This year’s edition of the Lit 50, our first in two years thanks to the pandemic, might seem long, but it reflects a mere fraction of the accomplishments of the individuals and organizations we write about. The literary community is more vibrant than ever, whether it’s in the programming of an increasing number of venues, in the organizations providing support and advocacy for writers and readers or in the resurging strength and expansion of independent bookstores, it’s a great time to be a book lover in Chicago. And the stability, especially in pandemic times, is noteworthy. With a few notable exceptions, our literary leadership is remarkably consistent, especially when you consider the “Hall of Fame,” which is not a place for retired players, but rather those who’ve been so consistently on the list that we needed to give them a permanent spot. In fact, most Hall of Famers are more active than ever, as evidenced by Nina Barrett, the owner of Bookends and Beginnings, who, in the last year alone, has become the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Amazon on behalf of bookstores, who opened a second location nearby, and who launched Bookends University to produce educational programming. She wrote:
“I realize that I am in your Hall of Fame, though I am not quite sure I really belong there—as if I am somehow above the fray that is the actual reality of running a vibrant and profitable independent bookstore in the Age of Amazon. The reality is, it feels like being on the front lines of a battlefield every single day: the need to continually prove your value proposition to a population of people who, while sympathetic to your cause, can also buy their books much cheaper and get them much faster by ordering them from the big online monster store. Meanwhile, rents keep going up, and so do property taxes, and landlords aren’t getting any more beneficent.”
I read this as an imperative that applies to all of the entities on our list—don’t be complacent. Our organizations thrive only with our collective support and participation.
Ref 50 2022: Booksellers and Allies
Ref 50 2022: Advocates, Educators and Changemakers
Ref 50 2022: Publishers, Services and Other Media
Ref 50 2022: Institutions and Programmers
+ Literati of the Moment: Michelle Boone, Adrian Matejka and Fred Sasaki of the Poetry Foundation
LIT 50 2022 is written by Brendan Buck, Brian Hieggelke, Darshita Jain, Patrick Roberts, Mara Sandroff, Mary Wisniewski.
All photos by Sandy Morris (Sally Blood).
Shot on location at The Poetry Foundation