Aleksander Hemon's Chicago

Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about Aleksandar Hemon, a writer who, while visiting a friend in the Ukranian Village in 1992, extended his stay in Chicago indefinitely after war erupted in his native Sarajevo. Hemon learned to write in English and decided to stay in Chicago (I say that as if becoming displaced across the world and learning a new language is all sparkles and ease, I realize, tra la la…) and after his 2008 novel, The Lazarus Project, was nominated for a National Book Award, his follow-up collection of short stories, Love and Obstacles, chronicles the events in the life of a narrator who relocates to Chicago from Sarajevo. In 1992. Ahem.

On June 2nd at 6pm, Aleksander Hemon will speak at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall with Jacob Weisberg on The Future of The Book: A Conversation on The Art of Publishing and Writing, led by Victoria Lautman, host of Writers on the Record a joint effort of Chicago Public Radio and 98.7 WFMT Radio. (Please note: The event is free, but reservations are required. Please RSVP to Emily Long at 312.742.0821.)

But, it is in the WSJ piece where Hemon shares key places throughout Chicago which inspired him to write. Admittedly, it’s a list with which I highly identify as it includes many still-around spots with which my own literary Chicago is tied, and a list I suspect threaded into the consciousness of many other readerly and writerly Chicagoans. 

So, here’s an interesting question: Chicago writerly and readerly types, if you had to pick, say, three places to make your own quintessential Chicago literary experience, which spots would you pick?


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  • 1) Humboldt Park: Spent, spending the better part of my 20's running an after school center and teaching in Humboldt Park. This part of the city is forever woven into how I understand the love and chaos of Chicago. (Plus I think Saul Bellow's ghost drinks with the old-school jibaros wearing alligator skin shoes on the corner of California and Division.)

    2) Wilson Skate Park/Montrose Pier: At 7AM on any summer day the most hyper young skaters and old fishermen stroll here for what may be some of the most interesting generational exchanges in the city. Occasionally crossing paths, they'll share Gatorade and coffee and discuss triumphs and tragedies. I perfected my kickflip here back in the day, and met an elderly Chinese fisherman who gave me the novel Galapagos by Vonnegut.

    3) Jeweler's Row, The Loop: My father's a jewelry caster and some of my favorite Chicago experiences involve working with him during the summer and exploring the maze-like intricacies of Jeweler's Row. Nothing better for a 12 year old wanna-be-writer than running diamonds and rings to Russian mafiaesque looking guys, Rabbis, and Mexican polishers.

  • Mike, sounds to me like each item on your list could be a basis for a novel. Novels, I might add, I will look forward to reading.

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