Launch Reading and Reception for BRUTE NEIGHBORS

DePaul Humanities Center presents Launch Reading and Reception for

Brute Neighbors: Urban nature poetry, prose and photography

Monday, March 7, 2011
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Lincoln Hall
2424 North Lincoln Avenue


The book features some of Chicago’s best writers: Reginald Gibbons, Stuart Dybek, Christian Wiman, Miles Harvey, Michele Morano, Mark Turcotte, and more.

Come hear these vastly varied voices and unexpected styles that illustrate how our cityscapes and our rolling fields aren’t as separate as we once thought.

For more information, please contact the DePaul Humanities Center at 773-325-4580 or email to


The Girl and the Romance Novel, Part Two

By MAWP student Brittany Petersen

Read the first part of this topic in Brittany’s previous post: “The Girl and the Romance Novel, Part One.”

copyright Hayley_Wigginton @ flickr (

As I’ve discussed in my previous post, the romance genre has a simple formula that doesn’t necessarily include sex or an unflattering portrayal of women: An authentic love story (or at least lust story) with a happy ending. That’s all we ask.

Even if people are cool with the sex scenes and the perceived portrayal of women, the happy ending bit might still give pause, and for that we blame Aristotle. The idea that tragedy is of more weight and value than comedy―that the happy ending is inferior to the complex, likely woeful ending―goes all the way back to 350 BC Athens and remains incredibly pervasive in Western culture. Take a look at the list of Oscar Best Picture winners for all the evidence you need: With a delightful exception for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, the winners of the recent past run more in the vein of Titanic and Crash and No Country for Old Men―not exactly rays of cinematic sunshine.

Romance thus has to overcome an incredible number of obstacles, including deep-seated assumptions about the quality of stories with happy endings, to be considered “legitimate” literature. It’s an uphill battle, to be sure, but Selinger almost had me convinced. I just had one more up my sleeve: Redundancy. Nora Roberts can’t be coming up with wildly different plot lines every time. Don’t romance novels become repetitive at a certain point? There must be a finite number of ways for two people to fall in love/lust. It’s got to get old after awhile.

Again, Eric Selinger points out what should be obvious: “From the outside, any genre looks repetitive.” A football game, the blues, a book of sonnets—we pretty much know what’s going to happen before it does. One team will win, an improv based on a six-note blues scale will last fifteen minutes, and words will rhyme. But to connoisseurs of the subject, the differences are obvious. “When there’s a clearly established set of expectations, conventions, a contract between author and reader, then you can notice the variations,” Selinger said. Once you understand the norm, you recognize when it’s fluctuating. So you can’t appreciate romance literature until you are a reader of romance literature. That makes sense.

There is one drawback to the genre that Selinger cannot deny, and it’s a product of the reinforcement of all these stereotypes: Writing romance novels marks you. As an author, once your name is tied to something—a political slant, a popular genre—you’re pretty much stuck. Just ask Keith Olbermann or even Nora Roberts, who felt trapped enough within her own subgenre that she created a pseudonym, J.D. Robbs, in order to branch out into a new territory of romance writing.

And of course there are the more base assumptions: That if you write something in a novel, it must have happened to you, or be something you want to happen to you. Pretty sure everyone from George Orwell to Stephen King would disagree with that basic principle of literature.

So…is it worth it? According to stats drummed up by romance novelist Brenda Hiatt, the payout for a romance novel is anywhere from a few hundred bucks to more than $100,000. Top-paying publishers are, not surprisingly, the giants Random House, Ballantine (a member of the Random House Publishing Group) and Grand Central Publishing (formerly owned by Time Warner, now a part of the Hachette Book Group). But a number of smaller publishers—notably Harlequin, Pocket, Silhouette and Berkley/Jove—provide a pay-out of at least $10,000-$20,000, which ain’t bad for something that probably does not need to be labored on for years (or even months) on end. Royalties tend to hover around 6-8% for print and 30-40% for electronic, which is standard in the publishing industry.

It should be noted that electronic publishing has completely revolutionized the romance genre. In fact, Selinger said, “Romance is what’s been driving the e-book revolution.” And for a reason that would leave Fabio distressed and likely less in the mood to rip off any clothes: No cover art. The anonymity of purchase and display is essential to convincing people to leave Tolstoy at home in favor of Jerry and Christine’s passionate love affair.

“Even today, I think there’s a tremendous bias against the genre and an assumption that if you connect yourself to the genre in some way, either as a reader or as an author, you really left the world of serious literature behind, the world of intelligent people,” Selinger said.

For his part, Selinger would love nothing more than to see more of his students take an interest in popular romance. “If you’re training people to be writers, that’s an enormous slice, the largest part of the marketplace,” Selinger said. “These are the books people like to read. They’re read by smart and sophisticated people, just like literary fiction.”

So where to start our romantic erudition? Selinger recommends reading this article by author Jenny Crusie, then start reading. Sites like Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Dear Author can be a guide for beginners or experienced travelers. And remember that as authors, we can and should be able to appreciate and speak fluently in any genre language—including one that celebrates the “smooth, milky skin” and “living moistness of the full, red mouth” that we all yearn for. Or maybe that’s just me.

The Texas Observer First Annual Short Story Prize

For Immediate Release

David Duhr
Fiction Editor, Texas Observer

Larry McMurtry to Judge Texas Observer Short Story Prize

(Austin, TX) – The Texas Observer has always loved a good story, but the ones they’ve published over the last half-century—mostly hard-hitting investigative pieces—have been depressingly true. The venerable publication is looking to change that by launching its first annual short story contest, to be judged by Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show).

The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the Observer’s 2011 Summer Books Issue.

No genre, theme, or residential restrictions. Deadline is May 1, 2011. Entry fee is $25. For details, guidelines, or to submit a story, visit

The Texas Observer is a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative, political and social-justice reporting from the strangest state in the Union. It reports on issues ignored in the mainstream press, covering stories crucial to the public interest and provoking dialogue that promotes democratic participation and open government in pursuit of a vision of Texas where education, justice and material progress are available to all.

The Observer‘s truth-telling has led both state and national media—including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s, 60 Minutes, 20/20, Frontline, Mother Jones, The Nation, TIME magazine, National Public Radio and ABC News—to important stories about injustice and corruption in Texas.

The award-winning magazine is published fortnightly, and its website features daily content.

For contest updates and more, follow the Observer on Facebook and Twitter.

Calls for Submissions

Attention all creative writers!

Consider submitting your work to one or several of the contests and literary magazines whose flyer is in this post. Here at the English Department, we’ve received several awesome calls for submissions. Take a minute to view all three packets of PDF documents to find the publication right for you.

Calls for Submissions Packet 1

Calls for Submissions Packet 2

Calls for Submissions Packet 3

James Murphy Reading, a Review

By MAE student Jonathan Kittl

On Thursday, February 17, 2011 at the John T. Richardson Library, Professor James H. Murphy presented his newly published book, Irish Novelists & the Victorian Age. Professor Murphy started the evening with a brief explanation concerning his process in constructing this new work. Professor Murphy includes references to well over 200 Irish novelists. During the evening Professor Murphy noted several Victorian Irish authors are frequently passed over in favor of other “big name” writers whose work might be interpreted as relevant to or representative of Ireland. One of the examples he mentioned is the analysis of the supposed Irish ancestry of Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Rather than stretch the material, Professor Murphy seeks to incorporate the voices of the authors—such as Maria Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, and Rosa Mullholland—who were right in the middle of Ireland’s political, economical, and social issues.

Professor Murphy read specific passages from his novel so as to give a good cross-section of the various topics about which Victorian Irish authors wrote. Covered were William Carleton and Charles Lever concerning the topics of land and economics, and he also focused on Emily Lawless regarding feminism and realism.

When finished sharing his work, Professor Murphy took questions from the audience of approximately fifty people in the John T. Richardson Library Rosati Room on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. Several of these questions took a challenging tone, similar to those asked of a doctoral student during a dissertation defense. During this question and answer session, which accounted for over half of the program, Professor Murphy confidently and graciously answered each question with precise, detailed information.

DePaul’s English Department was well represented by its faculty and students. Several members from the community and other DePaul University Departments were also in attendance.

Irish Novelists & the Victorian Age can be purchased—as Professor Murphy even noted—at the lofty price of $110.00 on Amazon. Currently the book is only available in Europe, but the hardcover edition will be available in the United States on March 25, 2011.

Interested in attending other events at DePaul? Here are some upcoming author readings:

On Wednesday, February 23, 2011 Poet Jack Ridl will read from his recent work. 6 pm, Rosati Room, 300 John T. Richardson Library, DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus

On Thursday, February 24, 2011 Novelist and editor Peter Orner will read from his recent book and answer questions from the audience. 6 pm, Dorothy Day Room, 400 John T. Richardson Library, DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus

The Girl and the Romance Novel, Part One

By MAWP student Brittany Petersen

copyright stewf @ flickr (

As we finish up the chocolates, watch the balloons deflate and lay Valentine’s Day 2011 to bed, it seems appropriate to turn back to the source from which we as English students and authors get our romantic fix the other 364 days of the year: romance literature.

Wait—you do read romance novels, right?

The romance genre is an easy target for criticism (we’ll get to that), and yet it’s one of the most profitable of the fiction categories: In 2008, out of more than 47,000 fiction books published in the U.S., about 7,000 were romance novels, which generated $1.37 billion in sales—a solid eighth of the market. A quarter of the American population—more than 74 million people (90% women) – read at least one romance novel that year. And of those, almost 30 million (mostly married women in their 30s and 40s) are regular romance readers.

As writers, it would behoove us to recognize the incredible potential of a career in romance literature. And yet many of us (myself included) scoff at friends who gush about the latest Nora Roberts tear-jerker. It’s the text equivalent of a chick flick, and with more than 200 titles to her name over a span of 30 years, it doesn’t seem a stretch to question the quality of the composition. Heck, Roberts published five books in 2010 and the same in 2009; my own struggles with crafting fifty pages (or even five) of quality prose over the course of a month lead me to believe there’s no way she can write something consistently worthwhile in an average of 10.4 weeks. It’s just not possible. Or if it is, then it’s definitely not fair.

Not to mention the covers. If you believe in God, then you must believe that He created Fabio specifically to be represented on the covers of romance novels, tearing dresses off buxom women. Americans read aspirationally—that is, we tote around Tolstoy and Joyce in the spirit of being (and appearing) well-versed in the classic cannon. We judge books by their covers and people by their book covers. Probably the number one reason I never picked up a romance novel is that I didn’t want to sit on the el reading this. A romance cover says trashy, simplistic, possibly pornographic, and always with a happy ending. What would people think?

I took my chick lit preconceptions to a man eager to dispel the stereotypes: Professor Eric Selinger, who teaches poetry and popular literature (including romance) in the Department of English at DePaul.

The problem, Selinger says, is that the bulk of any given genre—including romance—is crap. “Everything else gets judged by its best representative,” Selinger said. “Romance gets judged by its worst.” Romance literature has become an embodiment, a projection, of everything we don’t like about literature: sentimentality, cheesiness, false optimism, false piety.

“It’s the scapegoated other,” Selinger said. “By ritually expelling it, you demonstrate that you are in fact a person of some intelligence and political savvy.” In other words, we regularly saddle an entire genre with the short-comings of a few of its members. Not every detective novel is a work of art, but we don’t denigrate the entire mystery section as a result.

But there’s something else to it: Women. Romance literature is aimed at women, and for that we punish it. Selinger pointed out that at the turn of the last century, literary modernism drew more women readers in, and those readers wanted what any woman wants: to be wooed. Sentimental love stories became big business, and backlash followed closely behind. Eventually the feminism movement gave more context to the complaints: “Chick lit” is a pseudonym for romance novels, but we as intelligent, independent women are interested in more than that. We therefore boycott that which we see as representing a simplistic depiction of the gender. Couple that with ill-conceived notions that every book is chock full of laughably written sex scenes and now we can fully write off an entire section at the bookstore. (Though I bet Borders will have some good sales coming up.)

Of course, none of that is uniformly true, and it falls to our general misunderstanding about the content of the lumped-together “romance” genre. The most common type, “popular romance,” is a broad umbrella category that covers dozens if not hundreds of subgenres and publication modes – for example, series published by Harlequin that are marketed by line (ex. stories set in the world of NASCAR), or single-title books that are marketed individually or by author. They range from chaste (Christian romance publishers like Bethany House) to sexually explicit, and cover the gamut from historical trysts set in the Old West to those set in Outer Space. All of that, that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about “popular romance” and those novels with Fabio’s lustful eyes beckoning you from the paperback cover.

A subgenre of popular romance is indeed erotic; sexual scenes are described and no little detail goes unmentioned. (But we all know size doesn’t matter.) But erotic romance still has a plot, and the sexual scenes operate to advance that plotline. This in contrast to straight-up erotica, which when you get right down to it is all about the nookie. But it’s classy nookie, i.e. not hardcore pornography, which exists across another adjacent but equally fuzzy line.

Continue reading about romance literature in Brittany’s next post: “The Girl and the Romance Novel, Part Two.”

March Into Spring With Free Author Events


February 18, 2011

During the month of March, the Chicago Public Library will host several fascinating and free events in continuation of its ongoing monthly Authors Series. In addition, the Library will be the venue for several free author discussions included in Columbia College Chicago’s 15th Annual Story Week Festival of Writers series. All of the author events will be held at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St. For more information, please call (312) 747-4050 or visit

March 2011 Author appearances


In conversation with Eric Ferguson
Thursday, March 3 at 6:00 p.m.
Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

Grant Achatz, internationally acclaimed chef/owner of Alinea and his business partner/coauthor Nick Kokonas discuss and sign their new book, Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat. The conversation will be moderated by 101.9 The Mix’s Eric Ferguson.


Thursday, March 10 at 6:00 p.m.
Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

Susan Jacoby, renowned author of The Age of American Unreason, will discuss and sign her new book, Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. Combining historical, social, and economic analysis with personal experiences, Jacoby turns a caustic eye on the modern fiction that old age can be “defied” and the American culture that it perpetuates.


Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

Monday, March 14 at 2:30 p.m. – Acclaimed author Jennifer Egan in conversation with Joe Meno.

Monday, March 14 at 6:00 p.m. – A second event with author Jennifer Egan reading and in conversation with Donna Seaman.

Tuesday, March 15 at 6:00 p.m. – Reading and conversation with authors Audrey Niffenegger, Karen Tei Yamashita, Gerard Woodward, and host Alexis Pride.

Thursday, March 17 at 1:00 p.m. – A conversation with playwrights Regina Taylor and Tanya Saracho with host Lisa Schlesinger.


Thursday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m.
Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

This event is part of the Chicago Tribune’s Literary Series of Trib Nation events.

Joyce Carol Oates, recipient of the Chicago Public Library’s 2002 Carl Sandburg Literary Award, discusses and signs her work including her memoir, A Widow’s Story, in a conversation lead by Chicago Tribune columnist Julia Keller.

The Chicago Public Library continues to encourage lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment and knowledge through materials, programs and cutting-edge technology.

The Chicago Public Library is comprised of the Harold Washington Library Center, two regional libraries and more than 70 neighborhood branches. All locations provide free access to a rich collection of books, DVDs, audio books and music; the Internet and WiFi; sophisticated research databases, many of which can be accessed from a home or office computer; newspapers and magazines; and continue to serve as cultural centers, presenting the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults.

The Harold Washington Library Center, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library and Conrad Sulzer Regional Library are open 7 days a week, the branch libraries are open 6 days a week and patrons can access all of the Library’s collections online 24 hours a day. For more information, please visit or call the Chicago Public Library Press Office at (312) 747-4050.