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Books and Belgian Brews

Celebrate the start of AWP with the monthly Bookslut reading series at Hopleaf.
Tuesday Feb 10, 2009.     By Stacy Warden
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

If you've never been to a Bookslut reading, well, you probably need to get out more. Or, perhaps, you just need to read more. The online resource for literary junkies launched in 2002, when editor-in-chief Jessa Crispin was bored at work in Austin, Texas. The following year, she moved to Chicago and her little hobby turned into a full-time gig; the site now reels in 8,000-9,000 unique readers each day. For the past three years Crispin has hosted a monthly Reading Series in an effort to expose authors to their Chicago audience.

This month, in honor of The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference, Bookslut is featuring a notable trio of nationally recognized poets. The bookish bash is scheduled to take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 11 on the second floor of Andersonville's Hopleaf, where an estimated 50 guests will rub shoulders with a roomful of authors and fellow book-fiends. A private bar will offer a selection of Belgium brews and wines to take the edge off, but reservation has never been much of a problem for the Bookslut crew. Especially when authors like Jonathan Ames take the stage.

During a recent Bookslut reading, Ames encouraged audience participation during a handful of magic tricks. Other surprises are more subtle, like the one Aleksandar Hemon (author of The Lazarus Project) made back in October, when he showed up for a reading from Dubravka Ugresic. Bookslut Assistant Caroline Eick was just as shocked as the audience members to see the famous author: "My jaw almost hit the floor," she said. Other author's, like local poet Queeney offer VIP readings with a special sneak preview into unpublished work. Eick likens the previews to hearing a band's new album before they've even set foot into the recording studio.

February's lineup promises to blow those past events out of the water. "This particular event is exciting because it's taking place the week of AWP, but before AWP really gets swinging," says Eick. "This city will be chock full of great authors and we selected three standout poets to participate in this reading."

Idra NoveyIdra Novey
That standout lineup includes Idra Novey, whose chapbook was selected by Carolyn Forch for a 2005 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. She also received a PEN Translation Fund Award for her translation of Brazilian poet Paulo Henriques Britto. Novey's poems have appeared on popular websites like Slate, writing magazines like the Paris Review and literary journals such as Ploughshares. The award-winning poet currently teaches at Columbia University and in the Bard College Prison Initiative. During the Hopleaf reading, Novey will delve into works from her latest collection, The Next Country.

Brandi HomanBrandi Homan
Next on the list is author of Hard Reds and Two Kinds of Arson (Dancing Girl Press), Brandi Homan. Originally from Marshalltown, Iowa, Homan now resides in Chicago, where she earned her MFA at Columbia College and her MA at the University of Illinois. She is the editor-in-chief of Switchback Books.

Hilda RazHilda Raz
And if that's not enough, just wait for Hilda Raz's new collection of poems, titled All Odd and Splendid. The well-crafted pieces are an exploration of lives and selves, transformed by choice and chance. Both formally and thematically diverse, Raz's poems are a testament to the will to redefine oneself in a world of constant, and often painful, change. If you're up for a good non-fiction read, check out the author's latest book, What Becomes You, a memoir co-written with her transgendered son Aaron. And don't worry if you forget to bring along your own copy, as the featured books will be offered on site (and yes, the authors would be happy to sign your books).

"It's [Bookslut] such a unique opportunity to hear the best voices in literature," says Eick. "Since we feature three to four authors per reading, attendees often find themselves coming for one author, but being swept away by another author's work."


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