Printers Row Lit Fest

FULL PROGRAM SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED FOR PRINTERS ROW LIT FEST, THE MIDWEST’S LARGEST LITERARY CELEBRATION, SEPTEMBER 10 & 11

Pulitzer Prize winner and Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey joins over 100 authors including national bestsellers Jamie Ford, Marie Myung-OK Lee, and Danyel Smith in a jam-packed weekend of free programming

This year’s festival highlights Chicago stories and offers fun for all ages, with a poetry tent organized by The Poetry Foundation; a rare presentation from satire writers at The Onion; interactive programs for youth and families; and more

The 37th annual Printers Row Lit Fest, presented by the Near South Planning Board, is pleased to announce the full schedule of participating authors and programs. Printers Row Lit Fest is one of the three largest and oldest literary festivals in the U.S. and stretches across five blocks, along South Dearborn Street from Ida B. Wells Drive to Polk Street and on Polk Street from State to Clark, in Chicago’s historic Printers Row neighborhood. The outdoor event is accessible via public transportation and takes place rain or shine from Saturday – Sunday, September 10 – 11, from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

The festival kicks off with Evanston-based Pulitzer Prize winner and two-term United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, who will be awarded with this year’s prestigious Harold Washington Literary Award. Chicago authors and stories will be presented during the Printers Row Lit Fest including dozens of new books and anthologies focused on Chicago. From columnist Neil Steinberg’s Every Goddamn Day: A Highly Selective, Definitely Opinionated, and Alternatingly Humorous and Heartbreaking Historical Tour of Chicago and Ray Long’s The House that Madigan Built: The Record Run of Illinois’ Velvet Hammer to fictions set in Chicago neighborhoods such as Toya Wolfe’s Last Summer on State Street, Joe Meno’s Book of Extraordinary Tragediesand One Book One Chicago author Eric Charles May’s Bedrock Faith, Chicago is a leading character in today’s literary zeitgeist.  

Printers Row Lit Fest’s dynamic lineup offers fun for book lovers of all kinds, from poetry and romance to satire and spoken word. Highlights of this year’s festival include a conversation with Danyel Smith, the first Black editor of Billboard magazine, on her recent book Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in PopJamie Ford discussing his current New York Times bestseller The Many Daughters of Afong May; and celebrated author of The Evening Hero, Marie Myung-OK Lee.

Poetry Tent

New to this year’s festival is a dedicated poetry tent curated by The Poetry Foundation with a lineup of award-winning and emerging poets. Also new to the festival is the laugh-out-loud Literary Death Match, whichpits four local authors against each other in front of a panel of all-star judges, and the Chicago-based, national satirical news site The Onion will present a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the article production process of “America’s Finest News Source” with a post-apocalyptic twist. Visitors can participate in a spoken word workshop and open mic led by EmceeSkool, and The Moth will showcase recent winners from their popular StorySLAM live storytelling competition.

The Printers Row Lit Fest will present powerful voices in social and environmental justice and activism with a series of panels hosted by reporters from Chicago Sun-Times and personalities from WBEZ. The fest includes a timely discussion reflecting on two years of the COVID-19 pandemic with a conversation between Dr. David Ansell, author of The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills, and Dr. Thomas Fisher, author of The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago E.R. In addition, the Chicago Public Library will host Voices for Justice: Natalie Moore’s “The Billboard” including a staged reading of excerpts from the award-winning play.

This year marks the return of children and family-focused programming at Printers Row Lit Fest. Programs include Theatre on the Hill’s Choose Your Own Once Upon a Time, an opportunity for children to decide the fates of their favorite fairy tale characters in a live, interactive theatrical event, and Carlos Theatre Productions which will present a Latin American puppet show for children in Spanish and English. Parents can hear Dr. Dana Suskind in conversation with former Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens about her recent book Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise. 

Programs are organized by Printers Row Lit Fest Program Director Amy Danzer, assistant director of graduate programs at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies and Board President of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

Including Sandmeyer’s Books and The Book CellarPrinters Row Lit Fest hosts over 100 booksellers in airy outdoor tents, inviting visitors to peacefully peruse everything from the rare to ‘hot off the press,’ newly published works. All programming, includingfeature presentations by myriad authors, spoken word artists, journalists, comedians, and poets,is 100% free of charge.

Printers Row Lit Fest 2022 Schedule

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

10:00 a.m.

Center Stage – Children’s Programming – Theatre on the Hill Presents Choose Your Own Once Upon A Time

Poetry Foundation – Children’s Programming – A bilingual reading of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions, Selections/Libro de Preguntas, Selecciones (Enchanted Lion Books, 2022) by translator, Sara Lissa Paulson.

Main Stage – Welcome by Near South Planning Board Chairman Steven Smutny, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown, and First Lady Amy Eshleman. Program to follow featuring Natasha Trethewey, Harold Washington Literary Award Winner in conversation with Donna Seaman, Booklist. Program introduced by Natalie Moore, Harold Washington Literary Award Selection Committee Chair.

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – The Deep Creativity of Translation: A Reading and Discussion with Izidora Angel, Mary Hawley, and Alta L. Price. Moderated by Irina Ruvinsky. Presented by Another Chicago Magazine and the Third Coast Translators Collective.

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Big Shoulders Press Presents Virus City: Chicago 2020-2021. Reading and Discussion featuring Amy Do,  Robin Hoecker, Emily Richards, Oscar Sanchez, and Frank Tempone. Moderated by Rebecca Johns Trissler.

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Children’s Programming -10:15am – Doors. 10:30am – Miss Friendship Ambassador 2022 Susan Liu to tell the story of the Moon Festival Presented by the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. 10:45am – Moon Festival Parade to depart Grace Place.

11:00 a.m.

Center Stage – Welcome by Alderman King One Book One Chicago – Thomas Dyja, The Third Coast and Eric Charles May, Bedrock Faith with Judy Rivera-Van Schage

Poetry Foundation – Children’s Programming – Reading by Julian Randall, Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa. Emceed by Stefania Gomez. 

Main Stage – (11:30 a.m.) WBEZ Presents Adriana Herrera, A Caribbean Heiress in Paris, and Sarah MacLean, Heartbreaker: A Hell’s Belles Novel in conversation with WBEZ’s Greta Johnsen, host of Nerdette

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Ray Long, The House That Madigan Built: The Record Run of Illinois’ Velvet Hammer in conversation with Joan Esposito

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Unlocking Memories and Uncovering Stories: Bindy Bitterman, Skiddly Diddly Skat (children’s book) and Sharon Kramer, Time for Bubbe (children’s book) in conversation with Chicago author Beth Finke 

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Patricia Carlos Dominguez Presents Yo Luchadora (bilingual children’s book) followed by a workshop

Saturday Afternoon

12:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Erika L. Sanchez, Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir in conversation with Juan Martinez

Poetry Foundation – – The Chicago Poetry Center – Readings by Mayda del Valle, Aricka Foreman, Tim Stafford, Natasha Mijares, C. Russell Price, and Viola Lee. Emceed by Marty McConnell.

Main Stage – (12:30 p.m) WBEZ Presents Danyel Smith, Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop in Conversation with WBEZ’s Natalie Moore

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Deborah Cohen, Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took On a World at War in conversation with Peter Slevin

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Crises: The All Ages Show – Dan Chaon, Sleepwalk and Jean Thompson, The Poet’s House in conversation with Eileen Favorite

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Writing Overwhelming Realities – Readings by Julia Fine, Dionne Irving, Ananda Lima, Jami Nakamura Lin, and Jeffrey Wolf. Emceed by Ananda Lima.

1:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Debut Fiction: Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers and Shelby Van Pelt, Remarkably Bright Creatures in conversation with Rebecca Makkai 

Main Stage – (1:30 p.m.) Chicago Sun-Times Presents The Environmental Justice Exchange: A tribute to Hazel Johnson, the Mother of Environmental Justice. Host: Brett Chase. Guests: Cheryl Johnson, Hazel’s daughter and executive director of People for Community Recovery; Tarnynon Onumonu, poet and author of “Greetings from the Moon, the Sacrificial Side”; Luis Carranza, poet and author of “Viva la Resistencia”. 

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – M. Chris Fabricant, Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System in conversation with Rob Warden

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Sourcebooks Presents – How Books Are Made: Authors Discuss the Publishing Process. Julie Clark, The Last Flight and The Lies I Tell; Ann Dávila Cardinal, The Storyteller’s Death; Iman Hariri-Kia, A Hundred Other Girls. Moderated by Kate Roddy, Associate Editor at Sourcebooks.

2:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Title IX, 50 years later: Women writers, women’s sports – Corin Adams, Tiny Setbacks, Major Comebacks, Julie DiCaro, Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America, and Melissa Isaacson, State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation in conversation with Jeanie Chung

Poetry Foundation – Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry – Readings by Daniel Bortzutzky, Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, Elise Paschen, and Sara Salgado. Emceed by Carlo Rotella.

Main Stage – Chicago Sun-Times Presents Social Justice in Chicago: The Mexican community’s fight to stay in the city. Host: Elvia Malagon. Guest: Mike Amezcua, author of Making Mexican Chicago: From Postwar Settlement to the Age of Gentrification

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Dr. David Ansell, The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills and Dr. Thomas Fisher, The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER with Katherine Davis, Crain’s

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Elizabeth Crane, This Story Will Change: After the Happily Ever After with Kim Brooks 

Grace Place (1st Floor) – The Onion: America’s Finest News Source In The Post-Apocalypse featuring Skyler Higley and Sammi Skolmosk

3:00 p.m.

Center Stage – PHENOM & EmceeSkool (Open Mic) 

Main Stage – (3:30 p.m. ) Joe Meno, Book of Extraordinary Tragedies with Gint Aras

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Beth Macy, Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis with Alex McLevy

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – Leslie Bow, Racist Love: Asian Abstraction and the Pleasures of Fantasy with Michelle Huang.

Grace Place (1st Floor) – Rebuilding a Life – Ann McGlinn, Ride On, See You; Alex Poppe, Jinwar and Other Stories; Lynn Sloan, Midstream with Rachel Swearingen

4:00 p.m.

Center Stage – The Chicago Public Library and16th Street Theatre Present The Billboard by Natalie Moore – Staged Reading featuring Ti Nicole Danridge and Felisha McNeal followed by conversation between Natalie Moore, The BillBoard and Kathy Hey, Third Coast Review

Poetry Foundation – RHINO Poetry – Readings by April Gibson, Kathleen Rooney, Jessica Walsh, E. Hughes, Faisal Mohyuddin, Kenyatta Rogers, Jacob Saenz, Maja Teref & Steven Teref. Emceed by Naoko Fujimoto and Elizabeth O-Connell Thompson.

Main Stage – (4:30 p.m.) – Literary Death Match – Presented by StoryStudio Chicago and Near South Planning Board. All-star judges: David Cerda, Julia Morales, and Luis Urrea. Readers: Shannon Cason, Elizabeth Gomez, Mikki Kendall, and Diana Slickman. Emceed by Adrian Todd Zuniga. 

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Resistance, Resilience and Surviving the Sex Trade: – Brenda Myers-Powell, Leaving Breezy Street: A Memoir and Hannah Sward, Strip in conversation with Anne Ream, The Voices and Faces Project

5:00 p.m.

Center Stage – The Guild Complex Presents Exhibit B – Reading by CM Burroughs, Ruth Margraff, and Nami Mun. Emceed by James Stewart III

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Ramzi Fawaz, Queer Forms in conersation with Chicago LGBT Hall of Famer Owen Keehnen 

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

10:00 a.m.

Center Stage –  Representation in Children’s Books: Reading and Conversation featuring Sam Kirk, The Meaning of Pride; Mrs. Yuka Layme, Co-Producer of Drag Queen Story Hour; Katie Schenkel, Cardboard Kingdom with Barbara Egel 

Poetry Foundation – A Poetry Reading featuring Jennifer Steele, 826 Chiand Chris Aldana, Luya Poetry

Main Stage – Pirates, Ghosts, and Loss – Sara Connell, Ghost House and Michael Zapata, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau with Paula Carter

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Kori Rumore and Marianne Mather (authors of), and Rick Kogan (prelude to) He Had It Coming: Four Murderous Women and the Reporter Who Immortalized Their Stories with Mary Wisniewski

11:00 a.m.

Center Stage – Chicago Graphic Novelists – Markisan Naso, By the Horns and Michael Moreci, Wasted Space in conversation with Terry Gant, Third Coast Comics

Poetry Foundation – Chris Abani, Smoking the Bible – Reading followed by conversation with Parneshia Jones 

Main Stage – Jamie Ford, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy in conversation with Carey Cranston, President of the American Writers Museum

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Victor Ray, On Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters & Why You Should Care with Cassandra West, Crain’s

Grace Place (2nd Floor) – – Rev. Amity Carrubba in conversation with Tom Montgomery Fate, The Long Way Home: Detours and Discoveries

Sunday Afternoon

12:00 p.m.

Center Stage – NU Press Reading, Growing Up Chicago – Second to None: Chicago Stories – Readings by Anne Calcagno, Shelley Conner, and Jessie Ann Foley. Emceed by David Schaafsma 

Poetry Foundation – Roger Reeves, Best Barbarian – Reading followed by conversation with Simone Muench. Musical accompaniment, Mai Sugimoto.

Main Stage – Girlhood in Chicago – Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson, More Than Meat and Raiment and Debut Novelist Toya Wolfe, Last Summer on State Street in conversation with Amina Gautier

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Dana Suskind, Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise in conversation with Heidi Stevens

1:00 p.m.

Center Stage – City in a Garden of Books: Literary Fellowship Among Independent Publishers and Booksellers – Parneshia Jones, NU Press; Dr. Haki Madhubuti, Third World Press Foundation; Doug Seibold, Agate Publishing with Jeff Deutsch, In Praise of Good Bookstore

Main Stage – Secrets – Bradeigh Godfrey, Imposter and Marie Myung-Ok Lee, The Evening Hero with Kate Wisel

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Kevin Boyle, The Shattering: America in the 1960s in conversation with Elizabeth Taylor

2:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Adam Levin, Mount Chicago in conversation with Jarrett Neal

Poetry Foundation – Young Chicago Authors – Reading featuring The Roots Crew, hosted by E’mon Lauren

Main Stage – The Moth: 25 Years of Live Storytelling featuring Grace Topinka, Melissa Earley, Archy Jamjun, and Jacoby Cochran

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Neil Steinberg, Every Goddamn Day: A Highly Selective, Definitely Opinionated, and Alternatingly Humorous and Heartbreaking Historical Tour of Chicago in conversation with Shermann Dilla Thomas (“6figga_dilla”)

3:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Reading and Conversation featuring Ana Castillo, My Book of the Dead: New Poems with Yolanda Nieves

Main Stage – Romance Panel: Legacy and Love – Ali Brady, The Beach Trap and Natalie Caña, A Proposal They Can’t Refuse with Tanya Lane

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – The Insidiousness of Hatred – Adam Langer, Cyclorama and Jerry Stahl, Nein, Nein, Nein!: One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust in conversation with Ben Tanzer

4:00 p.m.

Center Stage – The Crisis in American Democracy – Dick Simpson, Democracy’s Rebirth: The View from Chicago and Michael Dorf, Clear It with Sid!: Sidney R. Yates and Fifty Years of Presidents, Pragmatism, and Public Service with Gerry Plecki, President of The Society of Midland Authors

Poetry Foundation – Reading and Conversation featuring Tara Betts, Refuse to Disappear and Keli Stewart, Small Altars. Moderated by Rachel Jamison Webster

Main Stage – Chloé Cooper Jones, Easy Beauty: A Memoir with Gina Frangello

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – Sarah Kendzior, They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent – with Rick Perlstein, Crain’s

5:00 p.m.

Center Stage – Blue Heron Press, Open Heart Chicago: An Anthology of Chicago Writing – Readings by Dorothy Frey, Lorena Ornelas, Joe Peterson, and Sandi Wisenberg. Emceed by Editor Vincent Francone.

Main Stage – Debut YA Fiction – Giano Cromley, The Prince of Infinite Space and Skyler Schrempp, Three Strike Summer with Michelle Falkof

731 S. Plymouth Ct. – A Visual Read of the City – Lee Bey, Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic; Blair Kamin, former Chicago Tribune architect critic; Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s with Gerald Butters\

 Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama 

“Bob Odenkirk’s career is inexplicable,” writes Danielle Dresser of Anderson’s Bookshop where Oldenkirk will be signing copies of his new book. “And yet he will try like hell to explicate it for you. Charting a “Homeric” decades-long “odyssey” from his origins in the seedy comedy clubs of Chicago to a dramatic career full of award nominations—with a side-trip into the action-man world that is baffling to all who know him—it’s almost like there are many Bob Odenkirks. But there is just one and one is plenty.

Dresser goes on to say that Bob embraced a life in comedy after a chance meeting with Second City’s legendary Del Close. He somehow made his way to a job as a writer at Saturday Night Live. While surviving that legendary gauntlet by the skin of his gnashing teeth, he stashed away the secrets of comedy writing—eventually employing them in the immortal “Motivational Speaker” sketch for Chris Farley, honing them on The Ben Stiller Show, and perfecting them on Mr. Show with Bob and David.

In Hollywood, Bob demonstrated a bullheadedness that would shame Sisyphus himself, and when all hope was lost for the umpteenth time, the phone rang with an offer to appear on Breaking Bad—a show about how boring it is to be a high school chemistry teacher. His embrace of this strange new world of dramatic acting led him to working with Steven Spielberg, Alexander Payne, and Greta Gerwig, and then, in a twist that will confound you, he re-re-invented himself as a bona fide action star. Why? Read this and do your own psychoanalysis—it’s fun!

Featuring humorous tangents, never-before-seen photos, wild characters, and Bob’s trademark unflinching drive, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama is a classic showbiz tale told by a determined idiot.

From Comedy to Drama with Bob Odenkirk

Actor, comedian, writer, director, producer and Naperville nativeBob Odenkirk will be at the Yellow Box Theater at the Community Christian Church (1635 Emerson Lane, Naperville, IL) on Thursday, March 3rd at 7pm CT, in conversation with Kim “Howard” Johnson, to discuss his new memoir, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama. In this “essential” (Entertainment Weekly), “hilarious” (AV Club) memoir, the star of Mr. ShowBreaking Bad, and Better Call Saul opens up about the highs and lows of showbiz, his cult status as a comedy writer, and what it’s like to reinvent himself as an action film ass-kicker at fifty.

Tickets are now available, with limited quantities available! For more information, please visit https://OdenkirkAndersons.eventcombo.com. Book details are listed below.

Windy City Blues

In her fun very readable Windy City Blues (Berkley 2017; $16), Chicago author Renee Rosen again takes another slice of the city’s history and turns it into a compelling read.

Rosen, who plumbs Chicago’s history to write such books as Dollface, her novel about flappers and gangers like Al Capone, and What the Lady Wants which recounts the affair between department store magnate Marshall Field and his socialite neighbor, says she and her publisher were racking their brains for her next book which encompassed Chicago history.

“She suggested the blues,” says Rosen, who didn’t have much interest in the subject.

But Rosen was game and started her typical uber-intensive research.

“When I discovered the Chess brothers, who founded Chess Records, I fell in love,” she says, noting that when researching she was surprised about how much she didn’t know about the subject despite her immersion in Chicago history for her previous books. “I thought this is a story.”

“As part of my research, I drove the Blues Highway from New Orleans to Chicago,” she says. “I also met with Willie Dixon’s grandson and with Chess family members.”

Combining fact and fiction, Rosen’s story follows heroine Leeba Groski, who struggling to fit in, has always found consolation in music. When her neighbor Leonard Chess offers her a job at his new Chicago Blues label, she sees this as an opportunity to finally fit in. Leeba starts by answering phones and filing but it soon becomes much more than that as she discovers her own talents as a song writer and also begins not only to fall in love with the music industry but also with Red Dupree, a black blues guitarist.

Windy City Blues was recently selected for Chicago’s One Book project, a program designed to engage diverse groups of Chicagoans around common themes. Rosen says she is very honored to be a recipient.

“I put my heart and soul into this book,” she says. “I think it’s a story with an important message. In it are lessons of the Civil Rights movement, what it was like for Jews and people of color along with the history of the blues and the role of Jews in bringing the blues to the world. After all, as the saying goes: Blacks + Jews = Blues.”

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz

Chicago author Alex Kotlowitz has always been willing to tackle the big issues that impact our society and in his book An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, he looks at one summer in Chicago to tell the story about violence throughout the United States. Kotlowitz discussed his book with Northwest Indiana Times correspondent Jane Ammeson.

What was the inspiration for writing An American Summer? And can you give us a synopsis of the book in your own words?

I feel like I’ve been working my way to this book for a long while. When some thirty years ago I was reporting There Are No Children Here, it was the violence that unmoored me.  The numbers are staggering. In the twenty years between 1990 and 2010, in Chicago 14,033 people have been killed, another 60,000 wounded by gunfire. I’ve long felt we’ve completely underestimated the effect of that violence on the spirit of individuals and the spirit of community. And so I set out to tell the stories of those emerging from the violence and trying to reckon with it, people who are standing tall in a world slumping around them. The book is set in one summer, 2013, and it’s a collection of 14 stories, intimate tales that speak to the capacity of the human heart, stories that I hope will upend what you think you know. 

How did you choose who to talk to? How did you find them? And how did you go about choosing which stories to use?

I spent that summer speaking with as many people as I could. I’ve been reporting on many of these neighborhoods for thirty years, so I visited with many of the people I knew. I embedded with a homicide unit. I spent time at a trauma center. I hung out at the criminal courthouse. I spent time on the streets, in churches, at taverns, halfway houses. I was looking for stories that surprised me, that knocked me off balance, hoping they might do the same for readers. And as is often the case, I wrote about people who on some level I admired. For who they are. For how they persevered. For their character. I wrote about people who I came to deeply care about. I wrote about stories that made me smile and that left me anger. I wrote about stories that left me with a sense of hope. 

You’ve been writing about violence for 30 years? Do you ever get worn out by it?

It’s by no means all that I’ve written about, but, yes, a lot of my work has dealt with the profound poverty of our cities. I write out of a fundamental belief that life ought to be fair, and so much of the time I land in corners of the country where life isn’t fair at all. Do I get worn out by it? Sometimes. But I come away each time inspired by the people I meet along the way. 

I know the number of murders has gone down but so has the number of murders and shootings that are solved. Any thoughts on why that is? And does that have an impact on the continuing violence?

Murders have gone down from the early 1990s, though we saw an unsettling spike in 2016 which approached those numbers of 30 years ago. And, yes, you’re right the clearance rate on homicides and shootings are remarkably low. You have a three in four chance of getting away with murder in Chicago, and a nine in ten chance of getting away with shooting someone and wounding them. Those numbers aren’t a misprint. That inability to solve violent crimes only erodes even further the distrust between communities of color and the police. It erodes even further that there will be justice. And as a result when there’s a sense that there’s no justice, people take matters into their own hands.

What would you like readers to take away from your book? 

The humanity of the people I write about. I’m a storyteller. My ambitions are reasonably modest. I guess my hope in the end is after reading these stories, readers will think of themselves and the world around just a little bit differently. And maybe it will nudge along politicians and policy makers to act, to recognize the urgency. 

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

 One final thought. This book takes place in Chicago, but Chicago, despite its reputation, isn’t even among the top ten most violent cities in the country. I could’ve written this book about so many other cities. What’s more, these stories speak to who we are as a nation. In the wake of the tragedies at Newtown and Parkland, we asked all the right questions. How could this happen? What would bring a young man to commit such an atrocity? How do the families and the community continue on while carrying the full weight of this tragedy? In Chicago, in Baltimore, in New Orleans, in the cities across the nation, no one’s asking those questions. What does that say about us? 

An American Summer is available in hard cover, digital, and as an audiobook.

Tune in Tomorrow to Hoosier History Live as I Discuss America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

If you have time, tune in tomorrow Saturday, October 23rd when I talk to host Nelson Price of Hoosier History Live about my new book America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or you can stream audio live from anywhere during the show.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

A Norwegian farm girl, her family so poor, they often went hungry, is seduced by a rich landowner’s son. But despite her dreams, he has no plans to make her his wife. Abandoned, she sees only one path forward or she’ll sink into the black hole of her family’s poverty. But her first goal is revenge and after the landowner’s son dies a horrid death amidst whispers of poison, she boards a boat and sails to America. Norway’s gain is America’s loss.

Her name changed through the years but after the mysterious deaths of two husbands, numerous men, women, and children, she goes down in his as Belle Gunness.  An entrepreneur whose business was murder, Gunness felt no qualms seducing men for their money and dispatching them with her axe—filling her farmland with her victims.

As her crimes were about to be discovered, her solid brick home burnt to the ground and workers battling the smoke and flames discovered the bodies of her three children and a woman without a head.  Was it Belle  or did she get away with one more murder, absconding with close to a million dollars. It’s a question the world has been asking since 1908.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness (Indiana University Press/Red Lightning Oct. 4, 2021; $20).

What people are saying about America’s Femme Fatale.

Ammeson uses astute research and punchy prose to chronicle Belle’s transformation from destitute farm girl to one of history’s most egregious female serial killers. . . . Compact and captivating, this salacious tale of murderous greed during the early twentieth century will be devoured quickly by true-crime fans.– Michelle Ross ― BOOKLIST / Amer Library Assn

It’s a mesmerizing cautionary tale I had to keep reading despite the late-night hour. . . . Ammeson writes narrative nonfiction with a sense of drama to propel us along the unbelievable.– Rita Kohn ― NUVO

America’s Femme Fatale is the detailed story of Belle Gunness, one of the nation’s most prolific mass murderers. Ammeson recounts the horrific events with dry wit and corrects many errors found in previous accounts. Gunness stands out in an infamous crowd because she was a woman; she killed men, women and children rather than choosing from among one narrow section of victimology; and her murders seem to have been rooted in greed rather than lust, the serial killer’s usual motive.– Keven McQueen, author of Murderous Acts: 100 Years of Crime in the Midwest

Jane Ammeson will be on Hoosier History Live talking to the show’s host Nelson Price about Belle Gunness. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or stream audio live from anywhere during the show. For those who miss the show, it’ll be available by podcast as well.

Pullman: The Man, the Company, the Historic Park by Kenneth Schoon

               Kenneth Schoon, professor emeritus at Indiana University Northwest, has immersed himself in the history of the Greater Chicago/Northwest Indiana area for decades, writing books starting from the area’s earliest beginnings such as “Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines and Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan” and “Swedish Settlements on the South Shore of Lake Michigan.”

               In his latest book, “Pullman: The Man, the Company, the Historical Park” (History Press 2021; $21.99), he showcases what once was among  the ultimate company town and is now a Chicago neighborhood. George Pullman, whose last name became synonymous with plush railroad sleeper cars, believed that happy workers were productive workers and so developed his town along the western shore of Lake Calumet in the late 1800s.

               I thought I knew company towns having grown up in East Chicago, Indiana my friends whose parents worked at Inland Steel lived in Sunnyside in Indiana  Harbor. On the East Chicago side there was Marktown built in 1917 by Clayton Mark, for those employed at the company he owned, Mark Manufacturing.

               But they’re different Schoon tells me. Both Marktown and Sunnyside were residential neighborhoods. But Pullman was an actual town with its own schools, library, churches, Masonic Hall, businesses, and even a band. Garbage and maintenance was paid for by the company.

In 2015, then President Barack Obama proclaimed Chicago’s Pullman District as a National Monument, encompassing many of its surviving buildings such as the former Pullman Palace Car Works, the Greenstone Church, formerly the Greenstone United Methodist Church, the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, workers’ homes, the Pullman Administration Clock Tower Building, Arcade Park, and the Florence Hotel, named after Pullman’s oldest daughter.

               Though I vaguely knew about the town of Pullman, it had never been on my radar as a place to visit even though it was less than eleven miles from where I lived.

               “The same with me,” says Schoon who remembered going to the Florence Hotel, one of the fanciest structures in town, to eat when young never to return until hired by the Historic Pullman Foundation to write about the history of the town for their brochure.

               Today we talk about experiences, but that’s what Pullman was all about back then. His sleeper cars were luxurious, but the brand also meant great service. After the Civil War, he hired recently emancipated African American men, to work as porters becoming the largest employer of Blacks in the U.S. Their jobs were to attend to passengers needs by serving food and drink, shining shoes, tidying up the train, making sure the temperature was just right and that lighting fixtures worked.  Black women were hired as maids to take care of women guests on the most expensive cars—babysitting children, helping with their baths, giving manicures, and fixing their hair.

               Pullman was no dinky little town. The Arcade Theatre could accommodate 1000 people and Schoon says it was, for a time, the finest theater west of the Hudson River.

               With the advent of automobiles and highways, the need for sleeper cars lessened. But luckily many of Pullman’s historic buildings remain including the Florence Hotel which is currently closed for renovations but expected to open within a few years.

               “The old stable is now a store,” says Schoon. “The old fire station is still there and of the 600 residential buildings all but three are still standing.”

               In an interesting tidbit, Schoon notes that Pullman was originally dry because George Pullman was a Prohibitionist. Luckily for those who  wanted to imbibe, Kensington, the town next door had 23 taverns at the time.

               Kenneth Schoon will be signing copies of his book during the Labor Day Weekend at the Grand Opening of Pullman National Monument Visitor Center and Pullman State Historic Site Factory. For more information about times and other events, visit www.pullmanil.org

George Diamond’s: A Northwest Indiana Classic

            In 1924, Peter Levant’s opened what was one of Whiting’s famous “perch palaces,” a place that served freshly caught perch right from Lake Michigan. They also advertised such menu items as steak, chicken, and, of course, this being The Region, frog legs—mostly likely from nearby Lake George.

            Indeed, frog legs were so in demand that Vogel’s—which was just down the street and totally classy—raised their own frogs for legs in the lake. But that’s a different story.

            Located at 1247 Calumet Avenue, Levent’s became the home of Juster’s Charcoal Broiled Steaks and then later George Diamond’s. Though my mom liked to cook, my parents were totally into eating out as well and though its been years and years, I remember going with them to George Diamond’s. It was the kind of place where everything was overlarge—the steaks, the salads, the charcoal flames, and even the menus.

            That Diamond (yes, there was a George Diamond) even opened a place in Whiting shows the town’s status as a food destination. Indeed, around that time, there were a lot of great restaurants–and I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of places out–Vogel’s, Phil Smidt’s, Margaret’s Geneva House, Al Knapp’s Restaurant and Lounge, and the Roby Café. But Diamond was international. Besides his flagship restaurant at 630 S. Wabash Avenue in Chicago that was said to have cost over $1 million to renovate in a style I call 1950s swank, all red velvet and red upholstery, he had places in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Antioch, Illinois on a golf course, and Acapulco, Mexico.

            What I remember most was the house salad dressing which they bottled and sold on the premises. It was so unique that even now it has a cult-like online following with people  searching for the recipe.  It wasn’t Russian and it certainly wasn’t French or at least not the orangish French dressing we buy in bottles now. Diamond’s dressing was an almost translucent reddish pink. And if the recipe I found online is close to the original, it’s main ingredient was tomato soup.

  There’s nothing left of Diamond’s empire today. Diamond died in 1982 at age 80 and the building housing the Wabash Avenue restaurant went up in flames in 2006.  But people still remember that dressing.

George Diamond’s salad dressing

  • 1 (10-ounce) can condensed tomato soup
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup each: white vinegar, sugar
  • 1 small onion, peeled and grated
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt, ground black pepper

Place undiluted soup, oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, onion and garlic in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Cover and blend or process on high speed until pureed, about 2 minutes. Serve chilled. Store covered leftovers in refrigerator.

            I’ll be signing copies of my book Classic Restaurants of The Region at Miles Books. 2819 Jewett Avenue in Highland on Saturday, August 21st from 11:30-3pm. For more information, 219-838-8700.

               Hope to see you there.

The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Chicago Cubs

         Carrie Muskat, who started covering the Chicago Cubs in 1987, has written The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Chicago Cubs (Triumph Books 2021; $16.95).

         “Really there are more than 50 moments because it was hard to limit them so it’s 50 plus,” Muskat tells me in an early morning phone interview. “I always say I’m bad at math.”

Totally immersed in baseball and the Cubs, Muskat’s latest book has an introduction by Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman for the Chicago Cubs and a three-time All-Star who in 2016 helped the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908. Her other books include Banks to Sandberg to Grace: 5 Decades of Love & Frustration with Chicago Cubs.

Carrie Muskat

Described as “the perfect primer for new Cubs fans and an essential addition to a seasoned fan’s collection,” the book recounts the living history of the team and features such greats as Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Anthony Rizzo, and Ernie Banks among others.

 Muskat, who has conducted numerous interviews with players, at times takes a different approach in her book by not only relying upon her own interactions but also by talking to people who worked behind the scenes about the moments included in  The Big 50. It was a way to gain a new perspective on some of the players such as Sammy Sosa that she knew so well.

“I talked to broadcaster Craig Lynch about Pat Hughes, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Cubs and got his insights,” she says, as a way of giving an example.

In some ways, the those decades covering the Cubs was like being part of a large family.  In her time writing about Major League Baseball—she started in 1981—Muskat says she’s watched players like Kerry Woods, the two-time All Star former Cubs pitcher who is now retired, grow. The same goes for Anthony Rizzo.

“I’ve enjoyed talking to people’s families, like Anthony’s, just talking about things,” she says. “I covered Shawon Dunston and then his son.”

In her book, Dunston shares his insight on Andre Dawson in Moment 16 of  titled “The Hawk.” Dunston recalls having a locker between Dawson and Ryne Sandberg, who he describes as the quietest guys in the world. “Combined, they didn’t say more than 20 words a day, and I’m not exaggerating.”

At the time, Dunston says he was “talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.” But by being between them, he learned to be quiet and think about the game before the game. “I learned how to be a professional because of Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg.”

These scenes from the book support Muskat’s contention that players are really just people.

“That’s one of the biggest things,” she says. “Even if they’re superstars, they’re just people when you get to know them.”

There have been changes. Reporters used to sit in the dugout but not anymore.

“It’s not as relaxed,” she says. “My favorite time is spring training which is more relaxed.”

Muskat is freelancing now but she still is on the sports beat.

“There’s always a story, every player has one,” she says.

Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair

            When Rebecca Graff, a PhD student at the University of Chicago in need of a dissertation, was told by a professor that the view before them from the school’s Ida Noyes Hall was “a hundred years ago the center of the world,” she didn’t see the bucolic splendor of Jackson Park hugging the Lake Michigan shoreline. Instead her sights went to what lay beneath and that was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, an unexcavated but huge part of Chicago’s history. Held in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arrival in the New World, the exposition attracted 27 million people who paid 21.5 million for admission in a six-month period. Designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, the 630-acre park had more than 65,000 exhibits from 46 countries and introduced to the public such new inventions as a 250-foot Ferris Wheel, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake syrup and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum. Electricity, still rare back then, was used to light up the expo at night.

Rebecca Graff

            Graff managed to turn that casual remark into her dissertation, “The Vanishing City: Time, Tourism, and the Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition” and then into a book,  “Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair” (University Press of Florida co-published with The Society for Historical Archaeology).  Both were about the archaeological dig she undertook of a site in Jackson Park near the Museum of Science and Industry that seemed most promising for archaeological fair finds.

Surprisingly what seemed an almost guaranteed bureaucratic nightmare in terms of permits and permissions all fell into place but then Graff was told she couldn’t start without a million dollars in liability insurance. Not likely for a graduate student.

            “I needed to turn the excavation into a job,” she says. And so she did, teaching a field class at the University of Chicago where she and her students excavated the site.


View from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition’s South Canal looking northeast. The Machinery Building, the Columbian Fountain, and the Electricity Building are on the left, with the Agriculture and the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Buildings on the right. The Illinois State Building’s dome is in the center, and the flatter dome of the California State Building is to its left. Image is by an anonymous photographer, 1893. From the Smithsonian Institution Archives

            Expecting to find those things that archaeologists love—pottery shards, a coin here and a twisted spoon there—Graff and her team were stunned to unearth a section of the Ohio Building, a stately Beaux Arts-style edifice with an elaborate portico entranceway that served as a meeting place for Ohioans. It was among the best of all the other findings they uncovered such as a collar stud, religious medal, cruet tops indicating that food was made on site, and lots of pipes. Though to hear Graff describe them, they’re all treasures and keys to the past.

            As for the building, contemporary sources said it no longer existed.

            “Even the New York Times wrote it had been thrown into the lake,” says Graff, who instead found segments in a ditch where it might have been used as landfill.

            Coincidentally, Graff later discovered she wasn’t the only family member to dig at the site, so had her great grandfather, Morris Graff, a Russia immigrant who dug ditches at the fair.

            Graff would like to return to Jackson Park for further exploration but was denied a permit the second time around. She says it’s surprising that Chicago doesn’t have a city archaeologist as other big cities do. But she’s certainly doing her fair share of uncovering urban remains. She is currently excavating the Charnley-Persky House Museum, a National Historic Landmark located on Astor Street in the Gold Coast  designed Chicago  architect, Louis Sullivan and his young draftsman Frank Lloyd Wright.

Cover image from Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair by Rebecca S. Graff. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2020.

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