Mayor Rahm wants to change things here in Chicago, even for the artists. Says Julie Burros, the city’s new Director of Cultural Planning, the mayor wants to grow the city’s reputation as a center of creativity and excellence in the arts. Last night I attended the Literary & Publishing Cultural Plan Meeting hosted by the Chicago Literary Alliance, in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. After offering a succinct overview of the Cultural Plan 2012, Ms. Burros opened up the floor. The discussion that followed revealed the abundance of literary projects taking place here in our city. It also revealed the ongoing struggle experienced by Chicago’s literary community. Maybe the Mayor’s new plan can help.
Up till now, literary creatives have been relying on the work of Chicago Publishes, under the direction of Danielle Chapman, to spread the word about their events and projects. The website, Chicagopublishes.com, offers resources for artists and a well-written blog featuring the latest literary happenings–Chicago’s goings on about the town. The community stands to lose the valuable support of Ms. Chapman and staff under the new plan, although it was suggested that some aspects of Chicago Publishes might remain intact. I hope so.
What remains a mystery is why so few Chicagoans seems aware of the books being produced right here in their own city. We have Academy Chicago Publishing, Agate Publishing, and Allium Press, just to start with the “A’s.” These are, for the most part, small, independent presses that release fresh, quality titles rivaling anything coming out of New York City. Then why is it that Chicago’s major newspapers, radio and television stations pay such precious little attention to local works? It is the opinion of at least one major Chicago book reviewer that readers are not interested in locally produced books; they want to hear about books from New York, books that are invariably published by one of the big six publishing companies. (As exceptions to this policy I mention the Sun-Times‘ wonderful Theresa Budasi and reviewers at New City and the Reader, bless them.)
What we need then, in this bright new Cultural Plan 2012, is a willingness on the part of Chicago’s major media to stop ignoring the work of Chicago artists. Once and for all, let’s get over the second city mentality and embrace the fact that Chicago is home to an abundance of literary talent. Though we may love New York and many of the books on the New York Times bestseller list, lets create our own bestsellers. One of the goals put forth in the mayor’s new plan is to retain artists and creatives in Chicago. If this is so, Mr. Mayor and Ms. Burros, please encourage Chicago’s newspapers, radio and television stations to frequently feature the work of local publishers and authors.