He said the piece of paper had always protected him, but now he was stepping out from behind it. He read about Wrigleyville.
She said she would read her piece off the phone, as the kids do. She read about Austin.
Another he read from his book about Pilsen and Heart of Chicago.
Another she told a tale of Uptown from a piece of crumpled, note-lined paper.
And another read straight from memory, reciting an ode to Bronzeville with the precision and presentation of a Shakespeare soliloquy.
I got to ringlead it all.
It was a reading at the Chicago Book Expo on Columbia College Chicago’s Wabash Avenue campus. I had the distinct honor of gathering this crowd of writers to perform works inspired by different neighborhoods throughout Chicago.
It was based on the reading series Rachel Hyman of Anthology of Chicago and I run, but there was a difference between this reading and the Open Books fundraiser, the University of Chicago Studs Terkel festival and the MCA’s Word Weekend: Rachel was out of town. This one was all me.
On Saturday, in a wide, vacant room with ‘L’ trains rumbling by in the distance, five writers shared their words. They shared their Chicago.
Dan Campana, a journalist who had always only written, stepped out from behind the page to tell the stories of the lost souls of Wrigleyville, the neighbors crushed 81 games in summer by an influx of Cubs fans.
Kush Thompson read poems of isolation, separation and the barrier that divide “good” communities from “bad,” whether the line between Oak Park and Austin or similar ditches, divides and barricades she has seen in her young life.
Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski read from his short story collection about gang fights at quinceañeras, cokeheads at weddings and other sacred moments among the profane.
Megan Stielstra shared an essay on post-partum depression and the odd places one finds healing in Uptown.
And Oni Woods, O the Unstoppable herself, performed pieces about identity, both personal identity and the slipping identity of a community losing a war of attrition with gentrification.
It’s a beautiful thing to share one’s story. It’s a beautiful thing to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and say “This is me. This is who I am and what I think.”
So a simple story in return. A recitation of events. Five people stood up in an eighth-story room in the South Loop and shared a little bit of themselves with the crowd.
Dan, Kush, Alexai, Megan and Oni, I can’t thank you enough.