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** NEW ** Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky is the author of a groundbreaking, enormously popular (make that beloved), Chicago-based mystery series featuring V. I. Warshawski, one of the world's first and enduringly favorite women private eyes. Paretsky introduced her intrepid and independent hero in 1982 in Indemnity Only and has written more than a dozen Warshawski novels, each, according to critics and readers alike, better than the last. The list includes Bitter Medicine, Guardian Angel, Windy City Blues, Total Recall, Blacklist, and Fire Sale. Not only does Paretsky brilliantly empower a tough and uncompromising woman sleuth, she also creates psychologically rich and socially significant stories that address such urgent matters as corrupt politicians, domestic violence, homelessness, industrial pollution, organized and corporate crime, the plight of illegal immigrants, racism, genocide, and assaults on free speech.

Sara Paretsky has been designated "Woman of the Year" by Ms magazine. She has received the Mark Twain Award and the British Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award, and Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement Award. Paretsky founded Sisters in Crime, the thriving advocacy organization for women mystery writers, and she is a dedicated social activist in Chicago.

In this unusually revealing conversation, Paretsky talks about her complex and dramatic novel (right, it's not a mystery), Bleeding Kansas, which is loosely based on her Kansan girlhood, and her exquisite and thought-provoking memoir-in-essays, Writing in an Age of Silence.

** NEW ** Gioia Diliberto

Chicago writer Gioia Diliberto began her writing life as a journalist, then transformed herself into a biographer. Focusing on women's lives, she has written books about the trailblazing reformer, Jane Addams, the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; Hadley Richardson Hemingway, who is fascinating in her own right as well as one of Ernest Hemingway's stoic wives, and Brenda Frazier, a woman famous for being famous (the Paris Hilton of her day), a celebrated beauty and New York high-society debutante.

Diliberto then brought her insights into women's lives -- how women navigate our male-dominated society, how beauty is both a boon and a bane -- to her novels, along with her passionate for fashion and art. The result is supple fiction elegantly laced with fact and social commentary. A mysterious painting by John Singer Sargent inspired Diliberto's first profoundly pleasurable and illuminating historical novel, the critically acclaimed I Am Madame X. The struggles and genius of Coco Chanel propelled Diliberto's second smart and entrancing novel, The Collection. Diliberto is now exploring the world of the flapper.

It's worth quoting a line from The Collection, that perfectly encapsulates Diliberto's point of view. Chanel tells her protégé Isabelle, "A woman's mind is the sexiest thing about her."

** NEW ** Billy Lombardo

Billy Lombardo began his literary adventures on the Chicago slam poetry scene. To support his writing habit, and to spread the word about the importance of literature, Lombardo teaches writing at the Latin School, where he oversees production of Polyphony H.S., an innovative literary magazine for high-school writers.

Billy Lombardo's first book is the much-hailed The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories, winner of the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize. Here's what Booklist has to say:

"Every male writer writing about growing up in Chicago, from John McNally to Adam Langer, does so in the shadow of Stuart Dybek, the celebrated author of I Sailed with Magellan (2003). Happily, first-time author Lombardo manages to be inspired by Dybek while refining his own voice in this sweetly soulful coming-of-age short story collection. Preternaturally observant, young Petey lives in an Italian enclave in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood in the early 1970s. This is a working-class world, and Lombardo lovingly describes everything from how to mop a floor to how to fill a cannoli, but he is also aware of nature's power, the source of his stories' vivid metaphors and exaltation. As Petey's family struggles to survive and he heads into adolescence and learns how to navigate his home turf, Lombardo gets everything right, from a sensitive boy's struggle to say and do the right thing in delicate situations to Chicago's impossible weather, as he celebrates the marvels of boyhood and everyday life."

Lombardo is a distinctly compassionate, candid, and questioning writer, generous and hard-driving. Soon to appear is a poetry collection, Meanwhile, Roxy Mourns, coming out from EM Press, and a novel-in-stories, How to Hold a Woman, from OV Books.

** NEW ** Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is the author of 16 novels, most of which have been bestsellers. Here's a short list: Durable Goods, Talk Before Sleep, Joy School, Open House, The Art of Mending, The Year of Pleasure, We Are All Welcome Here, and Dream When You're Feeling Blue. These are novels lush with tenderness, humor, curiosity, wonder, and clear thinking about the amazing power of kindness and patience. Berg is a deceptively direct storyteller; her charm and affection conceal great literary and conceptual sophistication. A nurse before she became a writer, Berg loves life, and insists on having a good time, even when she's writing about very tough and despairing subjects. Readers recognize empathy and authenticity when they find it, and Berg is the genuine article.

Now and then the ebullient, generous, and gracious Elizabeth Berg brightens our lives with short stories. Her new book is a story collection titled The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted: And Other Small Acts of Liberation. It is saucily designed, and I'm delighted that an excerpt from my Booklist review appears on the back cover.

Alas, this is a field recording, and the quality is poor. We sound as though we're on a plane. But it's worth putting up with the hum. Honestly. Elizabeth Berg would be worth listening to in a torrential downpour, at a NASCAR race, in a trading pit at the stock exchange. And really, the recording is way better than all that. Listen.

** NEW ** Laura Lippman

The daughter of a reporter and a librarian, Laura Lippman came by her passion for story and truth naturally. Raised in Baltimore, Maryland, she followed her highly respected journalist father, Theo Lippman, Jr., to the Baltimore Sun. Deeply affected by the suffering she witnessed, and seeking an outlet for murderous rage, she began to write mystery novels set in Baltimore and starring a reporter turned private detective, the down-to-earth, acid-tongued, womanly wise, and blessedly human Tess Monaghan.

Lippman's first Tess Monaghan mystery was Baltimore Blues (1997), and as the Monaghan chronicles roared on (In a Strange City By a Spider's Thread No Good Deeds), Lippman gathered up the mystery genre's coveted awards, namely the Agatha, the Anthony, the Edgar, the Wolfe, and the Shamus. Lippman also writes stand-alone novels, including What the Dead Know, To the Power of Three and Every Secret Thing, which has been optioned for the movies by Academy Award-winner France McDormand. Further proof of Lippman's creative energy and versatility and complex sensibility and compassion is found in her superb and shivery forthcoming short story collection, which is enthusiastically introduced by George Pelecanos, Hardly Knew Her.

Laura Lippman and I got together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at a Public Library Association conference, and talked intently about her then current Tess Monaghan novel, Another Thing to Fall, reading, writing, and justice.

** NEW ** Dika Lam (with Stacy Bierlein and Gina Frangello)

Canadian-born and Brooklyn-based, Dika Lam is has received a New York Times Fellowship from New York University, a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers Conference, and is a winner of the Bronx Writers' Center Chapter One Contest. Her work has appeared in Story, One Story, and the Cincinnati Review, and her stories have been anthologized in Scribner's Best of the Fiction Workshops, 1999 and This Is Not Chick Lit.

Lam is also a contributor to the anthology A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cultural Collision and Connection; her story is titled "Fresh Off the Boat." She joined the book's editor, Stacy Bierlein and contributor and publisher Gina Frangello on a field edition of Open Books to talk about A Stranger Among Us at the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago in June 2008.

** NEW ** Stacy Bierlein (with Dika Lam and Gina Frangello)

Stacy Bierlein is a writer, a founding editor of OV Books, and a well-traveled literary activist. In creating the anthology, A Stranger among Us: Stories of Cultural Collision and Connection, Bierlein "hoped to collect stories that told me something I could not have imagined." She also "aimed to collect stories where issues of identity emerged in active dialogues between members of different cultures. Bierlein continues, ". . . culture was open to a wide variety of interpretations by writers of divergent histories and passions. We set out to examine the universal desire to connect, as well as the frustrating difficulties of those connections."

BOOKLIST had this to say about A Stranger Among Us:

"Us versus them" is the human equation, even though all designations, whether based on race, ethnicity, religion, geography, language, or class, are in constant flux. Our family trees all share roots, and now more than ever, people live in culturally jumbled places other than their familial home ground. Displacement, exile, the quest for a better life, bridging cultures, the ripples sent out by the question "What are you?"-all are ripe fruit for fiction writers. With an eye to short stories stemming from diverse cultures and exploring the state of outsiderness, editor Bierlein has selected 30 vibrant, unpredictable, and magnetic works that together span the spectrum from funny to tragic, earthy to rarefied. Stories of sharp revelation and resonance are triggered by moments small or wrenching, such as the swimming lesson in Shubha Venugopal's "Bhakthi in the Water," a meal in Carolyn Alessio's "Currency," or prayer in Luis Alfaro's "Border Crossings." Wanda Coleman, Nathan Englander, Laila Lalami, Samrat Upadhyay, Josip Novakovich, and many new or underrecognized writers reconfigure the human experience in this richly kaleidoscopic anthology. - Donna Seaman

Stacy Bierlein and contributors Gina Frangello and Dika Lam spoke with Open Books at the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago in June 2008.

** NEW ** Gina Frangello (with Dika Lam and Stacy Bierlein)

Gina Frangello's short stories have been published in many venues, including Clackamas Literary Review, StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Swink, and the anthology Homewrecker: An Adultery Reader. Frangello was the editor for Other Voices; she co-founded OV Books, and guest-edited the fiction anthology Falling Backwards: Stories of Fathers and Daughters. Her first novel, My Sister's Continent, was one of the ten best books of the year selected by Las Vegas City Life. Her second novel, London Calling, is due out soon.

Frangello has a story, "Attila the There," in A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cultural Collision and Connection, and she joined the book's editor Stacy Bierlein and contributor Dika Lam on a field edition of Open Books to talk about A Stranger Among Us at the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago in June 2008.

** NEW ** Connie Brockway

Smart and funny romance writer Connie Brockway published her first book, Promise Me Heaven, in 1994, and she's been busy inventing tricky predicaments and appealing characters ever since. Her list of novels is nearing 20, and she'll soon have nearly 2 million books in print in more than a dozen countries.

Readers love Brockway, and the critics concur with starred reviews in the prepubs, particularly Booklist, which placed Brockway's novel My Seduction on a Top 10 romance list. Brockway has won the prestigious Romance Writers of America RITA Award twice, her books regularly appear on national and regional bestseller lists and are frequent Doubleday/Literary Guild selections.

Adept at both contemporary (Hot Dish) and historical romances (My Dearest Enemy), Brockway reports that her next book, So Enchanting, is of the latter persuasion. This conversation, which took place at the 2008 Public Library Association conference in Minneapolis, not far from Brockway's Minnesota home, revolves around the contemporary romance, Skinny Dipping, and reveals much about the often misunderstood romance genre.

Yannick Murphy

Yannick Murphy is a remarkably original and lyrical fiction writer. The author of two powerful short story collections -- her first book, Stories in Another Language and her newest, In a Bear's Eye -- Murphy has written three stunning novels: The Sea of Trees, Here They Come, and her current triumph, the hauntingly beautiful Signed, Mata Hari. Recognized with an O'Henry Prize, a Whiting Writers' Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Yannick Murphy also writes children's books.

Jonathan Messinger

Jonathan Messinger is the books editor for Time Out Chicago; a cofounder of Featherproof Books, a gutsy Chicago small press, and creator of the popular reading and performance series, The Dollar Store. Messinger is also the author of the short story collection Hiding Out, an impressive debut. Each story begins with a line drawing by Rob Funderburk of a disheveled male wedged in a corner or lying bent around a couch or a refrigerator, or prone under a coffee table or crammed under a desk. Hunched, slumped, defeated guys hiding in plain sight, seeking camouflage and comfort from large inanimate objects. Messinger's prose is the literary equivalent of the line drawings -- deceptively simple and direct, covertly hard-hitting. And his smartly plotted, unpredictable, and penetrating stories convey a rich spectrum of emotions from sly humor to quiet desperation.

Seth Kantner

A native Alaskan, Seth Kantner is a photographer and writer whose work expresses his love for the land and its animals, and his belief in wildness and the importance of keeping wilderness wild. A recipient of the Whiting Writers' Award, he has been published in Outside magazine, Alaska magazine, Reader's Digest, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. Kantner is also the author of Ordinary Wolves, an impressively fluent, many-faceted tragicomedy of Alaskan life, and winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, which is awarded to works of high literary quality that embody humane values and contribute to cultural understanding.

Elizabeth Gaffney (with Rene Steinke)

Elizabeth Gaffney was a staff editor for the Paris Review under George Plimpton's watch from 1989 to 2005, and she is now editor-at-large for the literary magazine A Public Space. Gaffney's debut novel, Metropolis, is a remarkably rich and ambitious work set in New York City just after the end of the Civil War. A capacious and frenetic novel about work, crime, immigration, race, and the evolution of a city, it is anchored to two of the grandest and most innovative structures of the time, New York's vast and elaborate sewer system and the Brooklyn Bridge, two engineering marvels that can be read as symbols of the two worlds Gaffney dramatizes, the underworld of the city's gangs, and the rarefied realm of art.

Rene Steinke (with Elizabeth Gaffney)

Rene Steinke is editor-in-chief for The Literary Review, and the author of two novels, The Fires and Holy Skirts. A finalist for the National Book Award, Holy Skirts is a fictionalized account of the life of a remarkable artist and audacious woman, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an ultra avant-garde, German-born artist, poet, daring performance artist, and agent provocateur. An enigmatic, androgynous, and eccentric figure with a shaved, sometimes shellacked head, teaspoons for earrings, and a cancelled postage stamp on her cheek, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) challenged every convention known to gender and art over the course of her relentlessly adventurous, inventive, and theatrical life, greatly influencing better known artists, especially Marcel Duchamp. Steinke's empathic, gorgeously written, and dramatic novel reclaims and interprets a rare spirit.

Faith Sullivan

Faith Sullivan, who describes herself as a "demon gardener, flea marketer, and feeder of birds," has been writing novels since 1975, and is best-known and most cherished for her stories of women and families living in Harvester, Minnesota, during the cruel years of the Great Depression and the two world wars. Sullivan's novel The Cape Ann launched her heartland series, which includes The Empress of One, What a Woman Must Do, and Gardenias. Sullivan's novels are quietly powerful in their social and psychological insights and tremendous empathy for women forever caught in the double-bind of sexism. And Sullivan is incisive, uncommonly commonsensical, generous, and funny in person.

Junot Diaz

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Junot Diaz wowed readers and critics alike with the potent short story collection Drown in 1996. Newsweek and the New Yorker named Diaz one of the hottest writers going, and since then he has received a phenomenal number of major awards, including the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies Fellowship, and fellowships from the NEA and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Junot Diaz's intrepid and radiant first novel is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a family saga that confronts the horrific brutality at loose during the reign of the dictator Trujillo. Díaz's besieged characters look to the supernatural for explanations and hope, from fukú, the curse "unleashed" when Europeans arrived on Hispaniola, to the forces dramatized in the works of science fiction and fantasy so beloved by the chubby "ghetto nerd" Oscar Wao, the brilliantly realized boy of conscience at the center of this whirlwind tale. Writing in a combustible mix of slang and lyricism, Díaz loops back and forth in time and place, generating sly and lascivious humor in counterpoint to tyranny and sorrow.

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett has the magic touch. Laser-smart and remarkably adept, she has created an entirely new universe in each of her resplendent novels. The Patron Saint of Liars was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Taft won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. With The Magician's Assistant, Patchett received a Guggenheim. Bel Canto, a huge success with readers, won the PEN/Faulkner Award, England's Orange Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year Award. So appealing is Bel Canto, it has been translated into 30 languages. Patchett's powerful memoir about her close friend, Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face), Truth & Beauty, won an Books for a Better Life Award. Patchett's work appears in Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly, Gourmet, Vogue, and the Washington Post. Patchett's new novel is Run.

George Saunders

The most unnerving fiction boldly envisions the dire consequences of our most hubristic tendencies: our bottomless greed, maniacal competitiveness, hyper-materialism, environmental obliviousness, spiritual callousness, and fear of being different. This is George Saunders' territory. A writer of mordant wit and stinging insights following in the footsteps of Orwell, Bradbury, and Vonnegut, Saunders is a master of the surreal, or it is the ultra-real, short story. Saunders' droll, inventive, and compassionate fiction is collected in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastorlia, and In Persuasion Nation.

Saunders has also written a live-wire satirical novel or fable, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, which is acquiring new power and relevance during this interminable presidential campaign, and a collection of fresh, hilarious, and profound essays, The Braindead Megaphone, in which Saunders' predilection for acrobatic parody and attunement to language's moral dimension are working in full force. A recipient of both Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships and a number of National Magazine Awards, Saunders writes for the New Yorker, Harper's, and GQ. But it's not all smooth sailing, Saunders was subjected to an appearance on The Colbert Report.

John Green

John Green entered the book world as an editorial assistant in the books for youth section at Booklist. Now he is a wildly popular young adult novelist. His first book, Looking for Alaska, a suspenseful tale set at a boarding school in Alabama, won the Michael L. Printz Award, and thrilled a great many readers from tweens to oldsters. Green's zanily mathematical and anagram-filled second novel, An Abundance of Katherines, is a funny and clever tale about a prodigy who keeps getting involved with and dumped by girls named Katherine. Both novels were finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. John Green writes for Mental Floss Magazine, and, thanks to his friendship with mathematician Daniel Bliss, a consultant for An Abundance of Katherines and a candidate for the Illinois state legislature, John Green has been featured in the Wall Street Journal for his innovation support (it involves a liquefied Happy Meal) of Biss's campaign on the video blog he shares with his brother, Hank Green ( Brotherhood 2.0.

Valerie Wilson Wesley

Former executive editor of Essence magazine, and now a best-selling fiction writer, Valerie Wilson Wesley has channeled her insights into women's lives, how children learn, race and ethnicity, community, and moral dilemmas into several genres, from her marvelously smart and funny children's series, Willimena Rules, which includes How to Fish for Trouble and How to Lose Your Cookie Money, to her acclaimed and wildly popular mystery series starring Tamara Hayle. Hayle is an African American woman raising her son on her own, and story is told in Dying in the Dark and the forthcoming Of Blood and Sorrow. Valerie Wilson Wesley also writes straight-ahead novels, among them Always True to You in My Fashion, Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do, which received an award for excellence from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, and Playing My Mother's Blues. Valerie Wilson Wesley is a writer of deep emotional resonance, and of sharp humor.

Chris Abani

Chris Abani is a poet and novelist of exceptional powers. Born in Nigeria, where he was imprisoned for his writing at the precocious and vulnerable age of 16, Chris Abani went into exile in 1991, living in England and currently, in the U.S. His poetry collections include Daphne's Lot, Dog Woman, and Hands Washing Water. Chris Abani's novels include the searing Becoming Abigail; the extraordinary GraceLand, the story of a teenaged Nigerian Elvis impersonator; the incandescent The Virgin of Flames, a novel of post-9/11 Los Angeles and a quest for artistic expression and spiritual clarity; and Song for Night, an empathic portrait of a West African boy soldier. Chris Abani's awards include the PEN Hemingway Book Prize, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, and a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

Russell Banks

A great American fiction writer, Russell Banks is the author of many powerful works about individuals and societies in profound conflict, including Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplitter, and The Darling. Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter have both been made into exceptionally fine films. Russell Banks' numerous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler has written first-person narratives from a spectacular array of perspectives. He gives voice to Vietnamese refugees living in Louisiana in his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of linked stories Good Scent from a Strange Mountain; an extraterrestrial in Mr. Spaceman; a complicated and captivating female auctioneer in Fair Warning, and in Tabloid Dreams, a nine-year-old boy who confronts mobsters, JFK, and a parrot. The cryptic messages on the back of early twentieth-century postcards inspired Had a Good Time. Severance is a startling collection of very short stories, prose poems really, containing the last synaptic firings of individuals who have just been beheaded. Butler's ability to inhabit the minds of diverse characters is derived from both an unfettered imagination and boundless empathy. Butler's humor is droll, clever, and supple, and his approach to fiction is profound, as explained in From Where You Dream.

Butler has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Robert Olen Butler appeared on Open Books in November 2006.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon is a phenomenally imaginative, compassionate, funny, and soulful fiction writer who delights in bringing his exceptional literary gifts to genre fiction to create new and vital hybrids. He became instantly famous at age 25 with the publication of his first book, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and went on to write the compelling and many-faceted Wonder Boys; the exquisite and tender short story collections A Model World and Werewolves in their Youth; a homage to Sherlock Holmes, The Final Solution, and a fantasy novel for young adults, Summerland. Every transporting book is a surprise, but Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a tale of two Jewish cousins who help create the golden years of comic book superheroes, is an extraordinarily generous and encompassing work about the legacy of the Holocaust and the liberating power of the imagination. Chabon has also written a wily mystery/speculative novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, set in a fictional Jewish community in Alaska, and a swashbuckling adventure, first serialized in the New York Times, then released in book form, Gentlemen of the Road. Michael Chabon appeared on Open Books in May 2007.

Vikram Chandra

Vikram Chandra is the author of three acclaimed works of fiction. Born in New Delhi, he majored in English at Pomona College and studied film at Columbia University, tentatively following in his screenwriter and director mother's footsteps. His first book, the novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, as did his collection of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay. The dazzlingly and all-encompassing Sacred Games is a magnificent novel of Mumbai and a cosmic detective story of amazing amplitude and complexity involving a Sikh police inspector and a legendary gangster, not to mention Bollywood, a diabolical guru, and an apocalyptic vision.

Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros, a poet and a fiction writer, was born and raised in Chicago, and the city plays a significant role in her work. Her saucy poems are collected in Loose Women and My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Cisnero's first novel, the groundbreaking The House on Mango Street, has been included on countless high school and college required reading lists, sold more than two million copies, and transformed American literature with its uniquely poetic take on that rite of passage known as coming-of-age, urban life, the immigrant experience in general, and that of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in particular. Woman Hollering Creek is a collection of funny, candid, and provocative stories about Mexican American girls and women. The extraordinarily rich and enveloping Caramelo is a many-faceted multigenerational family saga that weaves back and forth between Chicago and Mexico, and the complications of private life and the influence of cultural icons. Cisneros has received numerous prestigious awards, including the American Book Award, the Lannan Literary Award, and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. Cisneros appeared on Open Books in 2003.

Kathryn Davis

Beginning with Labrador, a complex, otherworldly tale of two sisters, Kathryn Davis has cast a spell that has held readers transfixed over the course of six original and affecting novels. The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf tells the story of two women, one a composer working on an opera based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Hell is a blend of mystery and surreal fantasy. The Walking Tour metamorphoses from a literary novel about two couples traveling in Wales into a mystery that stealthily acquires the aura of science fiction. In Versailles, Davis creates a curious form of historical fiction.

Davis traces the great singing web of life and the long-fingered shadow of death, and in The Thin Place, animal and plants are brought to conscious life as she explores the permeable divide between the past and the present, the living and the dead, the natural and the supernatural, the human and the divine. This conversation took place when Kathryn Davis came to Chicago in February 2006.

Stuart Dybek

A quintessential Chicago writer, Stuart Dybek grew up in the working-class neighborhood known as Pilsen, the setting for many of the stories in his celebrated collections, Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with Magellan. A writer preternaturally attuned to both beauty and absurdity, the real and the surreal, Dybek's penetrating vision of Chicago's steely reality and penchant for risk-all romance underlies his exquisitely crafted, urban and down-to-earth, mischievously funny, and ravishing short stories and his poems, which have been collected in Brass Knuckles and Streets in Their Own Ink. A generous teacher and mentor, Dybek inspires and supports many emerging writers. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Poetry, and The Paris Review; Dybek has received many awards, including several O. Henry Prizes, a PEN/Bernard Malamud Prize, and a Whiting Writer's Award.

Jennifer Egan

Egan is both a captivating storyteller and an incisive social observer. Creative and venturesome, she has taken a different approach in each of her fictional works, and all are shaped by her beautifully calibrated lyricism, precise psychology, uncanny insights into cultural trends, and keen satire. Egan is fascinated by the interplay between the world of appearances and the inner realm of feeling and thought, and considers with open-mindedness our longing for transcendence.

This preoccupation with the Wizard-of-Oz-like aspect of existence and our spiritual impulse shaped her accomplished first novel, The Invisible Circus. Emerald City and Other Stories is an outstanding collection of elegant and poignant short stories. In the novel Look at Me, Egan combines a penetrating look at the culture of the image, the fashion industry, and the shift from the industrial age to the information age. Writing before 9/11, Egan anticipated the reality TV craze, Web cams, and YouTube, and presciently imagined a Muslim terrorist in a Midwestern town. In The Keep, a cleverly constructed riff on gothic novels, Egan carries forward her inquiry into our obsession with digital technologies and our sense of connectivity even when we're terribly alone. Jennifer Egan spoke about her work in Chicago in September 2006.

Donald Evans

Chicago writer Donald G. Evans is a former sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. He has also been an editor, photojournalist, reporter, teacher, and columnist. Evans short stories have earned him a citation in Best American Short Stories' "100 Most Distinguished" and two Pushcart Prize nominations. A former serious gambler and part-time bookie, he is now is a stay- at-home dad and a writer. His roguishly witty first novel, Good Money After Bad, revolves around a Chicago gambler named Chance living within earshot of Wrigley Field, and dangerously addicted to sports betting. Evans is a terrifically atmospheric writer, deftly evoking the world of bookies and compulsive gamblers, the tensions of in a big city undergoing lots of changes, a surreally severe heat wave, and the consequences of secret desperation. Combining the blue-collar, neighborhood-anchored aesthetic Chicago writers are known for with a touch of suavely boozy noir, a sliver of medical-thriller action, and loads of charm, Evans tells a rascally and edgy cautionary tale. Donald G. Evans took a chance on Open Books in June 2007.

Mary Gordon

Mary Gordon is fascinated with deception and contradiction, religion and art, family secrets and social upheavals. A consummate short story writer, Gordon is renowned for her potent and risky novels, including Final Payments, The Other Side, The Rest of Life, Spending, and Pearl. Mary Gordon has also written a brief life of Joan of Arc, and three galvanizing memoirs notable for their candor, artistry, and unsettling disclosures: The Shadow Man, Seeing Through Places, and Circling My Mother.

Keir Graff

Keir Graff is a novelist from Montana living in Chicago where he is also editor for Booklist Online, and keeper of the blog, Likely Stories. Don’t be confused by the appearance of Michael McCulloch, author of the noir novel Cold Lessons, at the start of the interview, all will become clear as we discuss the book’s protagonist, Gil Strickland, a hard-drinking high school English teacher, and the cold cruel world in which he runs amok. My Fellow Americans, by Keir Graff, is a speculative novel in which the president of the U.S. declares martial law in the face of terrorist attacks, and stays in power for a third term. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jason Walker, amateur photographer and architecture enthusiast, runs afoul of Homeland Security, who find it awfully interesting that he’s half-Lebanese. Keir Graff spoke to Open Books in March 2007.

Jane Hamilton

Perhaps living and working on a Wisconsin apple orchard inspires Jane Hamilton to take risks in her fiction. Nature, after all, is a grand experiment in the reconciliation of extremes as years of human effort can be erased in a matter of hours while life persists in the harshest and most volatile of circumstances. In each of her five novels, she orchestrates seasons of suffering and amplitude, harrowing storms and epic droughts as she weighs the good and the bad in the repertoire of human behavior. Lyrical yet earthy, tragic yet droll, her complex tales of human quests for understanding are seeded in the stoic Midwest and rooted in extended families. Jane Hamilton has been an Oprah Book Club twice for her first two novels, The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World. The author of The Short History of a Prince, Disobedience, and When Madeline Was Young, Hamilton has also been awarded the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. Jane Hamilton appeared on Open Books in September 2006.

Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid is a persistently autobiographical writer whether she's writing about family, colonialism, or gardening, and her work is charged with a sense of urgency as she seeks understanding of the past and of how it shapes the present. Born Elaine Potter Richardson in Antigua, came to the U.S., changed her name, and became a staff writer for The New Yorker (many of her essays are collected in Talk Stories). Kincaid's fiction debut was the impressionistic story collection At the Bottom of the River. Annie John was her first novel, and the dawning of her signature voice with its deft interweaving of inner and outer realms, its exacting yet poetically resonant descriptions, and its incantatory musicality and stream of consciousness. Other novels followed, including the intense and cathartic expression in The Autobiography of My Mother and Mr. Potter. Kincaid also writes potent and distinctive nonfiction, including My Brother and Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya. Jamaica Kincaid spoke on Open Books in 2002.

John McNally
John McNally

The author of a short story collection, Troublemakers, John McNally proved himself to be a smart and nimble comedic novelist in The Book of Ralph, a marvelously inventive coming-of-age story set in Burbank, Illinois, a seedy old suburb south of Chicago. In his second satiric tale of Midwest angst, America's Report Card, an even more mordantly hilarious and right-on tale, McNally returns to Burbank to tell the story of Jainey O'Sullivan. On the verge of turning 18, she is burdened with a family beyond dysfunctional. McNally's flair for the absurd, poker-face humor, and hilarious critique of the fear-mongering Bush years, are matched by his pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, sure pacing, and tender regard for humankind.

A graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, McNally is also a dynamic anthologist. He has created High Infidelity: 24 Great Short Stories About Adultery, Bottom of the Ninth: Great Contemporary Baseball Short Stories, Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color, The Student Body: Short Stories about College Students and Professors, and When I Was a Loser: True Stories of (Barely) Surviving High School . John McNally appeared on Open Books in Chicago in July 2006.

Joe Meno
Joe Meno

Comedic, imaginative, empathic, and romantic, Chicago writer Joe Meno is particularly attuned to the intelligence and sorrows of children, and to the ways childhood haunts our adult lives. And as different as each of his works are--from his short story collection Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir to his novels Tender as Hellfire, How the Hula Girl Sings, Hairstyles of the Damned, and the truly remarkable The Boy Detective Fails -- Meno is consistently compassionate in his approach to loneliness and loss, the poignancy of our effort to combat chaos with reason, and the terror of realizing that the everyday world is full of menace. And yet, Meno's characters discover that there is power in kindness, intelligence, and persistence.

Meno, a recipient of the Nelson Algren Award and the Society for Midland Author Award, teaches in the Fiction Department at Columbia College Chicago. Joe Meno was a guest on Open Books in September 2004.

Lydia Millet

The bewitchment of Millet's unusual fiction derives from its fusing of lyrical realism with precisely rendered far-outness, her heightened social conscience, and her gift for cloaking moral and spiritual inquiries within inventive plotlines and the psyches of deep-feeling characters. My Happy Life (2002), winner of the PEN-USA Award for Fiction, is a harrowing yet poetic tale of one woman's suffering and transcendence. In Everyone's Pretty (2005), a pornographer, his pious sister, a midget, a math prodigy, a bombshell, and a Christian Scientist ponder sex, God, and the search for meaning. Oh Pure and Radiant Heart is a brilliant and madcap novel about the collision between science and faith and the dark discovery that forever altered life on earth, the making of the atomic bomb. How the Dead Dream is a haunting novel about suffering of animals as humankind becomes the dominant force on the planet and we enter an age of extinction. A profoundly humanist and satirical writer in the constellation that includes Twain, Vonnegut, Murakami, and DeLillo, Millet is a write ascending.

Audrey Niffenegger

Audrey Niffenegger, a Chicago writer and an artist who makes fine art books the old-fashioned way, is best-known for her first novel, the internationally acclaimed bestseller novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, an evocative blend of science fiction and straight-ahead literature. Niffenegger is also the creator of two elegant novels-in-pictures, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress. Niffenegger's stunningly moody prints possess the sly gothic subversion of Edward Gorey, the emotional valence of Edvard Munch, and her own brilliant use of iconographic pattern, surprising perspective, and tensile line in the service of a delectably otherworldly sensibility. Audrey Niffenegger teaches at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. This conversation took place in September 2005.
Harry Mark Petrakis

Harry Mark Petrakis is a quintessential Chicago storyteller, one of the most compelling and venerable writers ever to walk this blustery city's streets and look into the heart of its struggling and blessed citizens. The author of nine novels, including A Dream of Kings, which was made into a film starring Anthony Quinn, The Hour of the Bell, Nick the Greek, Days of Vengeance, Twilight of the Ice, The Orchards of Ithaca, Petrakis has also written short story collections, including the must-have Collected Stories and his most recent, Legends of Glory and Other Stories. Petrakis is also a memoirist and essayist; his collections include the wonderfully candid and very moving Tales of the Heart.

A legend and an inspiration to many, a man of warmth and wisdom, Harry Mark Petrakis has seen many changes in life and literature. He appeared on Open Books in March 2004.

Alexis Pride

Chicago writer Alexis J. Pride is a playwright, producer, founder of the AJ Ensemble Theater Company, a professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago, and a fiction writer. Her first novel, Where the River Ends, is a fiery fictionalization of the life of a revolutionary and controversial Chicago educator, Corla Hawkins, known far and wide as Momma Hawk. Pride's protagonist, Emma Rivers, battles her way through a rough girlhood on the South Side during the 1950s. She found refuge in books, but suffered betrayal and violence at the hands of those she loved best. Emma struggles mightily against great odds to get control of her life, becoming a teacher and a principal renowned for her unorthodox style and profound dedication to inner-city children. Pride's intense and insightful novel dramatizes the trauma engendered by the cruel matrix of poverty, racism, and sexism in an indelible portrait of a courageous teacher able to transform the lives of neglected teens because she needs them as much as they need her. Alexis Pride appeared on Open Books in May 2007.

Susan Straight

Susan Straight writes empathic and dramatic fiction about family, race, class, immigration, men and women, and the long shadow of slavery. She is the author of six powerful novels: Aquaboogie, I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots, Blacker than a Thousand Midnights, The Gettin' Place, Highwire Moon, a National Book Award Finalist, and A Million Nightingales, a lyrical historical novels and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards. Straight is also a superlative essayist and writes commentary for National Public Radio. The recipient of a Lannan Foundation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she teaches creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, her lifelong hometown. Susan Straight spoke on Open Books in May 2006. Read an excerpt of the transcript of her interview.

Mark Swartz

Mark Swartz is nervy, inventive, and very funny writer, a satirist intrigued with individuals and societies run amok. His first novel, Instant Karma, is about a brooding loner who feeds his mania in Chicago’s main library, thus challenging our belief in the library as a temple of learning, the wellspring of humanitarian enlightenment, a pleasure palace for those who live ecstatic lives of the mind. Swartz suggests that reading can become a perilously isolating and alienating obsession, and that the library can be an overwhelming and bewildering labyrinth, an oppressive manifestation of the mind's complexity and humanity's folly.

In H2O, Swartz zaps forward in time to depict Chicago as a chaotic and decrepit city-state. Clean tap water is but a cherished memory, so toxic is Lake Michigan. In fact, the earth's entire freshwater supply is imperiled. Enter Hayden Shivers, a hapless filter and drain engineer who discovers a miracle. Swartz's shrewd, jittery, and noirishly atmospheric speculative tale about a bumbling antihero and dire environmental trauma brings an irreverent and parrying voice to ecofiction and casts a fractured light on follies petty and catastrophic. Mark Swartz appeared on Open Books in January 2007.

Jean Thompson

Heartland writer Jean Thompson forges adept and imaginative tragicomedy fueled by her fascination with just how awry things can get and just how outrageously we can run amok. Evincing a dry and precise wit and an impressive fluency in inner monologues induced by long-stoked anger, self-loathing, and loneliness, she portrays people on the edge in her moody short story collections -- The Gasoline Wars, Little Face and Other Stories, and Who Do You Love, a finalist for the National Book Award -- and her well-wrought novels, including Wide Blue Yonder and City Boy, a portrait of a catastrophically malignant marriage. Thompson continues to explore the dynamics between men and women, as well as the diminishment of rural life, family weirdness, what being female is really about, and living in war time in her spectacular collection of pitch-perfect short stories, Throw like a Girl. Jean Thompson appeared on Open Books in June 2007.


** NEW ** Hillary Carlip

Hillary Carlip brings high energy, high standards, unbridled creativity, an effervescent sense of humor, and deep insight into everything she does. A performer, writer, and master of multiple identities, Carlip recounts her formative, or warping, girlhood experiences in her funny and liberating memoir, Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan, an American Booksellers Association "Book Sense Pick" and a Borders "Top Literary Memoir of the Year." Carlip is also the creator, host, and editor of an esteemed literary website, FRESH YARN,, an online magazine devoted to personal essays.

A performer as well as a writer, Hillary's penchant for alternative personalities finds extraordinary expression in A la Cart: The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers, a book of stories and photographs in which Carlip transforms herself into 26 diverse and compelling characters based on her extensive collection of lost-and-found shopping lists. According to Booklist (that would be me):

"Carlip draws on her love of story, passion for performance and transformation, eye for found art, and gift for comedic and empathic improvisation in a unique portrait gallery. A populist Cindy Sherman, an American Tracey Ullman, a female Eddie Murphy, and a disciple of Lily Tomlin, Carlip used her quirky collection of discarded shopping lists as inspiration for 26 characters, assuming the identity of men and women shoppers of various ages, backgrounds, and preoccupations. . . Each of Carlip's ingeniously composed, funny, and insightful vignettes is a microcosm of struggle and hope."

Hillary Carlip is also a fabulously talented web designer. In fact, you're experiencing one of her online creations this very moment.

Hillary appeared on Open Books when she was in Chicago for Columbia College's annual literary festival, Story Week.

** NEW ** Joel Greenberg

Chicagoan Joel Greenberg is a birder, a naturalist, a lawyer, an environmental activist, a tireless researcher, and a passionately observant, insightful, involving, and witty writer. His first book is a magnum opus, the unprecedented, avidly detailed, entertaining and illuminating A Natural History of the Chicago Region. In this beautifully made book rich in historical photographs, Joel teaches us about prairies and marshes, ravines and rivers, the shore of the great lake Michigan, oak savannas and grasses, butterflies and mussels and orchids and turtles and coyotes and hawks and geese. He also writes incisively about a burgeoning, incessantly busy, and shortsighted human population and the rapid and transforming changes Chicagoans have brought to what was for so long an incredibly fertile wilderness.

In his second book, the nature writing anthology Of Prairie, Woods, & Water: Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing, Joel Greenberg gathers together a revelatory array of forgotten works about an overlooked yet essential American place. Growing out of his extensive research for A Natural History of the Chicago Region, this unique anthology begins with the diary of Father Pierre-Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, a Jesuit who explored the area in 1721, and moves forward to 1960. In between are many surprises. Listen to Greenberg tell the intriguing stories behind this eye-opening collection.

** NEW ** Nancy Goldstein (with Tim Jackson)

The moment I saw Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist, I knew I was in the presence of something fresh, exciting, and important. Nancy Goldstein is the first to create a book devoted to the life and work of pioneering cartoonist Jackie Ormes (1911-1985), a "tireless" artist of conscience and prominent activist. Glamorous and audacious, Ormes created seductive, technically exceptional, and slyly hard-hitting newspaper cartoons that entertained, inspired, and provoked readers with indelible female characters: precocious and sharp-tongued five-year-old Patty-Jo and her forbearing fashion-plate older sister Ginger; and Torchy, a beautiful "campaigner for environmental justice and racial equality."

Goldstein recounts with enthusiasm and insight the trailblazing cartoonist's remarkable story from her birth in Pittsburgh to her celebrity-filled life in Chicago, and keenly analyzes Ormes' influential cartoons and the role black newspapers played in the struggle for racial equality. With a generous selection of Ormes' "forward-looking" cartoons resurrected for the first time, and sharp insights into the adversity Ormes faced as a woman of color and an artist, Goldstein's Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is a rare and affecting reading experience.

Also on the show is Tim Jackson, who contributed precious artwork to the book. He talks about Jackie Ormes from his perspective as a Chicago-based, nationally syndicated cartoonist, and a cartoon historian working on a book titled Pioneering Cartoonists of Color.

** NEW ** Tim Jackson (with Nancy Goldstein)

Tim Jackson has been cartooning since he was a kid in Dayton, Ohio, hoping to use the art of cartooning for good. Currently living and working in Chicago, his vibrant and socially conscious cartoons have appeared in the Chicago Defender and diverse newspapers across the country. Jackson's work can be seen at and

Jackson's passionate interest in the work of earlier generations of African American cartoonists inspired his "Pioneering Cartoonists of Color" project, soon to be published in book form.

Tim Jackson joined Nancy Goldstein to talk with Open Books host Donna Seaman about the truly pioneering cartoonist Jackie Ormes. An expert on Ormes, Jackson contributed invaluable artworks to Goldstein's pioneering book, Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist.

** NEW ** Miles Harvey

Chicago writer Miles Harvey is the author of two unusual and involving works of investigative history, the best-selling The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, and the dramatic and far-ranging Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America. A journalist with a keen sense of story, the literary chops of a novelist, and an intrepid approach to research, Harvey takes readers on wild rides.

In Painter in a Savage Land, the itinerary includes a doomed sixteenth-century French fort on what became the site for Jacksonville, Florida; the streets of Paris and London where Huguenots and Lutherans were burned at the stake, and the high-tension auction rooms of Sotheby's. The riveting story of the long-lost artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues is a veritable tale of nine lives. Harvey marvels at the "epic strangeness" of his subject's elusive life story and its embrace of radically different, if equally tumultuous worlds. With a vivid cast of real-life characters, gorgeous illustrations, unforeseen and hugely entertaining side journeys, and a diabolical surprise ending, Harvey's groundbreaking biography blows the dust off significant chapters in European and American history and makes for a rousing read. Happily, Harvey proves to be an equally entrancing conversationalist.

Invisible No More: Voices of Literacy Chicago -- A Special Reading Front Edition of Open Books

Open Books, as I say at the beginning of every show, is about outstanding books, remarkable writers, and the fine art of reading. It's a celebration of the communion between reader and book, reader and writer. When I speak with writers, our conversation roams easily back and forth between the real world and the world of ideas and the imagination, a realm we share by virtue of our ability to read, and the boundless pleasure and knowledge we acquire through books, magazines, newspapers, and web sites. But I often wonder what life would be like without this key to the workings of other minds, this portal onto other places and other times. Millions of Americans do not read well enough to enjoy books, or even read instructions, menus, street signs, or medical prescriptions. If you cannot read and you cannot write, you cannot participate in our society. You are silenced. You feel invisible.

I wanted to listen to the stories of people who refused to remain without a voice, without a presence. And I wanted to talk to people who are dedicated to helping others learn to read, to write, and to work with confidence, dignity, and pleasure. Thanks to friends, I made my way to an amazing place, a dynamic and loving community, Literacy Chicago, a not-for-profit organization located at 17 N. State Street in Chicago's Loop ( A school that, to quote its mission statement, "empowers individuals through words." A haven for adult learners with free classes for students who want to increase their reading skills, earn their GEDs, take English as a Second Language courses, start their own business, and unchain their creativity. Here are some of the voices of Literacy Chicago.

Thanks to (in order of appearance): Joan Green, Zaundra Boyd, Charles Barnett, Ellen Meyers, Phyllis Robinson, Anthony Stoll, Ella Brantley, Andrea Kelton, Marilyn Murchison, Eric Boyd, Susan Fox-Larkin, Andre Holmes, Larry Martin, and Cheri Hubbard. And thank you Barry Benson, Craig Kois, and Neese Aguilar.

David Rothenberg

David Rothenberg is a uniquely gifted, multifaceted, and intrepid thinker and artist. A writer, philosopher, musician, and ecologist, Rothenberg is the author of Sudden Music, Hand's End, Always the Mountains, and Why Birds Sing, a remarkable and unique mix of science, history, literature, art, and music that has been published in six languages and turned into a BBC documentary. His articles have appeared in Parabola, Orion, The Nation, Wired, and Sierra. Professor of philosophy at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rothenberg is the founding editor of the Terra Nova journal and book series, which includes Writing on Air, Writing on Water, and Writing the World: On Globalization. Rothenberg is also a composer and jazz clarinetist, who plays music with birds and other animals as well as with other people. His seven CDs include Bangalore Wild and On the Cliffs of the Heart. His forthcoming book, Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound, is due out soon.

Sam Weller

Chicago writer Sam Weller is the author of The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury, the first comprehensive and authorized biography of the great and prescient Ray Bradbury, author of such indelible works as The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Formerly the Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly, Sam is a journalist and book reviewer who writes for a variety of Chicago venues and appears on WBEZ, Chicago's NPR station. Weller is also a writing professor at Columbia College Chicago.

Barry Silesky

Chicago writer Barry Silesky is a poet, the author of a book of "short shorts," One Thing That Can Save Us; the editor and publisher for Another Chicago Magazine, a literary journal, and a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is also the author of two groundbreaking biographies, Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time and John Gardner: The Life and Death of a Literary Outlaw, a portrait of the mercurial and brilliant writer exceptional in its insight, momentum, and empathy.

Stephen Asma

Stephen T. Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago, is the author of Buddha for Beginners and Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads. He wrote his spiritual travelogue, The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha after a teaching stint at Phnom Penh's Buddhist Institute. In an electrifying and frank mix of hair-raising anecdotes and expert analysis, he explicates the vast difference between text-based Buddhist teachings and daily life in a poor and politically volatile Buddhist society. Amid tales of massage parlors, marijuana-spiced pizza, and bloodshed, he cogently explains how Theravada Buddhism, the form practiced throughout Southeast Asia, differs from the Buddhism Westerners are familiar with, and how entwined it is with animistic beliefs. This fusion of Buddhist rationalism with superstition is but one of many juxtapositions Asma relishes as he assesses the terrible scars left by the Khmer Rouge and the profound self-possession of the people he meets.

Left: Michael Williams; Right: Richard Cahan

Richard Cahan with Michael Williams on photographer Richard Nickel

Richard Cahan, author of A Court that Shaped America, and Michael Williams have teamed up to create unique and powerful books that pair great photographs with incisive commentary. They All Fall Down: Richard Nickel's Struggle to Save America's Architecture is the cornerstone biography of Chicago photographer and groundbreaking architectural conservationist Richard Nickel. An ardent admirer of the work of architect Louis Sullivan, Nickel was a lone voice protesting the ill-considered and hasty destruction of Sullivan's Chicago masterpieces during the 1950s and 1960s. Nickel salvaged whatever ornamentation he could lay his hands on, and extensively photographed buildings before and during their demolition. Nickel's tireless efforts to document and preserve Sullivan's work led to his tragic death in 1972 at age 43. In Richard Nickel's Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City, Cahan and Williams present 250 of Nickel's elegant and resonant photographs, many never printed before, accompanied by Nickel's writings to create a volume of heartbreaking beauty. Their next book, created with Bruce Moffat, is Chicago: City on the Move, a spectacular selection of historic photographs from the Chicago Transit Authority. Richard Cahan and Michael Williams spoke to Open Books in December 2006.

Ilene Cooper

Chicago writer Ilene Cooper is Booklist's children's book editor, a superb reviewer, and the author of more than 30 and counting books for young people, ranging in age from preschoolers to high schoolers, and in genres from fiction to biography. Cooper's novels include the Kids from Kennedy Middle School series, Sam I Am, and I'll See You in My Dreams. Cooper's Jewish Holidays All Year Round won the National Jewish Book Award, her exceptional biography, Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy won the Society for Midland Authors award, among others. Ilene has also written The Dead Sea Scrolls, a young adult biography, Up Close: Oprah Winfrey, and an altogether beautiful children's book, The Golden Rule. The Illinois Reading Council designated Ilene Cooper as the Prairie State Award winner for Excellence in Writing for Children. Ilene Cooper spoke to Open Books in May 2007.

Connie Fletcher

Connie Fletcher, a journalism professor fascinated by police work, is the author of a unique set of books about crime -- vivid, insider works of oral history that have been praised by mystery and crime writers Barbara D'Amato, Elmore Leonard, and Joseph Wambaugh: What Cops Know, Pure Cop, Breaking and Entering, and Every Contact Leaves a Trace: Crime Scene Experts Talk About Their Work from Discovery to Verdict.

In Every Contact Leaves a Trace, Fletcher recounts truly amazing stories of crazy crimes and the patient and exacting men and women who solved them. Fletcher speaks with 80 specialists, from evidence technicians to detectives, blood spatter experts, DNA experts, trace analysts, forensic anthropologists, a forensic botanist, firearms examiners, cold case detectives, medical examiners, crime lab directors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. The always surprising and affecting discussions cover the practical, such as the challenges of outdoor crime scenes, and such metaphysical concerns as feelings about death and the quest for truth. Connie Fletcher appeared on Open Books in July 2006.

Elizabeth Grossman (High Tech Trash -- with Giles Slade)

In this edition of Open Books, we talk trash, e-waste that is, with the "e" standing for electronics. E-waste, also known as high-tech trash, consists of all the computers, TVs, cell phones, CD players, and other digital gadgets we throw out without stopping to think about what they contain or where they go, how they're processed, whose water, soil, and air they pollute, and whose health they endanger. Environmental journalist Elizabeth Grossman, author of Watershed: The Undamming of America, and Adventuring Along the Lewis and Clark Trail, presents galvanizing and unprecedented reports on the consequences of the manufacture and disposal of our digital machines in High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxins, and Human Health. See Giles Slade, below, for our second high-tech expert guest. This discussion took place on Open Books in June 2006.

Patricia Hampl

Patricia Hampl is a poet, an essayist, and a remarkably artistic and creative memoirist. Writing of both earthly pilgrimages and the inner journeys they precipitate, she brings a poet's love of language, fluency in patterns and modulations, and fascination with the life of the mind to unusual inquiries into matters aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural. Hampl's intrepidly candid, incisive, witty, and elegantly sensual works of discovery include A Romantic Education, Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life, and I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory.

A painting by Matisse is the catalyst for Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime, a many-faceted paean to art and the art of contemplation. In The Florist's Daughter, Hampl portrays her temperamentally oppositional parents with humor and poignancy, creating a spirited tale of nature and nurture that illuminates our bred-in-the-bone need for beauty, purpose, and love. Patricia Hampl appeared on Open Books in December 2006.

A.M. Homes

Homes is a writer of verve and originality. Awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, she is the author of the unforgettable short story collections Things You Should Know and The Safety of Objects, a travel memoir about Los Angeles, and five powerful novels: Jack, In a Country of Mothers, The End of Alice, and Music for Torching. This Book will Save Your Life is a novel of rocketing energy, wildly careening ups and downs, finely calibrated humor, and spiky characters. Making clever use of the extremes of L.A., both natural (tar pits, mud slides, fires, earthquakes) and man-made (the list is endless), Homes orchestrates a midlife crisis that transforms a money-counting neurotic into an unlikely superhero in a novel of cinematic pizzazz that revitalizes our understanding of love and goodness. Homes has also written a memoir of distinctive power and resonance, The Mistress's Daughter, which is as remarkable for its crystalline prose, flinty wit, and agile candor as for its arresting revelations regarding her irregular adoption. As Homes chronicles her unnerving relationships, as a well-established author, with her biological parents, she distills angst and discovery into a riveting tale of nature and nurture that encompasses America's great patchwork of immigrants and secrets, and the evolution of women's lives. A. M. Homes appeared on Open Books in May 2007.

Brad Hooper

Brad Hooper is the Adult Books editor for Booklist, a position that demands both creativity and stamina (so many books, so little space and time), and a versatile writer and critic. He has published a number of short stories, essays, and reviews in various publications, and written The Short Story Readers’ Advisory: A Guide to the Best. Hooper is also the author of a groundbreaking study of an immensely popular living writer, The Fiction of Ellen Gilchrist: An Appreciation, and he is at work on a similarly revealing and enjoyable interpretation of the work of Alice Munro, considered by many to be one of the world’s very finest short story writers. Brad Hooper appeared on Open Books in March 2005.

Leonard Kniffel

Leonard Kniffel is a librarian, a journalist, and the editor of American Libraries. He is also the author of A Polish Son in the Motherland, a richly detailed and involving chronicle of his journey to Poland to search for long lost-family members, especially relatives of his grandmother, who played a key role in Kniffel's Michigan childhood. Kniffel's Polish adventures include planned genealogical research and serendipitous meetings, moments of terror on the highways and embracing pleasure in the company of newly discovered family and "hard-won friends made in the mother tongue." Detailed descriptions of food, his struggles with the language, the countryside, the lives of newspaper reporters and a wine merchant, the excitement of meeting fifty cousins in five days, and startling family history, including the story of his great-great-grandmother who outlived 6 husbands had famously tiny feet, make for an anecdotal feast, and grant readers a fresh view of Polish life and culture. Leonard Kniffel spoke with Open Books in April 2005.

Jeff Libman

As talk about immigration and immigrants' rights become even more heavily politicized and polarizing, it is important to remember that we are not talking about statistics, but about men, women, and children struggling to live safe and productive lives. Like our great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and ourselves, today's immigrants are often forced to leave home under traumatic and tragic circumstances, only to face daunting challenges in their new world. Jeff Libman is a musician (his new CD is December Wave), an English as a Second Language teacher on the staff of Harry S. Truman College in Chicago, and author of An Immigrant Class: Oral Histories from Chicago's Newest Immigrants. In this unusual, clarifying, and generously proportioned book illustrated with photographs by Steve Kagan, Libman shares the stories of 20 immigrants from all around the world who are creating new lives in Chicago. Jeff Libman spoke to Open Books in December 2005.

Phillip Lopate

Phillip Lopate has written fiction, poetry, and architectural and movie criticism, but he is best known as an adept and urbane essayist. His frank and nervy autobiographical essays run the gamut from confessional to hilarious, elegiac, piquant, and curmudgeonly. Over the years Lopate's vivid and involving essays have been gathered into various collections, including Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body, and Getting Personal: Selected Writings.

Lopate's authoritative The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present has become a much cherished standard. In a tour de force, Waterfront: A Journey around Manhattan, Lopate combines his knowledge of New York culture, architecture, and literature with the more visceral understandings he has acquired as an avid walker and city explorer to create a thought-provoking history of the city's once bustling, long-neglected, now rediscovered waterfront. Lopate continued his inquiry into the history of maritime New York in Seaport: New York's Vanished Waterfront (2004), a sterling collection of historical photographs, and has authored a stunning monograph on photographer Rudy Burckhardt. Phillip Lopate appeared on Open Books in March 2004.

Bill McKibben

Beginning with his prescient treatise on global warming, The End of Nature (1989), environmentalist and hard-working journalist of conscience Bill McKibben has been tirelessly investigating and elucidating some of the most intriguing, obdurate, and baffling aspects of our lives. A recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction, McKibben has written about overpopulation in Maybe One, and our enthrallment to technological innovations in Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. In other works, he assesses our television habit, what we learn from pushing our bodies and minds to the limit, and appreciation for the glory of nature. In Wandering Home, he hikes his beloved home turf in Vermont and the Adirondacks, stopping to visit with people who have found ecologically nurturing ways to work and live. In Deep Economy, McKibben takes measure of the unintended consequences of our oil-fueled growth-oriented economy, and issues a call for a new economic paradigm, that of a "deep economy" born of sustainable and sustaining communities anchored in local resources.

A remarkably active and generous writer, McKibben pops up everywhere, contributing to literary projects, supporting other writers by writing illuminated introductions for their books, organizing grassroots campaigns, and appearing in the documentary, The 11th Hour. Bill McKibben spoke with Open Books in October 2006.

James McManus

Chicago writer James McManus is a poet and a novelist, his novels include Going to the Sun and Chin Music. He is also a nervy practitioner of immersion journalism, and a mega-serious poker player. McManus has written about high-stakes poker tournaments in his bestseller, Positively Fifth Street. McManus has also written about the price of living an unhealthy life, and the luck of the draw when it comes to genetically based disease in Physical: An American Checkup. A mix of reportage and memoir, Physical begins with McManus' experience at the Mayo Clinic, where he undergoes an "executive physical." His moment-by-moment chronicle leads to a sharp critique of our health care system, family stories, and a great array of observations about illness and injury, the politics of medicine, the failings of health insurance, and all kinds of ironies and paradoxes. James McManus appeared on Open Books in February 2006.

Dan Mathews

Dan Mathews is an audacious animal rights activist, the vice president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the author of a mischievously funny and passionate book, Committed: A Rabble Rouser's Memoir. An "agitator by nature," Mathews mixes outrageous humor with dishy anecdotes and searing revelations to create a wildly entertaining memoir and a spirited overview of a serious social issue. Openly gay and steeled by the bullying he endured as a boy, Mathews has always felt empathy for animals. Initially a receptionist for PETA in 1985, he proved to be an outside-the-box thinker and daredevil protestor, and has advocated for animal rights all over the world, a calling that has landed him in jail all too often. The force of his convictions and his love of life electrify every page. Dan Mathews appeared on Open Books in April 2007.

Mitch Myers

Writer and music critic Mitch Myers has written for Downbeat, Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, and High Times, and contributed pop commentaries to National Public Radio's All Things Considered. Myers also maintains the Shel Silverstein Archive in Chicago. The nephew of author, poet, songwriter, cartoonist, and artist Silverstein -- who is renowned for the cherished children's books Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up -- Myers introduces a new collection of Silverstein's work for adults, a travel journal titled Playboy's Silverstein Around the World. Mitch Myers's inventive first book, The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock and Roll Fables and Sonic Storytelling, is a dynamic blend of rock-and-roll lore, blues and jazz musings, and spellbinding tales that take readers on some devilishly smart forays into the realms of myth and magic, and on some intriguing time-travel adventures. Mitch Myers spoke to Open Books in April 2007.

Sy Montgomery

Renowned nature writer Sy Montgomery has traveled to wilderness regions all around the world, and writes radiant books about elusive animals and wild places with the lyricism and insights of a poet, and the knowledge and reasoning of a scientist. In Spell of the Tiger, Montgomery chronicles her journey to Sundarbans in Bengal, India, where tigers hunt humans. In Journey of the Pink Dolphins, she reports on her often baffling attempts to study the freshwater pink dolphin, long the subject of myth and nearly unknown to science. In Search for the Golden Moon Bear, Montgomery tells the story of her travels throughout Southeast Asia with evolutionary biologist Gary Galbreath on a quest for the rarely seen golden moon bear. Rather than traverse pristine wilderness, however, the searchers visit captive bears, and confront the horrors of the illegal wildlife trade (second only to drugs in scope and violence) and the grave suffering of endangered hill tribes. In her most personal book, The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary life of Christopher Hogwood, Montgomery writes about life with her much-loved 750-pound pig companion. A highly intelligent and very kind pig, Christopher was known for miles around as people brought food, and children fussed over him like the pasha he was. Christopher helped Montgomery overcome her shyness, and brought her profound solace. Christopher's "bliss was contagious" in life, and remains so on the pages of this funny, revealing, and deeply moving story of the profound bond between animals and people. Sy Montgomery has appeared twice on Open Books. See Writers on the Air for our first conversation. This one took place in July 2006.

Arthur Plotnik

Language maven Arthur Plotnik is a contributing editor to The Writer, former editor of American Libraries, and the author of writing books that have become standards in the field: The Elements of Editing and The Elements of Expression. A zestful, inventive, and irreverent expert, Plotnik combines storytelling and humor with clear and inspiring explication. He took time away from the word mines to write The Urban Tree Book, an unusual guide to city trees beautifully illustrated by artist Mary Phelan, Plotnik's wife, then dove back into the how-to world with Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style. In Spunk & Bite, a clever play on Strunk & White, Plotnik offers unique and exciting suggestions about the subtlest aspects of prose style, from guidelines for creating a "syntax of surprise," to a mind-expanding discussion of "megaphors and miniphors," to the feng shui of writing, and the art of word coinage (did you know that Shakespeare gave us "puke," and Oscar Wilde coined "dude"?) Arthur Plotnik worked word magic on Open Books in January 2006.

Giles Slade (High Tech Trash -- with Elizabeth Grossman)

Canadian writer Giles Slade survived a protracted stay in academia; learned to think on his feet as a reporter; had a blast writing pulp fiction, specifically action adventure novels; taught at various colleges and universities in Asia and the Persian Gulf, and then became fascinated by consumer culture, built-in obsolescence, and the trouble with our trash-producing habit of forever upgrading and increasing our flocks of digital gadgets. Slade's informative, entertaining, and alarming Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America analyzes the forces that drive consumerism, and the impetus for and consequences of our throw-it-away approach to life. Made to Break won the IPPY (Independent Publisher Association's) national gold medal for the best environmental book of 2007. Slade's articles and opinion pieces appear in various newspapers and magazines, and he blogs on The Huffington Post while working on a new book. Giles Slade joined Elizabeth Grossman (see above) on Open Books in June 2006.

Annick Smith (Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes -- with Alison Swan)

Annick Smith is the daughter of Hungarian émigrés and photographers Helene and Stephen Deutch. Born in Paris, Smith grew up in Chicago, where her parents were friends with Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel, and many other notables. Smith moved to Montana, where she worked in film, producing Heartland and A River Runs Through It. She edited The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology with her husband, William Kittredge. Smith's essays and travel writing have appeared in Audubon, Outside, and other venues, and she has written thoughtful and poetic books about nature, place, and family, including Homestead and In This We Are Native: On Going Away and Coming Home. Smith shares her memories of Chicago, including a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, during which she "discovered that life and art and nature are one thing," and of summers on the dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes (see Alison Swan, below). Smith writes, "I, for one, desire always the physical. Stone, leaf, rain, blood." Accompanied by her lovely mother, Helene, age 100, Annick Smith joined Alison Swan on Open Books in December 2006.

Alison Swan (Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes -- with Annick Smith)

Alison Swan's writings have appeared in many publications including Fourth Genre and Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs from Michigan. Swan is also the editor of an unusual and unusually beautiful anthology, Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes, a collection of essays, poems, and memoirs about life in the Great Lakes basin, home to the fresh water seas Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior, and a unique and precious place on Earth. Swan has gathered works by women writers born in Great Lakes territory, writers who migrated there, and writers for whom the Great Lakes serve as five watery muses. Contributors include Bonnie Jo Campbell, Laura Kasischke, Stephanie Mills, Susan Power, Judith Strasser, Jane Urquhart, Annick Smith (see her bio above), and the host of Open Books, Donna Seaman. Alison Swan appeared with Annick Smith on Open Books in December 2006.


Elise Paschen

Chicago poet Elise Paschen is the author of the collections Home: Coasts and Infidelities, winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, New Republic, and Ploughshares, among other publications, and in numerous anthologies, including Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native Women's Writings of North America, A Formal Feeling Comes, and The Poetry Anthology. Former executive director of the Poetry Society of America, Paschen was a cofounder of "Poetry in Motion," a nationwide program that places poetry posters in subways and buses. Paschen is also editor of Poetry Speaks to Children, and coeditor of the best-selling Poetry Speaks and Poetry Speaks Expanded, a big book of superb poems accompanied by CDs of major poets reading their work.

Dan Beachy-Quick ( A double interview with Chicu Reddy)

Dan Beachy-Quick is a poet of artifacts, early American history, and the culture of nature. In North True, South Bright he illuminates our intricate connections to nature. Spell is a complex and enthralling poetic response to Moby Dick, and in Mulberry Beachy-Quick's finely spun and intricately woven lyrics mesh consciousness with sensuousness. Trees are spokes in the wheels of traveling meditations on the transformations and cycles of life. As birds build nests, humans alter the living world: "Sap: syrup. Pine: plank." Beachy-Quick's incantatory poems create a palimpsest of water, blood, and ink; veins in leaves, wings, and hands; spider webs, a silk scarf, a swaddling cloth, and a shroud. Tree rings hold time, pages are a book's leaves, people of the past have left their marks, and the poet is steeped in "the transparent ever."

Srikanth "Chicu" Reddy (A double interview with Dan Beachy-Quick)

Poet Chicu Reddy, an assistant professor in the English department at the University of Chicago, is the author of Facts for Visitors, a collection of iridescent beauty and wistful mystery. Reddy's poems conjure haunted landscapes -- places in transition, collapse, and decay -- but the canny narrator marvels rather than laments. A profoundly visual poet, Reddy creates mise-en-scenes reminiscent of the boxes of Joseph Cornell, Indian miniatures, and Hieronymus Bosch's surreal cosmos. Lush and magical, Reddy's poems are also evocative of such human trespasses as war, prejudice, and oppression, as well as the transcendence of language, love, and awe.

Diane di Prima

The best-known and most important woman writer in the Beat movement, poet di Prima has written many books of poetry, including Loba, and a famously explicit fictionalized tale of her reign of queen of the beats, Memoir of a Beatnik. In her actual memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, she presents an equally frank self-portrait but on a far grander scale. Delving deeply into her past, from her brutal New York childhood to her artistic and bohemian life, a great swirl of Eros and creativity, she transcends the personal to illuminate the primal cultural and psychological issues of twentieth-century America. Di Prima's electrifying perceptions into the nature of sex and love, men and women, race and identity, art and beauty, drugs and spirituality, and freedom and commitment keep readers glued to the page.

Kevin Young

Kevin Young is a poet who looks back as he moves forward, who writes of place and of displacement, of the order and grace art bestows and of the randomness and sorrow life delivers. Young attended Harvard University, held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford, and received an MFA from Brown. He is a Guggenheim fellow and is currently a professor of English and creative writing at Emory University. As an editor, Young has created a fresh and powerful anthology titled Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers, The Everyman's Anthology of Blues Poems, and John Berryman: Selected Poems.

As for his own work, Lucille Clifton selected Young's first book, Most Way Home for the National Poetry Series and it won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award. Young's collection To Repel Ghosts is a jazzy epic tribute to painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Jelly Roll: A Blues, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Paterson Poetry Prize. In Black Maria and A. K. A. Jones, Young celebrates improvisation in art and life as he toys with every convention known to noir and pulls off some of the wittiest, sexiest, and most barbed put-downs, come-ons, and linguistic sleights of hand found in contemporary poetry. And in his most overtly beautiful book to date, For the Confederate Dead, he pays arresting tribute to various mentors and considers African American history, pairing humor and deep feeling in tonic poems of mischief and power.

Marc Smith (with Mark Eleveld)

Chicago poet Marc Smith created a new art form and launched a movement in Chicago in 1987 when he staged a competitive poetry performance that became the prototype for what is now known all around the world as the poetry slam. Smith's conviction that poetry is part of life and not a rarefied form reserved for the elite has had a profound influence on poets and poetry, as has his emphasis on the oral aspect of poetry, and on poetry "live." Nicknamed "Slampapi," Smith is the author of Crowdpleasers and coeditor with Mark Eleveld of The Spoken Word Revolution, a dynamic anthology that traces the evolution of modern spoken-word poetry from the Beats to rap to hip-hop and beyond.

Mark Eleveld (with Marc Smith)

A high school English teacher in Joilet, Illinois, Mark Eleveld is also co-founder and director of EM Press, a small house devoted to poetry. And he edited the groundbreaking poetry anthologies, The Spoken Word Revolution and The Spoken Word Revolution Redux. In each, Eleveld matches insightful commentary by such established poets as Billy Collins and Marvin Bell with poems of high energy and deep feeling, vivid imagery and mischievous wit by a slew of performance poets. Eleveld, coeditor Marc Smith, and their diverse contributors celebrate the verve, artistry, and significance of today's performance poetry, explore spoken word poetry's connection to music, and trace its roots back to the old-as-song tradition of life-sustaining poetry.

Nikki Giovanni

The legendary activist, a poet of conscience and a crucial voice in the literature of civil rights, black power, and women's rights, Nikki Giovanni is the author of more than two dozen books of poems and essays, rants and stories. Her many influential books include Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgment; My House; Blues: For All Changes; Love Poems; Sacred Cows...and Other Edibles; Racism 101; The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998; Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea and Acolytes. Considered a pioneer in spoken word poetry, Giovanni performs her work on the glorious CD set, The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. Giovanni has won many, many awards, including more than 20 honorary degrees, the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award, and the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry. A galvanizing speaker, forever young and spirited, Giovanni is distinguished professor in English at Virginia Tech, where she spoke in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, offering catharsis and hope. Nikki Giovanni graced Open Books with her presence in November 2004.

Patricia Monaghan

Patricia Monaghan, winner of the Pushcart Prize and the Friends of Literature award, is a prolific and versatile writer. Her poetry collections include Dancing with Chaos, and Home Front, a powerful collection about war. Monaghan's poetry has been turned into songs in collaboration with the folk composer Michael Smith on "Songs of the Kerry Madwoman", and the Alaskan group the Derry Aires on "Seasons of the Witch". Monaghan has written two major works on mythology, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, and The Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Folklore. The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog explores Irish ecology, myth, and folklore. Monaghan has also written an introduction to goddess spirituality, The Goddess Path, and a book of translations of classic goddess poetry, The Goddess Companion.

A senior fellow at the Black Earth Institute, a progressive Wisconsin think-tank dedicated to articulating the traditional connections between arts, science and ecology, and spirituality, Patricia Monaghan appeared on Open Books in July 2006.

Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky is an exceptional and world-renowned poet, critic, and translator. As Poet Laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, encouraging Americans of all ages and backgrounds to share their favorite poems. The project was a phenomenal success, and Pinsky became a poetry envoy, bringing poetry to the public on television and in many other venues, and publishing eye-opening "favorite poem" anthologies, including America's Favorite Poems. In The Life of David, Pinsky brings his learnedness, literary finesse, and flair for vigorous interpretation to a vibrant and imaginative portrait of David, the biblical warrior, poet, king, and, according to Pinsky, wise guy. Pinsky's books of poems include The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, Jersey Rain, and Gulf Music, a collection shaped by the ripple effect of 9/11, Katrina, and contemplation of imprisonment and torture and the persistence of prejudice. Pinsky summons up a zydeco beat, weaves in strands of family history, pays tributes to Whitman and Dickinson, Ray Charles and Doctor John, retrieves lost meanings and symbols in poems crafted to bridge the gulf between the past and the present, the living and the dead. Pinsky brings great vitality, erudition, artistry, and humor to his work, drawing on his love of music, mischievously spanning the divide between great literature and pop culture, and reveling in the beauty, resiliency, and light of language.Robert Pinsky appeared on Open Books in October 2005.

Steven Schroeder

Poet, philosopher, and translator Steven Schroeder grew up the Texas Panhandle, and, as he writes, "his poetry continues to be rooted in the experience of the Plains, which teaches attention to 'nothing that is not there' but more especially to 'the nothing that is.'" His poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals, including Georgetown Review, Halcyon, Mid-America Poetry Review, Petroglyph, Poetry East, Rhino, and Texas Review. Schroeder's books of poetry include Theory of Cats, East of Taos, On the Road to Lhasa, Revolutionary Patience, Fallen Prose, and The Imperfection of the Eye. Schroeder has taught in various places in the U.S., and in Shenzhen, China, and he has a passion for Chinese poetry. Schroeder helped found the Virtual Artists Collective (, a showcase for music, poetry, and art, as well as a small press specializing in poetry. With his deep faith in creativity and freedom, Schroeder is a guru to many. He writes in the poem "Xie Xie":

" . . .there is if nothing
else hope in every instant of language"

Steve Schroeder appeared on Open Books in December 2004.


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