This is the twenty-third edition of Lit 50. Back in 1995, when we started the first of what would become a signature undertaking for Newcity and eventually spread out to seven different “Leaders of Chicago Culture” editions each year, we were motivated by a simple idea: connecting the city’s disconnected literary world. Thanks to our involvement those days in what is now called the Printers Row Lit Fest, we’d gotten to know a handful of Chicago novelists and other literati and discovered that many of them did not know each other. In a form of proto-social media, we wanted to rectify that by describing a community, in print. Today, Chicago’s literary culture has exploded in scale in all directions and, happily, everyone seems to know each other. Our photo shoot for this issue was like a series of micro reunions, where subjects found themselves unexpectedly greeting old friends and current contemporaries over the course of an afternoon.
While this issue is still timed to our favorite literary event, Printers Row, this year our pleasure is doubled by the advent of the American Writers Museum, here in Chicago, which promises to add a whole new contour to our literary culture, while adding a new name and face to our Lit 50 list. The 2017 edition features only one carry-over from 1995, Haki Madhubuti, though many institutional positions, from the commissioner of the Chicago Public Library to the manager of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore remain as well, albeit under new leadership. (Also, this was before we split the list into two biannual editions, so many of the authors will be on next year’s list.) Sadly, so many of the folks we celebrated back then are no longer with us, from Studs Terkel (#2) to Saul Bellow (#3) to Leon Forrest (#9) to Eugene Izzi (#11) to Gwendolyn Brooks (#14) to Andrew Greeley (#17) to Roger Ebert (#20) to Roy Leonard (#29) to likely others who fell off our radar before they left the planet. Speaking of Gwendolyn Brooks, it’s the centennial of her birth this year, and the city is celebrating throughout. Unlike so many other authors, her influence seems to keep growing since her passing; you’ll likely notice that reflected in this year’s feature, marked first and foremost by her daughter’s ranking at #1.
Look for Newcity’s June 2017 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week.