The inaugural Chicago Review of Books Awards (“Chirbys,” for short) will celebrate the best books published in 2016 by writers in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. The winners in each category will be announced live on December 8 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park, at a free public awards ceremony and book signing that will feature panel conversations between some of the authors in each category about their books, writing process, and Chicago inspirations.
Every day this week, we’re announcing finalists in four categories:
- Best Fiction (Tuesday)
- Best Creative Nonfiction (Wednesday)
- Best Poetry (Thursday)
- Best Debut (Friday)
The judges (see below for a full list) include representatives from Chicago’s independent bookstores along with editorial and contributing staff at the Chicago Review of Books and Arcturus magazine. In alphabetical order, here is the nonfiction shortlist.
Chris Abani, The Face: Cartography of the Void
Restless Books, March 1
Born in Nigeria, Chris Abani has lived in the United States since 2001 and now calls Chicago home, where he is Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. The Face: Cartography of a Void is a short memoir commissioned by Restless Books, part of a series that asks writers to “take readers on a guided tour of that most intimate terrain: their own faces.” From his childhood in Nigeria steeped in Igbo culture to his adulthood in the UK and the US, Abani’s story is insightful, moving, and a strong case for exploring and publishing new forms of creative nonfiction.
Ethan Michaeli, The Defender
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 12
Ethan Michaeli was a copy editor and reporter at the Chicago Defender from 1991 to 1996, where he covered politics, culture, crime and other topics in Chicago’s African-American communities on the South Side and Cabrini-Green. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America is a sweeping, eye-opening look at the often unheralded catalyst for the Great Migration. In our very first interview at the Chicago Review of Books, we said, “Michaeli’s painstakingly researched narrative isn’t just the story of a newspaper, nor of a single African-American community, but the story of the entire city, country, and century. It’s also the most compelling, readable book about Chicago history since Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.”
Natalie Y. Moore, The South Side
St. Martin’s Press, March 22
Natalie Y. Moore grew up in the Chatham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Today, she lives in Hyde Park and serves as WBEZ Chicago‘s South Side Bureau reporter. The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation is a fascinating mix of memoir and reportage that challenges the prevailing notion that half of Chicago is a war zone. Further, Moore shows how today’s socio-economic realities on the South Side—where the unemployed often stay unemployed, the working class often stays working-class, and the middle and upper-middle class face challenges unknown to the North Side—are the direct results of racist housing and banking policies, retail redlining, food deserts, public school failures, and misrepresentations in the media.
Toni Nealie, The Miles Between Me
Curbside Splendor, May 3
Toni Nealie hails from New Zealand, but completed her MFA at Columbia College Chicago. Today, she teaches in Chicago and serves as Literary Editor of Newcity. Her essay collection The Miles Between Me is “so staggeringly intimate,” our reviewer Madeline Phillips said in May, “it feels a bit like viewing an autopsy through a Go-Pro. With a deft hand and a knack for piercing details, the Chicago author examines the death of her familiar New Zealand surroundings, her stillborn life in America, and the miles between as two continents and identities clash together in a surprising rebirth.”
Mary Wisniewski, Algren: A Life
Chicago Review Press, October 1
Mary Wisniewski is a reporter and columnist at the Chicago Tribune who spent the last two decades interviewing friends and associates of Nelson Algren. To write the first biography of Algren in 20 years, Wisniewski spoke with photographer Art Shay and the late Studs Terkel, pored over hundreds of letters between Algren and lover Simone de Beauvoir, and read through reams of unpublished material. Her account is a master class in narrative nonfiction that will change the way you see one of Chicago’s most iconic literary giants while revealing aspects of his life, work, and thoughts that were previously lost or hidden.
Zoe Zolbrod, The Telling
Curbside Splendor, May 10
Born in Pennsylvania, Zoe Zolbrod moved to Chicago and completed her MA in writing at UIC. Today she lives in Evanston, where she serves as the Sunday co-editor of The Rumpus. In her powerful memoir The Telling, Zolbrod explains why she stayed silent about her early childhood molestation for years, and then, why she spoke out. Through her travels, marriage, and motherhood, Zolbrod charts her own coming-of-age. In an era where so many victims of sexual abuse feel pressured to stay quiet, Zolbrod’s memoir is a vital call to action.
Judges for the 2016 Chicago Review of Books Awards—who selected the finalists out of nearly 100 books—include many representatives from Chicago’s independent bookstores:
- Suzy Takacs, The Book Cellar
- Rebecca George, Volumes Bookcafe
- Thomas Flynn, Volumes Bookcafe
- Timothy Moore, Unabridged Bookstore
- Sara Hollenbeck, Women & Children First
- Jeff Deutsch, Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books
- Linda Quinde, Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books
- Wayne Giacalone, RoscoeBooks
As well as members of the Chicago Review of Books and Arcturus magazine editorial and contributing staff:
- Adam Morgan, CHIRB and Arcturus Editor-in-Chief
- Kristen Raddatz, CHIRB Executive Editor
- Lauren Stacks, CHIRB Fiction Editor
- Sara Cutaia, Managing Editor at Arcturus magazine
- Rachel León, Visual Arts Editor at Arcturus magazine
- Lori Rader-Day, Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning Novelist
- Christina Kloess, CHIRB contributing staff
- Tovah Burstein, CHIRB contributing staff
Stay tuned for the remaining shortlist announcements later this week!
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.