5 Questions for the 2023 CHIRBy Awards Finalists, Part I – Chicago Review of Books


In anticipation of the 2023 Chicago Review of Books (CHIRBy) Awards ceremony, we asked our finalists a few questions about their books, their inspirations, and their favorite way to spend 2 hours and $50 in Chicago.

In Part I, we talk to:

Stay tuned for Part II coming next week and for the announcement of our 2023 Chicago Review of Books Awards winners on December 7!

What is your one sentence elevator pitch of your book?

Blair Kamin: This book will help you see Chicago—all of Chicago, from downtown skyscrapers by such acclaimed architects as Jeanne Gang to modest neighborhood buildings like the Emmett Till house—through a new, equity-focused lens.

Francesca Royster: My memoir, Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Family and Black Resistance, chronicles my journey to motherhood while examining the messiness and complexity of parenthood and chosen family from a Black, queer and feminist perspective.

Christie Tate: B.F.F. is the story of how I confronted my life-long struggle with female friendship and the work I did to become a good friend in my 40s.

S.L. Wisenberg: This is a collection of essays about my life and body, written as if history mattered.

What is your favorite thing about Chicago and its writing community?

Blair Kamin: The writing community forms an essential part of Chicago’s intellectual infrastructure, reminding everyone, especially clueless coastal elites, that this is THE great American city, not flyover country.

Francesca Royster: The thing I love about Chicago and its writing community is that writing is being made and shared everywhere: in classrooms, cafes, clubs, nonprofits orgs, on radio stations like Vocolo, on the pages of newspapers and journals, especially the free ones, on Zoom and in living rooms. You can see the proverbial Chicago spirit of hustle in this writing community, as well as its spirit of generosity. At our best, Chicagoans are inclusive, inventive and grounded.

Christie Tate: Chicago has the best independent bookstores and the most boisterous, welcoming events every single week of the year!

S.L. Wisenberg: There’s always something going on and something new.

If you could choose what book a reader should follow up yours with, what would it be?

Blair Kamin: American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley—His Battle for Chicago and the Nation by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor.

Francesca Royster: Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name- A BIomythgraphy or else Eve Ewing’s Electric Arches.

Christie Tate: We Are Too Many by Hannah Pittard.

S.L. Wisenberg: Angry Women published by Re/Search Publications in 1991! Essays by Annie Springkle, bell hooks, Wanda Coleman, Kathy Acker.

What was one non-literature inspiration for your book?

Blair Kamin: The Loop: Its landmark buildings, particularly Louis Sullivan’s former Carson Pirie Scott & Co. store, make my heart beat faster.

See Also

Francesca Royster: Bisa Butler’s portraits.

Christie Tate: Fleabag (TV) and Armchair Expert (podcast).

S.L. Wisenberg: Travel—in Europe and the US South.

You have 2 hours and $50 to spend in the city. Where are you going? 

Blair Kamin: Girl & The Goat restaurant in the West Loop: Our son Teddy just started working there as a line cook. My wife, author and former Chicago Tribune feature writer Barbara Mahany, and I want to taste what Teddy’s been stirring for the stars (including, on one recent night, Barack Obama).

Francesca Royster: First, I’d ride the redline to Greer Chicago: a wonderful Black woman-owned stationary and office supply store in Lincoln Park. I’d check out what pens and new journals Chandra’s got in. (Greer is temporarily online, but in this fantasy, the shop on Webster has reopened!) Then, I’d scoot over a few blocks west to Floriole Cafe for a jumbo almond croissant and coffee. And then I’d walk my goodies over to the rose garden in Oz Park to the east on Webster to sit and journal and nibble and soak up the sunshine.

Christie Tate: Exile in Bookville.

S.L. Wisenberg: Latest show at Porchlight Theater and coffee before or after.


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