The Potential of Parody: An Interview with Todd Summar
by Alba Machado

Paint By NumbersIf you look up the word “parody” in the dictionary, you’ll find it means imitating a piece of literature to poke fun at it—à la Fifty Shades of Chicken and Bored of the Rings. At Columbia College Chicago, though, it often means drawing ideas and inspiration from an existing story to create an original one, and it’s something that writers have been doing for centuries. Gustave Flaubert took Miguel Cervantes’s Don Quixote and came up with Madame Bovary; James Joyce took Homer’s Odyssey and came up with Ulysses; and in the 1950s, Carlos Fuentes took John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer and came up with Where the Air is Clear.

As part of his coursework, Columbia College graduate student, Goreyesque editor-in-chief, and Literary Chicago contributing writer Todd Summar wrote just such a parody last spring, taking Herman Mellville’s classic, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” and creating “Tony’s Hat Lies Disused and Vulnerable,” an original short story that was recently published in PANK Magazine—a magazine that, according to The Review Review, reaches approximately 100,000 readers in well over 100 countries around the world, and accepts only 1% of its total submissions. Clearly, then, parodying can yield effective results. It needn’t be mocking, nor an homage, either. And, as Todd explains, it shouldn’t be a fill-in-the-blanks, paint-by-numbers endeavor. Continue reading

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There Are No Saviors Up In Here
by Danette Chavez

BOOK COVER - Up In HereWhen I started Mark Dostert’s Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side, I confessed my skepticism of the book’s subject matter to my editor. I’m generally leery of these ersatz ethnographies, wherein the difficulties that a people or culture encounter are glimpsed through the prism of (usually white) privilege. The less offensive iterations are of the “white savior” variety (see Kathryn Stockett’s The Help), but then there are the outright racist publications such as the 1959 Golden Book Encyclopedia, which intended to teach (again, white) children about “the Negro” in what was, at the time, presumed to be a post-racial America.

Moving forward with my reading, and my bias, I initially placed Dostert’s memoir in the former category after reading his introduction. While an undergrad at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, he volunteers as a Bible study instructor at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, which is the nation’s largest such facility. It was best known as the “Audy Home,” referring to the Arthur J. Audy Home of the early 20th century, which itself was once the largest juvenile jail in the country. After completing a graduate degree in his home state of Texas, Dostert returns to Audy Home as a “Children’s Attendant” in an attempt to minister to the incarcerated (mostly African-American) children and teens. Continue reading

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Lykanthea’s Migration: Music Inspired by Literature
by Sophie L. Nagelberg

Several summers ago, my band, Videotape, was about to play a set at Panda vs. Panda—a warehouse-turned-underground-venue inhabited by members of a shoegaze group called Panda Riot—when Lakshmi Ramgopal introduced herself to me as a member of Love & Radiation, a dark-dance-pop duo. Since then, our collective musical ventures have led us to play together and attend plenty of shows across various Chicago venues. We’ve also become friends.

In the mean time, Lakshmi wrote and recorded a solo album under the moniker Lykanthea. The five-track EP dubbed Migration (July 2014) is full of ambient, droning tones and dissonant chanting. The music is haunting and the lyrics provide an entire narrative based upon texts she came across in researching her dissertation. The more I listened, the more story I discovered. Recently, Lakshmi and I sat down to discuss her album as a literary work. Continue reading

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Her Priceless Advice: Jessie Ann Foley’s ‘The Carnival at Bray’
by Julia Fine

IMAGE COURTESY OF ELEPHANT ROCK BOOKS

IMAGE COURTESY OF ELEPHANT ROCK BOOKS

Ninety-nine year-old Dan Sean O’Callaghan, the most famous resident of a fictionalized County Wicklow as presented in the novel The Carnival at Bray, still makes yearly pilgrimages to Catholic holy places. Maggie Lynch, the book’s sixteen-year-old protagonist, makes a different sort of pilgrimage, following her favorite band across Europe to find her own version of enlightenment. And Jessie Ann Foley, the author of Elephant Rock Books’ upcoming novel, makes the pilgrimage daily to her writing desk.

Foley, who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago, wrote The Carnival at Bray (coming October 2014) after she graduated from the program and returned to her full-time job as a high school teacher.

“I came home every day after school, and I wrote,” she said. “I knew I had to. I could complain about my job, or I could pursue my passion.” Continue reading

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Language “Is Everything”: A Call For Creativity
by Julia Fine

Brain PenI remember the moment I discovered I was guilty of the colloquial verbal tic. Even before the “like’s” and “totally’s” that would define my generation spread their way into my speech, it hit me that I’d sometimes get stuck on certain words. My specific revelation was that I had just used the word “awful” for the tenth time in a twenty minute conversation. Embarrassed, I took note. I expanded my study of preteen dialogue to find that my descriptors came in phases.  Sometimes, I needed to start every sentence with the qualifier “I feel like,” other times it was “no offense, but.” Some months, everything was “awful,” others it all was just “grotesque.” (I was at that age, what can I say.)

The verbal tic remains persistent, even when stripped of its angst, and has stuck around to infect my adult conversation as well. I find myself repeating “that’s ridiculous” or tweeting “just a thought.” My boyfriend goes through catchphrases like “I will say this much” or “at the end of the day” the way P. Diddy (Puffy? Who is he nowadays?) goes through names. Is this slang? Are we channeling some cultural conversation? I’d argue that we aren’t. What keeps the verbal tic from becoming simply slang is how insidiously it creeps into our language. Slang is fun and appropriative, used deliberately to be part of the crowd. The verbal tic is unconscious, unsummoned, sneaking up from the dark recesses of the brain to be chastised moments after it escapes. It is a product of salience — the words are at the top of our minds, so we use them over and over and over.

In medical terms, a tic is an uncontrollable mental “itch” that a symptom-sufferer just has to scratch. I do not want to belittle the struggle faced by those with Tourette’s Syndrome or other neurological diagnoses by implying that cultural linguistics are by any means a similar problem.  (For an eyeopening look at young people with Tourette’s Syndrome, I highly recommend the documentary I Have Tourette’s But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me.) I use the word tic because it comes the closest to describing the phenomenon I’m discussing, the curious way that words worm themselves into our brains and demand to be repeated, despite a proliferation of often more appropriate words we might uncover if we only took the time. Continue reading

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Please Don’t Move This Chair: Nina Sankovitch at The Book Cellar
by Jess Millman

Letter Writing

NINA SANKOVITCH. PHOTO COURTESY OF CTPOST.COM.

Banana bread, root beer, and weekday night readings – you’re probably at The Book Cellar. If you were there last Wednesday night, you’d have been sitting with me in the tight, country kitchen geometry of their café, listening to Nina Sankovitch (author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) read us bits and bobs from her newest book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing.

Sleeve the cheese off the title; the veal inside is good. Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not a simple letter collection reprint or a preachy lament about the lost art of honest-to-God handwriting. Sankovitch has written a memoir interlocked with a historian’s desire to discover people by reassembling – piecemeal – their words, memories, ink blots, and willowy penmanship. The book (and Wednesday’s talk) began with the story that in turn began the book: a steamer trunk of old college letters found inside a writer’s new home. She read us passages from inside that trunk, mostly consisting of a homesick freshman’s thoughts to his mother in the early 1900s. They are the peacefully mundane stuff of daily life: someone is cavorting, someone will study tomorrow, someone is about to receive a tuition bill. But one of those keepsakes, not more than a scribble on a loose page, stands out: “PLEASE DO NOT MOVE THIS CHAIR.”

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Mood Surreal: Boris Vian’s L’Écume des Jours
by Julia Fine

PHOTO COURTESY OF WEARETHEFRONTIER.COM

PHOTO COURTESY OF WEARETHEFRONTIER.COM

Boris Vian’s 1947 novel L’Écume des Jours (either Froth on the Daydream or Foam of the Daze in English, depending on your translation) has been called unfilmable, but on July 25th Michel Gondry’s recent cinematic adaptation will open at the Gene Siskel Film Center at 164 N State St. (Take note: friends of Literary Chicago can get a discounted ticket by using the code “LIT.”)

Despite its reputation, this adaptation actually marks the novel’s third appearance on the silver screen. In 1968, French director Charles Belmont released a version called L’Écume des jour, and a Japanese adaptation by director Gô Rijû, called Chloe, came out in 2001. This time around, Gondry is using the English title Mood Indigo—a textual deviation, but a fitting name for a whimsical story that plays across the page like jazz music.

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Staff Q&A: From Page to Screen

In this regular feature, we ask our staff a literary question that we’re dying to have answered, and we also want to hear from you! Please use the comments section to tell us about your literary tastes, recommend some reading, or even call us out on something if you disagree.

books-vs-movies

PHOTO COURTESY OF PRINCEOFTHEUNIVERSE.WORDPRESS.COM

This time, we want to know:

What is your favorite book-to-screen adaptation? What book-to-screen adaptation is the absolute worst?

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