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The Debut Shortlist for the 2016 Chicago Review of Books Awards

The Debut Shortlist for the 2016 Chicago Review of Books Awards


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:

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.

9781619026056_bf8d0Kim 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.”

9781501116117_3ca87Jessica 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.”

9780374536060_6baceMaryse 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.

9780765378002_462c3Ada 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.”

9781612195148_5ff48Martin 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).”

See Also

web-use-only_tackygoblin_rgb_nospillT. Sean Steele, Tacky Goblin
Curbside Splendor

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:

As well as members of the Chicago Review of Books and Arcturus magazine editorial and contributing staff:

Join us at Volumes Bookcafe on December 8 from 7:30 to 9 p.m.!

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