WMU News

Dybek book selected for Chicago's reading initiative

March 11, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's Stuart Dybek can claim a string of the nation's top literary awards for his writing, but he calls the one announced March 9 in Chicago "the best" accolade he could receive.

Dybek's book, "The Coast of Chicago," has been selected as the featured book of "One Book, One Chicago," a citywide reading initiative that has spawned similar reading programs in communities around the nation. The book will be the focus of book club discussions, readings and lectures across Chicago during National Library Week April 18-24.

Dybek, a Chicago native who teaches creative writing at WMU, first published the acclaimed book in 1990. The work, which Dybek has called a "love letter" to Chicago, is a collection of 14 short stories inspired by the author's childhood in the Little Village and Pilsen areas of Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey announced during a March 9 news conference that Dybek's book is the choice for Round Six of "One Book, One Chicago." Earlier books selected for the initiative include Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun," Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Elie Wiesel's "Night." Books chosen are selected by a committee of librarians, teachers, book shop owners and book club leaders.

"Anybody who would have a book chosen for this knows they've just gotten so lucky," says Dybek of the honor.

Focus on a book during the twice-yearly program has garnered corporate support from such firms as Boeing Corp. and Starbucks. Events planned for the Dybek book include an April 19 reading at Harold Washington Library by Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble members, a book signing by Dybek at the same location April 21, a guided tour of the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods April 24 and an April 26 panel discussion at DePaul University. Dybek says the book also will be read in neighborhood libraries and in high school and college classrooms throughout the city.

The "Coast of Chicago" was published to critical acclaim and praised for its "lyrical intensity." One reviewer said, "Like bread dipped in gravy, these stories have soaked up the streets and neighborhoods, teenage slang, immigrant accents and rhythms of middle America." In announcing the book's selection for this year's Chicago reading, Library Commissioner Dempsey called the writing "quintessentially Chicago" and said the characters "speak in the unique way that Chicago speaks."

During his writing career, Dybek has won four O.Henry prizes for his short stories, the Lannan Literary Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, a Nelson Algren Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship and other top literary prizes. He says having his hometown galvanize its resources to ensure people read his work is an honor that tops them all.

"For someone like me, who came out of that community and sat in those neighborhood libraries as a kid, this is a tremendously meaningful experience," he says. "I know what libraries do and how libraries open doors of the mind. This is the best."

Dybek, a professor of English and a faculty member at WMU since 1973, is the author of two other books, "Childhood and Other Neighborhoods" and last fall's "I Sailed with Magellan"; a collection of poems, "Brass Knuckles"; and the chapbook "The Story of Mist." His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and have been published in such magazines as the New Yorker, the Atlantic and Harpers.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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