Garnett Kilberg Cohen

Author Garnett Kilberg Cohen talks about the process of writing her short stories, the influences behind them, and magazine editing.


Interview by Mulan Matthayasack

Garnett Kilberg-Cohen was one of my Fiction Workshop teachers here at Columbia College. Aside from being a wonderful professor who pushed us to create our best work and introduced us to amazing writers, such as Emma Donoghue and Roxane Gay, I discovered she is also one of the co-editors in the department’s nonfiction magazine, Punctuate, and has published her short stories and essays in many magazines such as The Literary Review and American Fiction. I decided to interview her to get to know her more as a writer, as opposed to a professor.

Your most recent piece, “My Life in Smoke,” published in The New Yorker, is very intriguing and reflective. What compelled you to share your journey with this topic (smoking) in particular?

The object of the urn in the first paragraph of the essay was a stimulus. Since it sits in a room of my house, I look at it and think about it fairly frequently. I think important objects from our pasts are often imbued with meaning or can spark memories. Also, a few moments and images of my smoking have reoccurred to me over the years. Since they were important enough to me to reappear in my consciousness over the years, I decided to write them down. Once I started writing them, other memories came back, so I wrote them as well. I worked for a few days shaping them into an essay. A month later, I went to Scotland, so I added that information into the essay. I like to manipulate time—move backwards and forwards—in both fiction and nonfiction, but in this piece, it seemed important to the logic to have the events appear in somewhat chronological order.

In that same piece, you claim you moved around a lot. I notice this is a common occurrence in some of your other works. Does your environment—or perhaps, the lack of it, or even the search for it—dictate or influence a majority of what you write?

I find that new places often inspire ideas. Also, when I move away from a place, the place can accrue more power and its most poignant qualities rise to the surface of my mind, giving the place almost a mythical significance.

I read your other piece, “Space and Time, the Four Dimensions,” that was published in the Tupelo Quarterly. The content itself is extremely touching, and I love how it makes you think about certain people, yourself, and the idea of fate—also, the way you organized the piece is interesting: you have an instance for each “dimension.” Was that originally how you planned to structure the story, or did the story naturally form on its own?

I can’t remember the impetus for the piece—probably seeing the reunion of the band on Facebook—but I do remember playing with the concept of four dimensions. Forcing the story into four compartments encouraged me to think about the story in new ways and from various perspectives, and to distill it. I say in the essay that time moves only in one direction, but a part of me doesn’t believe that. At least in a metaphorical sense, my past is always running alongside my present. And the future haunts and terrifies me.

You’ve dabbled in pretty much everything: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays. . . . Is there a particular genre that you like writing the most? The least? What’s the hardest part of that?

Though I started out as a journalist and a copywriter, most of my writing life has been spent writing fiction, but over time I took more detours into writing poetry or nonfiction, usually because the material I wanted to write did not fit into a fictional form or because it was primarily nonfiction. Some of my fiction is partially biographical, but if it doesn’t have a strong imaginative component, I don’t want to call it fiction. Different material requires different forms. In the last ten years, I have spent more time on nonfiction—maybe because as one gets older, more real life has built up and calls for exploration and documentation. Plus, nonfiction more easily lends itself to non-narrative subgenres such as meditations on events or objects. My most recent published fiction is probably my least biographical; “Wheels” (in Hypertext) and “Maternal Instinct” (in Fiction Southeast) have fewer biographical components than anything I’ve published. In fact, they are both from male points of view. It has been years since I have written any poetry but I imagine that if I do it again, it will be in a flurry of connected poems rather than just a poem here or there—as that was how I composed poems in the past.

I notice a lot of your work is “short-story” or “memoir” based. . . . Have you ever considered writing a longer piece such as a novel?

I have considered it and I have tried—and will probably try again—to write a novel or a longer memoir. But I find shorter pieces, something that needs to be read in one sitting—meaning about one to 50 pages—generally have more intensity. I don’t think lives or even major events generally follow the arc of a novel. That is not to say that I don’t read novels and love them, but unlike a short story or essay, I can put them down for a few days, come back to them, and then put them down again. A good short story or essay keeps one captive and delivers immediate impact. Probably my favorite form of fiction is the linked story, like Munro’s The Beggar Maid or Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, where the most important moments of a character’s life add up to give a multi-dimensional view of the characters and their lives. Linked collections often feel more authentic than novels.

Where do you usually get your inspiration from?

Multiple places. An image. A reoccurring memory. Something I’ve read or observed. Over hearing a conversation. Or just forcing myself to sit down and write.

Some artists say most of their ideas come at night; others say they work better in the early morning after grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting somewhere quiet. What’s your process like when it comes to writing?

I love to have a window—looking out on trees or water or a busy place. But truly, I do not require a specific space or time. Once the urge has taken over and I am writing, I am not looking out that window much.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I haven’t experienced it much. That said, I have experienced not being able to write the way I want to write (I guess maybe that is a form of writer’s block), when a story or essay feels flat or not to be progressively well. I have not figured out a cure for that except to push through and if it doesn’t work, try to write something else.

Who are your favorite authors? Which writers would you consider your style is most similar to?

The list is long and changes. But a few who have remained constant for a while are Joan Didion and Alice Munro.

Does being a co-editor in your magazine, Punctuate, help your writing? If so, how?

All reading and thinking about writing—which is a big aspect of editing—helps my writing.

How do you manage to balance teaching, writing, and editing all at the same time?

It is very difficult and at this point in the semester feels close to impossible, but knowing I have to structure my time well helps.

What are some of your favorite literary magazines?

As with books and authors, that changes a lot. I think Black Warrior Review and Crazyhorse are both lovely. Michigan Quarterly is a good one too. Gettysburg Review, Brevity—fortunately for us writers, the list is long!

How do you go about choosing which magazines and journals to submit a piece to?

With my best pieces, I usually start with the best magazines, meaning ones that have won awards or published pieces that later appear in Best American Short Stories or Best American Essays or have been around for a long time, proving their sustainability. I like journals that are physically attractive, like Black Warrior Review, and include some visual art. But sometimes I choose a magazine because it seems particularly suitable for the particular form or content I’m working with. I also like to expand the places I’ve published, so I have rarely published in a place more than twice. But these are not hard and fast rules. Sometimes I will simply see a journal name that I like. I subscribe to many literary magazines so I have a good sense of a lot of them.

What advice would you have for dealing with rejection letters?

Since most writers get far more rejections than acceptances, it is important not to allow rejections to have too great an impact. I would tell beginning writers that if they are confident about a piece to simply keep submitting it and to be sure to do simultaneous submissions; if you get a rejection from one place but know it is out at three other magazines, it softens the blow. Also, I can say I have been rejected by what I consider a lesser magazine only to revise it a little and have it accepted by a better one. Not all editors share your aesthetics or understand what you’re trying to do. But if you get a rejection with some advice, at least consider what the editor has advised.


Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys

Review by Benjamin Peachey

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead is an expert on creating stories that exist in and comment on the racist history of America, as seen in his previous works like The Intuitionist and The Underground Railroad. The Nickel Boys is his latest to delve into the evil of racism, and face it head on through its characters. What sets this work apart from his other novels, is the juxtaposition of the brutal and the hopeful. That fight is present from the first sentence, even more so by the novel’s close. 

In the beginning of this novel, we are introduced to Elwood Curtis in segregated Tallahassee. A bright and inquisitive student, he listens to the records of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches which were “a vivid chronicle” of the history of racism in America. Elwood becomes a victim of bad circumstances and ends up in the Nickel Academy, an academy for reform, in name but not practice, where the boys are sexually abused, beaten, and sometimes murdered by the staff. Elwood must traverse this new world with the help of his fellow Black inmates. 

Whitehead creates Elwood and his story from real accounts of the school that the Nickel Academy was based on. This is never clearer than when Elwood is beaten, the descriptions so specific, so real, that they must be from first-hand accounts. 

Elwood longed for a world of equality and was ready to fight it anyway he could. “No money at all. They laughed because they knew the drug store didn’t serve colored patrons, and sometimes laughter knocked out a few bricks from the barricade of segregation, so tall and so wide.”

Even in the worst of situations, the boys in this story still see the hope of a world that could be. Martin Luther King Jr. inspires the characters throughout; his exact words appear in the novel. “He lugged his words like an anvil in his Nickel-issued pockets. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, the reverend said, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. . . . Is this what it felt like? To walk arm in arm in the middle of the street, a link in a living chain, knowing that around the next corner the white mob stood with their baseball bats and fire hoses and curses.”

Whitehead does not create his characters to live in despair and brutality, but to show the journey of how they overcome it. Learning from our past mandates us to confront our present. Whitehead portrays injustice and dares us to look away from the truth he writes. 


Publisher Information: 
Published by DoubleDay on July 16, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-385-537070
210 Pages

#TheNickelBoys – #ColsonWhitehead – #DoubleDay – #fiction – #historicalfiction – #Race – #JimCrow – #MartinLutherKingJr – #CivilRights 


Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things


Review by Alison Brackett

Writer Jodi Picoult did more than a small, great thing with this novel. Known for her books about love, family, and relationships, she surprised all with this take on race in America. Small Great Things tackles profound issues such as race, prejudice, and justice. It’s the a story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American nurse at battle with a white supremacist couple after their baby dies in her care.

Picoult chose the title of the novel from the words of MLK: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” This is one of many quotes that inspired the story. Picoult used quotes to form and carry her story; words from a variety of great influences, who once took a stand, lead the story chapter by chapter.

Each section of the novel is marked with a specific title alongside a quote that holds deep significance to not only the text, but our world as we know it. Picoult begins the first section with a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” This quote is small but mighty, and alone it can give readers a glimpse into the content that Small Great Things holds.

While this story may merely be fiction, there’s more truth to it than one may think; this story is fabricated, but within holds the stories of thousands of others without a voice. Through characters and story, Picoult uses these to portray the real injustices faced everyday by the African American community. She portrays it especially well through the main character, Ruth.

“Did you ever think our misfortune is directly related to your good fortune? Maybe the house your parents bought was on the market because the sellers didn’t want my mama in the neighborhood. Maybe the good grades that eventually led you to law school were possible because your mama didn’t have to work eighteen hours a day, and was there to read to you at night, or make sure you did your homework. . . .”

Ruth continuously educates readers throughout the novel. She continues in saying:

“How often do you remind yourself how lucky you are that you own your house, because you were able to build up equity through generations in a way families of color can’t? How often do you open your mouth at work and think how awesome it is that no one’s thinking you’re speaking for everyone with the same skin color you have? How hard is it for you to find the greeting card for your baby’s birthday with a picture of a child that has the same color skin as her? How many times have you seen a painting of Jesus that looks like you? Prejudice goes both ways, you know. There are people who suffer from it, and there are people who profit from it.”

Through Ruth, Picoult works to not only shed light onto the injustices faced throughout the country, but also to prejudice that each holds within. Ruth’s words are not only a reminder, but a lesson to those reading.

“You say you don’t see color . . . but that’s all you see. You’re so hyperaware of it, and of trying to look like you aren’t prejudiced, you can’t even understand that when you say race doesn’t matter all I hear is you dismissing what I’ve felt, what I’ve lived, what it’s like to be put down because of the color of my skin.”

Ruth hits readers with an important wake up call; Picoult, being white herself, showcases internal prejudices that one may not even notice. Her words carry reminders that some may often forget unless you’re a part of the community. 

Through this work of fiction, Picoult works hard to break down barriers that our society has spent decades building up. She strives to educate, break the stigma, and raise awareness around the real life issues that continue to sweep through our country.

In the words of Ruth, Picoult leaves us with one important ending reminder: “It just goes to show you: every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.”

Published by Ballantine Books on October 5th, 2016
ISBN: 9780345544971
528 pages


Kendra Allen

Kendra Allen, author of When You Learn the Alphabet talks about her experience as a student of color attending Columbia College Chicago as well as her evolution as a writer.


Interview by Kaitlyn Palmer

I first discovered Kendra Allen at a Columbia Chicago reading in spring, 2019. I was blown away by her voice, style, the color and shapes she evoked through her writing, her accent, the way she seemed to tell a story that was necessary to the future of literature. I purchased her collection of essays following her reading.

After reading, I wanted more. I was impressed by the vulnerability intertwined with Kendra’s ability to tell stories. Her stories were relevant. She was the kind of writer I wanted to know.

Kendra Allen is the author of essay collection When You Learn The Alphabet and winner of the 2018 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction for University of Iowa Press. Born and raised in Dallas, TX, Kendra exists as an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama where she is working on her thesis and leading students astray. You can find other works from her in brevity, december, and The Rumpus among others and her tweets @KendraCanYou

Columbia College Chicago? Columbia may be seen as diverse in ideologies and student body, however, I am interested in your experience as well as the way in which you navigated such a space. 

Columbia is only diverse on paper but really it’s a bunch of white folks who think they’re good white folks because their favorite word is “liberal” when in reality they’re just leading each other astray. And like most spaces in the academic world, they tend to think diversity only means black yet I have been the only black person in a few of my classes there.

I think the only way I could navigate the space without combusting was going to campus for class and taking my black ass home to sit in my room. I would be so emotionally exhausted leaving campus and didn’t really understand why. I was young and Columbia really was my first experience being in close proximity to so many white people. So it was a constant lesson on things I didn’t know of the name of at the time, such as code-switching, micro-aggressions, or even living with white people— all these things just slapping me upside the head all day. I really had to force feed myself that it’s not my job to correct the blind spots and, like all things, this is temporary and I didn’t need to romanticize it in order to finish. For most of my time there, I isolated myself. I knew if I got too involved, I wouldn’t have made it through, so I didn’t join any clubs, teams, etc. And what I did do (Habitat) I didn’t really have to talk to anyone face to face. Columbia worked for the kind of person I am and also taught me a lot about intention but even more than that, about silence.

On becoming a writer at Columbia, can you recall pivotal moments in which you were supported or encouraged to visualize beyond your own expectations? This encouragement may have been by teachers, peers, or supporting administration. 

I think it’s when I kept meeting writers who made me jealous of how well they wrote. I’m a competitive person and it’s been put in check, but when I first started going to these workshops, I would always try to identify the best writer (to me) in the room and try to keep up with them through metaphor, scene building, etc. Me being in admiration of them is what made me write so much during my time there. I was never doing it thinking this is gonna be a book, I was doing it thinking I want Meg in my poetry workshop to think I’m good or I want them to like my work as much as I like theirs, etc. I just love words and I can always tell when someone else loves words, so my visualization was all about how I can transform words into feelings and luckily I was placed in rooms where teachers, peers, and supporting administration always told me to keep going, that I was good, that I could be better, that they wanted to read more. And people wanting to read more is THE quintessential pivotal moment. So I’m real grateful for the creative writing department at Columbia. I can’t really say my time was wasted anytime I was in those rooms.

If you could speak to a group of girls, girls of color, entering Columbia College, what would you offer them? This may be in terms of a “survival kit” for being successful throughout one’s college career. You may direct your audience as you see fit with this question. 

Black girls across intersections entering Columbia College: you’ll thrive, because you’re a black girl. You’ll survive, because you’re a black girl. These are things you’ve just always had to do. Find at least one other black girl to complain with or you’ll drive yourself crazy doing it alone. Y’all won’t know how important that comradery is until it’s over. Take advantage of the few people you have there, take the classes with the professors who will nurture you without pandering to you. When whiteness is running rapid, remember that you black, not a martyr. Read. Write. But most importantly, don’t internalize the dumb shit that is guaranteed to happen. It’s gone be hard but ain’t it always. Get a therapist as soon as possible. I also heard marijuana is about to be legal there, so ya know, do you boo.

Would you say, you, as a writer, was represented on a cultural level by faculty during your college career? Were there professors who taught in a manner that was culturally responsive? 

Not at all. Of course there’s CM Burroughs and Eric May, but I didn’t get the opportunity to take any of their classes or even know them while I was a student. And even if I did, I doubt that’d be enough. But I did get to know Jenny Boully who is amazing and fearless at her job, and the other professors I did have were culturally responsive and responsible for the most part. Or I should say, as much as they could be. I think around my second year of undergrad I stopped looking to be represented and just started trying to find spaces where listening and application were important factors in the classroom. I’d take Kathie Bergquist whenever I could, ReLynn Hansen helped tremendously as well, and then there were those who weren’t so responsible. Which is how we get “How to Workshop N-Words” written or realizing a class you loved had a sexual predator as an instructor and no one talks about any of it.

I don’t know the aesthetics of the faculty now, but it could have 1000% been better when I was there, but that also applies to almost every school, especially where I am now where we have no black faculty at all in the graduate department, or even a faculty member who’s a person of color. I think we’d all benefit more if we stopped trying to teach and appease blackness and just hire some black people, but whatever.

What inspired you the most during your college career at Columbia? What activities or engagements allowed you to remain inspired when creating and writing? 

Honestly, I think reassurance inspired me most during my time there, whether that was from classmates or instructors, I always felt guided and supported in what I would put on the page, even if it was trash. But also the state of our society during that time played a prominent role in my work. A lot of WYTLA discusses current racial events and tragedy. I was at Columbia during Mike Brown and Sandra Bland and all the many other black people murdered by police, and even the election of Trump. So that urgency to say something always revealed itself whenever I would sit down and do my workshop assignments, so the biggest inspiration was constantly knowing things were happening and me trying to find an understanding of why we love to live in a cycle.

College, as you know, entails so much reading. Were you able to see yourself in the required reading as a whole? Are there any readings that continue to resonate with you? 

I think the worst thing about Columbia is also the best thing about Columbia: how liberal it perceives itself to be, and we all know that’s a very slippery slope. I would be lying if I said I didn’t see myself in the reading material. I read a lot growing up but I didn’t really read widely and Columbia introduced me to writers I should have known all my life. Reading at Columbia introduced me to books I’ll obsess over for the rest life. From Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Bell Hook’s Bone Black, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Hilton Als’ White Girls. I read The Bluest Eye for the first time at Columbia, so I’m really thankful for being exposed to myself in that way even if the intention of those inclusions is kinda tricky to fully navigate.

What would you like the legacy of When You Learn the Alphabet, to be? 

This is a great question and the answer(s) to it probably conflicts with one another, but if you asked me this at the start of the year I’d say I’d want WYLTA to be a undeniable piece of work that is widely read and love me love me love me immediately, but I’ve spent time reevaluating what success and even legacy means to me. I feel like a lot of times black folks talk about creating legacies and how it is a burden when you don’t have a blueprint in front of you—and when I wanted those validations in those perimeters, it most definitely felt like a burden. But now, I’m hoping when I look back on WYLTA I can see it as the beginning of me freeing myself from my own expectations and that I did the best I could with words at that time in my life.

KP-When You Learn the Alphabet Cover1.jpgKP-When You Learn the Alphabet Cover1.jpg

If you could describe your mission as a writer and an author, what would it be and how do plan to accomplish your unique vision or mission? 

In the past, I think my curse as both a writer and a person has been sacrificing myself in search of absolute truth. Thinking that the only way I could feel like a writer, especially through personal narrative, that there was only one answer to every question I had about myself and this world. Now, I think my mission in my work is clarity. I’m writing for clarity, and that goal opens up the page in a way it hadn’t beforehand. I haven’t mastered it, but I think I’m in the process of figuring out how to execute it. When I was searching for unaltered, absolute truth, I never felt fulfilled with the finished product because it never was about me, it was about what was done through me, for me, and against me. And if I’m working so hard, I want to feel fulfilled. I remember in one of her notes on a piece I submitted for workshop, Jenny Boully wrote to me, “It seems like every time you begin to reveal yourself, you hide behind abstractions.” She was completely right, because the truth is always cloudy and I was living in the sky. I wanna be clear from now on.

When You Learn the Alphabet
University of Iowa Press
ISBN: 978-160-938-6306
160 pages


Bill Donlon & Dennis Foley

We Speak Chicagoese


Book Review by Clayton Crook

If someone had never been to Chicago before, what would they think of the city? The experience of a tourist is vastly different than the experience of a resident. If I hadn’t been to Chicago, it would be hard for me to imagine what it would be like to live there. We Speak Chicagoese, published by Side Street Press in 2016,delivers Chicago from a different perspective. It offers anecdotes about the city that many of us may have never experienced, or, if we’ve lived here, we may know all too well. As Bill Donlon and Dennis Foley – the book’s editors – state in the introduction, the book is not an anthology of Chicago authors, but it is more of a sampling that “gives the Chicago voice its due.” The authors speak “Chicagoese.” 

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is its diversity. The collection would have to be categorized as multi-genre because of the many different stories contained within the book, their subject matter, and the different tones in which the stories are told. Most of the work aren’t about the city itself, but rather they are set in Chicago, or allude to the city. Not only did I enjoy the spontaneity of the stories, essays, and poems of the book being put together in a purposeful format, but I also enjoyed how different each piece was from another. The organization doesn’t take away from the piece either, I think it actually serves the overall structure better, because it allows the reader to keep themes in mind as they read the stories, essays, and poems. 

Included are character portraits, and others are coming-of-age pieces. Some are metaphorical, and strongly so. Either way, for the fictional stories and prose poems, the characters were relatable and compelling. Some pieces, whether fiction, nonfiction, or essay-form, have a narrative distance from the characters or authors looking back on their lives. There are prose poems, poems with multiple parts to them, long poems, and short poems. The occasional picture also acted as a sort of subjective art piece. Some of the pictures seem metaphorical, like the barbed wire after Gary Johnson’s “Marquette Park, 1976,” or the Hispanic mural before Thomas Sanfilip’s “Imperium.”

If I had the job of categorizing this work, I would consider it a thematic collection, because of the themes that span the stories and poems. Some themes that recur throughout the book are race, ethnicity, and culture. Some of the stories related to race and ethnicity are compelling character portraits, such as Eric May’s story, “A Secret’s Life, Mrs. Motley of Parkland, Chicago,” which tells the story of a African American woman who has lived her entire life in the same neighborhood. John Guzlowski’s “Looking for Work in America” is a prose poem that serves as a character portrait, describing a father’s experience finding work in America, but it also tells of the effects of war, in only three parts and three pages.

The book is teeming with poetry by Black writers and poems that allude to power struggles. There are also stories that either directly involve a racial or ethnic struggle, or are filled with cultural references. Gary Johnson, in his story, “Marquette Park, 1976,” shows a Chicago plagued with racial tension – Black people march on the streets while Neo-Nazis incite violence. John Guzlowski, in his short prose poem, “Looking for Work in America,” tells about his father’s immigration from Germany to Chicago, and in his poem, “Chicago,” touches further on his German heritage. Thomas Sanfilip has a story in which the conflict isn’t directly related to race or ethnicity, but it is a major theme within his story, “Imperium,” in which a Puerto Rican woman struggles getting by as a sex worker while trying to support her children. However, in the nonfiction piece, “How a Muslim Feels about 9/11,” her looking back, and forward, is painful rather than nostalgic.

We Speak Chicagoese shows another kind of Chicago that we don’t see on the news. I really enjoyed the familiarity of it after having lived in the city for the past few years. I especially enjoyed how I was able to read about taquerias, different neighborhoods of the city, and the city before there were lots of high-rise apartment buildings, and a part of rural Illinois outside of Chicago. Many of these stories are told with nostalgic voices. In Joe Meno’s story, “Absolute Beginners,” I strongly related to the story about two students living in a ramshackle apartment in the suburbs. Patty McNair’s “Back to the Water’s Edge” features a group of high school girls who make an adventure to the city from the suburbs to meet some boys at the beach. I particularly enjoyed the over-arching sense of seventies nostalgia that I’ll never know. In Sherwood Anderson’s “Brothers,” we find a man living twenty miles outside of Chicago in rural Illinois, questioning a Chicago murder case and an odd neighbor.

Another theme of the book that is worth mentioning is that of poverty and financial struggle. Cris Mazza and Frank Norris, like Patricia McNair, have stories involving characters who come to Chicago from other parts of the country. In Cris Mazza’s story, “They’ll Shoot You,” a woman struggles to make ends meet with her job in Cincinnati, while owning an apartment there and in Chicago, and runs into trouble with some locals. In Frank Norris’s story, “A Deal in Wheat,” he expresses the darker side of the wheat farming business through the eyes of Sam Lewiston, a wheat farmer in southwestern Kansas. 

While looking back is a common narrative tool used in this book, one of the things that some of the authors look back on is war, particularly the Vietnam War and World War II. Carl Richards and John Guzlowski are two poets who touch on topics surrounding World War II. John Guzlowski writes about it through his father’s recollection in his prose poem, “Looking for Work in America,” and Carl Richard’s prose poem, “Hitler’s Moustache,”is about Hitler. In Tony Serritella’s nonfiction piece, “Coming Home,” a different kind of Chicago is shown, through the portrait of a family. Victory gardens and stars in windows give life to a Chicago that Serritella’s nostalgic voice tells so expressively. Dominic A. Pacyga’s short piece is written through the perspective of a Vietnam veteran, and is written in second person, in which the reader is “Paco.” I enjoyed this piece because the whole story takes place in a room where the reader is drinking with the narrator, but the narrator is telling war stories, and stories about his friends he knew in Chicago who did and didn’t go to Vietnam. In Ben Reitman’s essay, “Conscription,” he expresses his disgust with America during the Vietnam era, and talks about other countries’ conscription laws compared to America’s at the time.

Not only is We Speak Chicagoese a diverse book, but it has diverse writers, from many different places and times. Some of the writers are very well-acclaimed, and others are not as well known. It’s a book with many different kinds of people, places, sensations, and memories, and most of all, it’s accessible enough for anyone to read. I believe that Dennis Foley and Bill Donlon succeeded in putting together a short anthology of voices that speak “Chicagoese.” 


Publisher Info: 978-0-692-65885-7
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Clayton Crook is from Belleville, Illinois and lives in Chicago. They like to spend their time running, meditating, and trying not to spend too much time on the internet when they aren’t working or writing. They most recently had a couple of author interviews published in Columbia College Chicago’s The Lab Review blog.