2nd Story, sleeping, hair metal and Victorian pulp inspire four new Chicago-made anthologies.
A crop of Chicago-based presses are publishing anthologies, ranging from intimate personal essays to comics. Briefly Knocked Unconscious by a Low-Flying Duck ($20, Elephant Rock Books) gathers the best of the best of 2nd Story, the venerable, decade-old hybrid reading and performance series. In print, stripped of the lights, sound, audience and wine—hallmarks of the 2nd Story experience—the stylized first-person essays all sound familiar. That’s by design, says artistic and executive director Amanda Delheimer Dimond; part of the literary theater company’s goal is for you to “be inspired to tell your own stories.” Though you’re expecting the punch of revelation—as in the effect of a student’s suicide on his teacher, a throw-down at the skate center or a proposition by an aging porn star—you never know how you’re going to get it. This surprise allows the reader to share in the hushed and awe-stricken space that’s characteristic of the live performances.
Briefly Knocked Unconscious by a Low-Flying Duck is out now.
With The Way We Sleep ($20, Curbside Splendor), editing team and engaged couple C. James Bye and Jessa Marsh took inspiration from what happens in the bedroom. The idea bloomed into a beautiful 10" x 10" art book featuring fiction, nonfiction, interviews and 40 pages of comics. Science writer Mary Roach studies alternating sleep patterns in her marital bed; Billy Lombardo’s narrator gives his bereft father an oily massage, then challenges him to a duel with snow shovels. There’s writing from Etgar Keret, two comics from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs artist Ron Barrett, a Q&A with Conan writer Todd Levin and a slew of contributions from Chicago writers (disclosure: I have a brief piece in the anthology). Marsh says both she and Bye like a mix of “humor, sadness and magical realism.”
The Way We Sleep will be launched December 5 at Reading Under the Influence at Sheffield’s.
In Hair Lit, Vol. 1 ($13, Orange Alert Press), writers such as Sherrie Flick, Roxane Gay, Steve Himmer and Ben Tanzer pay homage to Poison, Ratt, Warrant and other hair metal bands. “A collection of short fiction inspired by music and written by many of my favorite writers seemed custom-made for Orange Alert,” says Jason Behrends. The press developed out of What to Wear During an Orange Alert, an arts and music interview website he created. In the “liner notes” that follow each of the 20 short and often sex- and violence-fueled stories, some writers admit to coming of age on hair metal, and others, like editor Nick Ostdick, discovered it on CD a generation later. Twisted Sister tries to rock out at a high school but gets humbled by middle age and Bon Iver, a woman does yoga to “Detroit Rock City,” and each story celebrates the age of big hair and absurd guitar solos.
Hair Lit, Vol. 1 is out December 11.
The oddest collection in the bunch is a 12-part podcast by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. According to publisher Jason Pettus, Podcast Dreadful is fashioned after “penny dreadfuls,” serial horror and sci-fi booklets of the Victorian age. Every Monday from September 3 through November 19, writers performed their stories, complete with sound effects and cliffhangers, for 30–45-minute podcasts. Many were serialized over all 12 episodes, such as Davis Schneiderman’s speculative fiction piece, “Steamhouse.”
The seven-hour series will be released on iTunes next year.