’Connor below, and make sure to share your pick for one of the most influential women in history.  Tell us today by visiting EPL Celebrates Women’s History Month.

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An Irish Author You Need to Read…

Award-winning author Kevin Barry

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and the perfect time to talk a wee bit about Irish authors.  We know you know about the heavy hitters like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, and you couldn’t miss the Irish-influence at this year’s Oscars:  Emma Donoghue’s Room and Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn both inspired Best Picture nominees.  But how about Kevin Barry?  If this Irish lit phenom’s books aren’t yet topping your reading list, there’s little doubt they soon will be.  Celebrated for their dazzling language and endless originality, his novels and story collections have already won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Goldsmiths Prize, and the International Dublin Literary Award with author Irvine Welsh calling Barry’s debut The City of Bohane “the best novel to come out of Ireland since Ulysses.”  So as you celebrate all things Irish today, don’t forget to check out a book by Kevin Barry.  You can read more about them below, and don’t miss the great clip of Barry reading “Apparitions” – his witty tale about the ghosts of Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and William Butler Yeats haunting the streets of modern Dublin.  Enjoy!

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The Presidential Candidate Book Quiz

Tomorrow is the Illinois Primary Election, and by now you probably know the 2016 presidential candidates pretty well.  You’ve listened to the speeches, watched the debates, and maybe even gone to a rally.  You know what they stand for and against.  But do you know what they like to read?  Test your knowledge below:

brothers kWhich candidate named Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov as their favorite novel?

a)  Marco Rubio
b)  Hillary Clinton
c)  Bernie Sanders
d)  Ted Cruz


Which of the following is one of Ted Cruz’s favorite comic book characters?

a) Martian Manhunter
b) Superman
c) Rorschach
d) Wonder Woman


sandersBernie Sanders recommended which book during a 2010 filibuster in the Senate?

a) The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley
b) Third World America by Arianna Huffington
c) Richistan by Robert Frank
d) All of the above


Which of these books was written by Donald Trump?

a) Outsider in the White House
b) Hard Choices
c) American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone
d) None of the above


atlasWhich candidate named Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as their favorite novel?

a) Marco Rubio
b) Donald Trump
c) Bernie Sanders
d) John Kasich


Hillary Clinton is embarrassed not to have read which of the following:

a) Ulysses by James Joyce
b) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
c) In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
d) War and Peace by Tolstoy


green eggsWhich candidate read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor?

a) Bernie Sanders
b) Ted Cruz
c) Marco Rubio
d) Hillary Clinton


Donald Trump has said the following book is his favorite:

a) The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
b) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson
c) Crippled America by Donald Trump
d) All of the above


ginsbergAllen Ginsberg wrote a poem inspired by which candidate?

a) Bernie Sanders
b) Donald Trump
c) John Kasich
d) Hillary Clinton


Check your answers below, and remember… don’t forget to vote!

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Women’s History Month: Eleanor Roosevelt

eleanor rooseveltOur Women’s History Month celebration rages on as we continue highlighting the most influential women in history as chosen by you.  Next up is Eleanor Roosevelt who was selected by Patricia Frank – a 41-year Evanston resident, community gardener, and birder who earned a Ph.D. from NU’s Feinberg School of Medicine and founded a local consulting company.  Writes Ms. Frank:

“Eleanor Roosevelt changed the role of women in American politics even though she was never elected.  She showed how a woman can be strong on her own without the support – or necessarily the approval – of her husband.  And her influence had nothing to do with personal beauty, just force of personality.”

You can learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt below, and make sure to share your pick for one of the most influential women in history.  Tell us today by visiting EPL Celebrates Women’s History Month.

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A Post-‘Downton Abbey’ Survival Kit

downton 4

The final episode of Downton Abbey aired this past Sunday evening, and now that we’ve reached Day 3 in this strange, post-Downton world, it’s likely that even casual fans have started suffering symptoms of withdrawal.  Do not panic, dear Downton lovers.  You see, we’ve assembled a Post-Downton Abbey Survival Kit featuring Downton-related documentaries, BBC shows, books, cast updates, humor, and much more.  It is the next best thing to a seventh season and specially designed to ease you through this difficult time.  So please try to keep calm, friends, and carry on knowing that Off the Shelf is here for you.

Downton-Like DVDs

If you’ve already binged Upstairs Downstairs and worn out your copy of Gosford Park, don’t hesitate to give these series a try:

the pallisersThe Pallisers

Set in the palatial country houses and grand Mayfair salons of mid-Victorian England, this captivating BBC saga of wealth, passion, and power follows an aristocratic family through three generations and begins when Lady Glencora is forced to marry a rising politician named Palliser.  Based the celebrated novels of Anthony Trollope.


paradiseThe Paradise

Instead of an estate, this Victorian romance from the BBC is set in Britain’s first department store.  Telling the rags-to-riches story of shop girl Denise, the series is filled with great characters, intrigue, affairs, and a realistic look at Britain’s class system.



secrets of highclere castleSecrets of Highclere Castle

Famous today as the setting of Downton, England’s 1,300-year-old Highclere Castle has its own stories to tell.  This riveting documentary shows how both the aristocrats and the army of servants lived when the castle was the social epicenter of Edwardian England.  Also see how the current owners – Lord and Lady Carnarvon – live today.


Also try these DVDs…


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Women’s History Month: May Wood Simons

May Wood Simons

Women’s History Month is here, and the celebration is in full swing.  Not only is tomorrow International Women’s Day, but here on Off the Shelf we’re spending March highlighting the most influential women in history as chosen by you.  First up is May Wood Simons.  An Evanston resident who helped start tomorrow’s holiday, she was selected by Lori Osborne – Director of the Evanston Women’s History Project, Archivist at the Evanston History Center, and a 25-year Evanston resident.  Writes Ms. Osborne:

“May Wood Simons was involved in founding International Women’s Day. Simons and her husband, Algie, were Evanston residents for many years and were active in the early years of the Socialist Party in America…  In 1909, the first National Woman’s Day was held throughout the United States on February 28th.  It was organized by the newly formed Woman’s National Committee of the Socialist Party to celebrate the political rights of women.  May Wood Simons was a delegate to, and later head of, the committee and spoke in favor of the Socialist party supporting women’s suffrage. To celebrate this first Woman’s Day, Simons gave a lecture about women’s suffrage at the Evanston Auditorium. For the 1910 Woman’s Day, Simons spoke at the Garrick Theater in Chicago, lecturing about the relationship between the women’s movement and the industrial and economic movement of workers. That same year, Simons was the American delegate to the International Socialist Congress at Copenhagen, where Clara Zetkin was inspired to create a similar celebration in Germany and Austria, founding International Woman’s Day the next year, in 1911…  International Women’s Day is now celebrated around the globe every year on March 8th.  It is a day set aside to celebrate women’s achievements, but also remember the work still needed to promote gender equality.”

You can learn more below about May Wood Simons and the causes for which she fought, and don’t miss tomorrow’s International Women’s Day Celebration at the Evanston History Center.  Also, make sure to share who you think is one of the most influential women in history.  Tell us today by visiting EPL Celebrates Women’s History Month.

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Happy National Grammar Day!

You’ve had your decorations up for weeks, and now the big day is finally here.  That’s right, it’s National Grammar Day, and tonight spell checkers and proofreaders from coast to coast will be celebrating into the wee hours.  In honor of this momentous day, we asked a few EPL regulars the following:

What is your biggest grammar pet peeve?

Linda“In our house, we’re constantly hearing ‘me and so-and-so’ instead of ‘so-and-so and I.’  We’re always correcting each other.”

— Kathy Henke, a 13-year Evanston resident and mother of 3



Marney“When someone uses mixed verb tenses in a sentence.”

— Marley Haller, an NU grad living in Evanston since 2003



Volunteer“Prepositions at the end of a sentence!  Also, saying ‘me and him went to…’  Eek!  That’s like nails on a blackboard for me.”

— Sheila McGuire, an EPL volunteer and 15-year Evanston resident



If you’re making National Grammar Day resolutions, try the following books to help you reach your goals, but for now… let the festivities begin!

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