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 Booksand Arcturus magazine. In alphabetical order, here is the debut shortlist.
Kim Brooks, The Houseguest
Counterpoint Press, April
While The Houseguest is her debut novel, Kim Brooks’s stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, One Story, Five Chapters and elsewhere, and her essays have appeared in Salon, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, et al. Next year, Flatiron will publish her memoir, Small Animals: A Memoir of Parenthood and Fear. “Heartbreaking, profound, and brimming with rich historical detail,” said Lauren Stacks of The Houseguest back in April, “it’s a different kind of Holocaust story, set on American soil in 1941: a time when minding one’s own business was the norm, when turning a blind eye allowed genocide to occur right under our collective noses.”
Jessica Chiarella, And Again
Touchstone Books, January
Jessica Chiarella is a Chicago native who completed her MA in Writing and Publishing at DePaul University. “Chiarella turns the ordinary to extraordinary,” said Lauren Stacks back in January, “through her beautifully haunting descriptions of these characters navigating their new bodies—and, in turn, capturing what it really means to be human. They must grapple with the fear that one’s humanity does not consist entirely of one’s soul—or memories—but that they may have lost part of themselves in the transfer to their new bodies.”
Maryse Meijer, Heartbreaker: Stories
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July
Maryse Meijer’s stories and poetry have appeared in Meridian, The Collagist, Joyland, The Portland Review, and elsewhere. “In her dark, violent, envelope-pushing debut story collection,” said Sara Cutaia back in July, “Maryse Meijer cuts through the mundane and the taboo with the sharpest of knives. She writes fearlessly about love and family, fear and violence, the fantastical and the Gothic. These 13 stories, written with conviction and urgency, offer a fresh take on every type of person: obese, unhinged, feral, cruel, deformed, and obsessed, all on paths of self-destruction.” Our sister publication, Arcturus magazine, recently published two of Meijer’s poems from a forthcoming collection set in the fictional realm of Northwood.
Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning
Tor Books, April
Ada Palmer is an Assistant Professor of Early Modern European History and the College at the University of Chicago, and her debut novel Too Like the Lightning is the first of four planned books set in the 25th-century world of Terra Ignota. “Ada Palmer’s debut is so chock-full of philosophy, sociology, and technology,” said Sara Cutaia back in April, “you could create an entire semester’s syllabus out of it. Bursting with historical and classical allusions, Palmer’s political and social commentary is as astute as one would expect from a scholar.”
Martin Seay, The Mirror Thief
Melville House, May
Until recently, Martin Seay served as the Executive Secretary of Wheeling, Illinois. He has taught at Roosevelt University and completed his MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s also married to another Chicago writer, Kathleen Rooney. Back in June, we called The Mirror Thief “the weirdest and most ambitious novel of 2016 thus far … a literary, speculative, mystical masterwork set in three different versions of Venice (Italy, California, and Las Vegas) during three different time periods (16th century, mid-20th, early 21st).”
T. Sean Steele, Tacky Goblin
T. Sean Steele’s debut novella started as a blog back in the fall of 2013. Two years later, Steele submitted the compiled entries and won Curbside Splendor’s inaugural Wild Onion Novella contest. Joe Meno, who judged the contest, called Tacky Goblin “the future,” while Stuart Dybek called it “a wonderful debut by a talented, comic writer.” The novella follows a brother and sister navigating LA and Chicago as they carve out a place for themselves amid the chaos and distractions of the two cities.
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
Join us at Volumes Bookcafe on December 8 from 7:30 to 9 p.m.!
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.