Lit Issue 2019 | Poetry

Kimbark Plaza

it seems like they’ve made everything else condos
or a restaurant with edison bulbs.
but on 53rd between Woodlawn and Kimbark,
the plaza is still there, all low rise and boring taupe,
all caps Helvetica signage and intensely nothing special.
the bank and Harold’s Chicken.
the grocery store and the public mailbox.
the laundromat and the 24 hour drug store just in case.
i imagine we live in a quaint town and not a city
at odds with its own reflection.
i imagine my neighbors aren’t taking online quizzes
to find out if they’re gentrifiers – anything
to be adjacent to soft destruction,
but not the wrecking ball itself.
the university students believe their tuition
has bought them a whole city.
their ambition takes up the sidewalk, crosses the street
without knowing what ghosts haunt their hallowed, but
on a Wednesday at Kimbark, they buy their bread same as me
stand in line for the ATM, all of us just citizen, such justice,
scurrying with the things we need
back to our little places
before the cold gets the best of us.
at the liquor store they play music i like
and i feel like everything on the shelves is mine.
the cashier speaks like family speaks,
gives me a little something for free, a dad pressing a fifty
into your hand before you make the drive back
to wherever you’re finding home these days.

Lit Issue 2019 | Poetry

Good Night Jazz

The smell of wine takes me back
To finger snapping days
When I thought I was a beatnik
Down in clubs filled with smoky haze.
Nodding so cool
Swaying gently with the beat
Pop your fingers when they’re done
Don’t clap, just pat your feet.
Beret bedecked
In a tight black turtleneck
Wearing sunglasses after dark
Walking barefoot in the park
The sounds of my soul was jazz.
Taboo was the perfume I wore
When my world was bookstores, boutiques and art galleries
Days spent sketching sail boats on the Lakeshore
Nights carrying really good fake ID.
When I stayed up too late
Trusted too easy
Cried too hard
Yearned for my soul’s mate
I was decades late, dollars short
Playing Miles and all his cohorts
While the Beatles experimented with the blues
But my heart said it was all a ruse
The currency of my nights was jazz.
When I should have been home asleep
I wandered into adulthood
On an El train ride without a map
Playing Holly Go Lightly on the cheap
Cinderella of the Birdhouse Lounge,
Barbarosa’s, Mr. Kelly’s and the Sugar Shack
The lubricant of my pretense was jazz.
Muddy Waters played our prom
The night before Lyndon Johnson sent my boy off to Vietnam
Nat King Cole crooned Nature Boy
And Lady Day’s voice always gave me the shivers
Howling Wolf gigged the Showboat lounge
Floating down the Chicago River
Now that the sets are over
The instruments put away
It’s been quite a day
The joy of my life is a Good Night’s jazz.

Fiction | Lit Issue 2019

The First Day

Taking you back again to my little boy days in the Nineteen-fifties when I was living with mom and dad in the apartment on South Ingleside Avenue, in Chicago.  I guess you could say I was one of those rough and ready kids with plenty energy, and maybe kind of spoiled because I had lots of toys and got to go to all kinds of fun places.  My parents weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we had what we needed, and most times what we wanted. I was a perfectly contented child who played by himself most of the time.  Life was ghetto good and I was happy.

Lit Issue 2019

Sailing On

Camonghne Felix’s debut poetry collection is full of taut emotion

Maya Jain

Build Yourself A Boat is more than just the title of Camonghne Felix’s first collection of poems. It’s also an imperative to her audience as much as to herself. Felix, now working for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, spent the last December in Chicago working as the communications director for Amara Enyia’s mayoral bid. This is her first full-length book; she previously published a chapbook, Yolk, in 2015. In Build Yourself A Boat, she grapples with trauma past and present, personal and societal, and fights to retain her sanity, dignity and self-identify. Felix’s writing is alternately brash and tender, sardonic and melancholy, but it retains her distinctive and powerful voice throughout. 

Lit Issue 2019

All About Love

The first biography of Margaret Burroughs struggles to codify the multilayered artist, educator, and activist who created a signature South Side cultural institution

When Margaret T.G. Burroughs passed away in 2010 at the age of ninety-five, condolences flowed in from across the country. President Barack Obama praised her as an “esteemed artist, historian, educator, and mentor,” and called the DuSable Museum in Washington Park, which she founded, “a beacon of culture and a resource worldwide for African-American history.” But for Purdue University Fort Wayne English professor Mary Ann Cain, author of South Side Venus: The Legacy of Margaret Burroughs, Burroughs’s passing was surprisingly personal. “I felt incredibly sad, unexpectedly…I just felt, you know, really deep, deep loss,” Cain remembered. They were not especially close, but had crossed paths a few times after Burroughs initially helped Cain with background research for a novel. Like many others who met Burroughs, Cain had been touched by Burroughs’s generosity. “She was just so incredibly generous to take time for somebody she didn’t know,” said Cain.

Lit Issue 2019

“Welfare Queen,” A Misnomer

A new book highlights how in the 1970s one woman altered American welfare policy forever

Gaby Febland

In 2013, author Josh Levin first became acquainted with the story of Linda Taylor, first nicknamed “The Welfare Queen” by a Rochester newspaper. Levin wrote a detailed article for Slate that both brought her crimes to light and detailed her iconization by Ronald Reagan and other politicians looking for a way to cut money to public aid programs. Taylor was infamous, and then she was forgotten—yet her existence influenced policy surrounding public aid for decades. 

Education | Lit Issue 2019

Back of the Yards Students Declare #MyHoodMyHeadline

Say It Loud, an online magazine written and produced by third graders at Chavez Elementary School, serves to include young writers’ perspectives about important issues and people in their community

Lizzie Smith

How loud can words on a page be? In Back of the Yards, the words written by local young people rang in the ears of the entire neighborhood. A group of third-graders at Chavez Elementary School, led by their teachers Lindsay Singer and Ashley McCall, created the first issue of an online magazine titled Say It Loud, or Dilo Fuerte.