Writer’s Garret: When does the next bar stool take off?

Writer’s Garret: When does the next bar stool take off?

By By Christine Swanberg

I have always had a great time at Chicago’s Printer’s Row. A few years ago, I read with a Chicago-based women’s press, Wild Dove, that under the generous vision of Glenda Bailey-Mershon, produced two anthologies: Jane’s Stores: An Anthology of Midwestern Women I, II. Another time I ran into Susan Bright, the publisher of Plainview Press, that brought out my fourth book, The Tenderness of Memory. The weird thing is that the press is Texas-based, so what were the odds of meeting by chance in Chicago? That same year, the Poetry Tent was run by Julie Parson-Nesbitt, then the executive director of the Guild Complex. We had known each other 20 years earlier through various small press readings and publications at the original Guild books. Chatting with Julie over coffee at Printer’s Row made me feel that we had come full circle. She was listed that year as one of Chicago’s most influential literary figures—and I was pleased for her.

In retrospect, I can see that my literary life has had a powerful Chicago link. Women and Children First bookstore was generous when I was helping to edit Korone: Women’s Voices, published by Womanspace in Rockford. We published Chicago writers such as Julie Parson-Nesbitt, Cynthia Gallagher and Enid Baron. Women and Children First gave us space for our readings and receptions. Of course, the bookstore grew. And the women in Korone went on to publish books of their own and become literary figures in their own right. Years later, I read at Women and Children First for Jane’s Stories and for a Knowing Stones: Poems of Exotic Places, edited by Chicagoan Maureen Flannery and published by Gordon Burke Publishers of Evanston. By the way, check out the Kopi Traveler’s Cafe on Clark Street.

Even my mentor from the Vermont writing program, the late Lynda Hull, lived for a time in Chicago. She was a brilliant young poet whose work still moves me greatly. Once we met at the Palmer House and enjoyed stealing away to the Red Lacquer Room like a couple of little kids. That was the last time I saw her. She inspired the poem, “The Red Lacquer Room,” which went on to become the title of my fifth collection, a finalist in the Chiron contest and published by that Kansas press. Though I hadn’t realized it until I began writing this odd memoir, Chicago really has been a catalyst for my writing all these years. Magical events…

Perhaps the most magical took place by pure accident. My sister-in-law from Mississippi wanted to see Chicago. I was able to book a room for a special weekend rate at the Swiss Hotel. When we got there, our inexpensive room was not available, so the desk clerk said we were to have a free upgrade. We went to the top floor to “our room.” It read–and I kid you not—Author’s Suite. Everyone should stay in such a room once. Two marble bathrooms. Mondrianesque furniture. A sunken living room with all amenities. And then there was the view—or should I say views? As we pulled undraped the corner suite, we had a panoramic view of Lake Michigan to the east, a complete view of the Chicago River to the north, and Michigan Avenue to the south.

When Miss Pat, my Southern belle sister-in-law, saw all of this, she gasped, and in a Southern drawl exclaimed, “It’s Gotham City. Why, it’s just like Gotham City!” In the parlor was a glass cabinet of books by the authors who stayed in that room. All I could say was “Wow.”

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