staff, September 14, 2015

Northwestern_Chicago3Even though it?s in Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University is strongly associated with Chicago. ?The City? is located just south of campus, and the two have long been connected by history, culture and the ?El? train.

Now, the school is putting together a homage of sorts to its southern neighbor with an upcoming literary series from Northwestern University Press. ?Second to None: Chicago Stories? aims to provide unique, intimate accounts that are ?exciting, interesting, compelling and make you want to turn to the next page,? said Harvey Young, African-American studies professor at Northwestern and the project?s lead editor.

The series? title is a riff on one of Chicago?s many nicknames: the Second City. Though it?s embraced today by Chicagoans (in part because its world-famous comedy improv theater took the name too), it?s somewhat deprecating in that it describes the inferiority complex Chicagoans supposedly have in relation to New York. According to Young, those feelings aren?t entirely unjustified when it comes to literature.

?The thing that amazes me is that ? there are so many books about New York City,? he said. ?You could write a book about every block in New York. And Chicago has a history that is as rich ? [yet] there is a lack of attention directed on the stories of Chicago.?

[btn-post-package]Inquiries, pitches and manuscripts have already started to come in, Young said. He?s been open to multiple forms of expression for the project, ranging from highly personal poetry to conventional historical narratives. The main requirement for any artistic works submitted is that they represent Chicago - the distinctive experiences and values of the place.

Young and the NU Press team have a lot of ground to cover. The multi-faceted Midwestern metropolis offers citizens and tourists alike very different kinds of architecture (the John Hancock and the Wrigley Building), culture (opera and blues), cuisine (steak and deep-dish pizza), and history (the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1968 riots).

It?s also been home to a number of big personalities, ranging from Daniel Burnham to Kanye West.

?When you think about Chicago, the city itself is pretty mythic from [residents such as] Al Capone, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Oprah and others,? Young said.

But the Second to None series aims to share stories that haven?t been widely told yet, while still capturing the spirit of famous - and infamous - Chicagoans.

?Someone who might initially be drawn by a biography of Al Capone will then want to read the next book that?s a memoir written by a person living in [the South-Side, historically African-American neighborhood] Bronzeville,? Young said.

By Summer Fanous