The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook elevates Chicago's lesser-heard stories | Book Review | Chicago Reader

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The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook elevates Chicago's lesser-heard stories

From Austin to Hegewisch, this essay collection offers snapshots of life in Chicago's neighborhoods.


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If you're looking for a recommendation for the best pizza in Wrigleyville, The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook is not for you. Editor Martha Bayne says the book's title is "a total bait and switch"—inside, readers will find nostalgic personal essays and interviews with community organizers rather than lists of restaurants and attractions.

The anthology, out this week, is the third in a series of city guides by midwist-focused Belt Publishing. Like its predecessors, The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook features the diverse experiences of the city's residents, and Bayne is quick to note that, title notwithstanding, the work is not comprehensive. "It is a snapshot of life in Chicago neighborhoods at this particular moment in time," she says.

She jokes that her original vision of a book with 77 chapters—one for each official community area—was doomed from the get-go. Some neighborhoods, like Austin and West Ridge, have two chapters, while others, like Lincoln Park, are noticeably absent. The uneven distribution reflects Bayne's effort to strike a balance between the narratives of the north, south, and west sides and focus on lesser-explored areas.

"I started out doing an open call for submissions and almost all the work that I got was from the north side," Bayne says. "That speaks volumes about who participates in literary culture in Chicago, who feels entitled to tell their story, who was reading my call, and who my network is."

With a second wave of outreach focused on the south and west sides, Bayne was able to capture some less often heard narratives. She says she went through some "soul searching" to determine her editorial role in the project, ultimately deciding to let the contributors take the lead.

"I really wanted to let the work and what people wanted to say drive the shape and texture of the book," she says.

Bayne says working on the anthology has expanded her own understanding of Chicago. Although she's been living in and writing about Chicago for 24 years, she's only ever resided on the northwest side. And after working on this project for a year and a half, she says she's reached the point where "you know enough to know all the things that you don't know."

The next step, she says, is to keep telling stories, but not her own: "I'm less interested in writing my own stories right now than I am in trying to elevate other people's stories." v

The Hideout hosts a release party for The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook Wednesday, September 11, at 5:30 PM; see info box above for more.

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