Asked to write about literary life in Chicago, I feel a bit like the legendary author of a survey of Finnish ornithology. This was the man who, when it came time to write his chapter on the owls of Finland, touched the tip of his pen to his tongue and completed his chapter with the following single sentence: “There are no owls in Finland.” There is more literary life in Chicago than there are owls in Finland, though it sometimes seems not much more, for the literary life in this city is not generally in greater evidence than those Finnish owls.

To be sure, writers live in Chicago, magazines are published here, and a good deal of writing gets done. But of literary life conceived of as writers living together in some semblance of a community, meeting with one another, talking about one another’s work, discussing and arguing and, yes, backbiting about reviews, books, and ideas—of...


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