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Writing the city with Stuart Dybek

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Stuart Dybek grew up in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Many of his stories are set there. (Flickr/Nuevo Anden)

A disclaimer: Stuart Dybek is my favorite writer. Full stop. I make everyone I care about read Coast of Chicago, his collection of short stories that explores the nostalgia of childhood and the haunted quality of some of the city’s post-industrial neighborhoods. There are moments in stories like “Hot Ice” or “Blight” where he so perfectly captures the nuance of the city and all of its beautiful, gritty viaducts and street corners, rooftops and alleyways, that it makes me despair of ever trying to tell stories about this place of ours.

Dybek’s gift for writing about Chicago and drawing out the emotional qualities of city life make him an obvious choice for an upcoming One Book, One Chicago event Chicago as Literary Muse. The latest incarnation of Chicago Public Library’s One Book program spotlights Saul Bellow’s classic Chicago novel The Adventures of Augie March, a coming of age story set in 1930s Humboldt Park. To honor writing about Chicago, next week’s event features Dybek, as well as WBEZ’s own Natalie Moore and Achy Obejas, who also take their inspiration from the history and life of the city.

Shortly after he was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” Dybek gave a talk at the Chicago History Museum about his work. In it he describes the intensely pleasurable “shock of recognition” we get when reading about a place we know deeply, and about the nameless feeling more intense than nostalgia that sometimes follows. To get psyched for next Thursday you can hear an excerpt of Dybek’s previous talk in the audio above.

Chicago as Literary Muse: Reading, Discussion and Reception takes place Thursday, October 13, at 7 p.m. at the Stop Smiling storefront at 1371 N. Milwaukee Avenue. WBEZ is a media sponsor of One Book, One Chicago.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Stuart Dybek spoke at an event presented by the Chicago History Museum in October of 2007. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.

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