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Friday feature: Don DeGrazia and Come Home Chicago

Derek Broox

Free pizza, cheap Old Style, Malort girls.

You want more?

How bout Stuart Dybek, Christine Sneed, and Rick Kogan? Two magazine launches with editors and readers? Music by Mark Madsena nd the Doc Delorean Band?

Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Julia Keller wrote: "Come Home Chicago is bound to be one of the hottest, hippest literary events of the winter, a sort of Edinburgh Fringe Festival rolled into one night. The evening will feature multiple voices and mixed media, along with political rants and comedy sketches, as writers new and established take turns on the stage."

Cofounder and cohost Don DeGrazia, along with cohort cohost cofounder Matt Martin, said this about the annual series: "Well, asshole... there is a very distinct Chicago way of telling a story."

On Sunday, January 15, at 7pm in the Underground Wonder Bar (710 N. Clark), featured readers will be showcased along with rookie readers, DJs will fill the interludes, and Malort girls will turn something awful into something palatable, at least on sight. If you don't know Malort, then you have not experienced the real Chicago. Its label on the neck reads, "Marlot's bitter taste is savored by two-fisted drinkers."

The same could be said of cohost and founder, Don DeGrazia. The author of American Skin, and a professor at Columbia College Chicago, DeGrazia took a few minutes to discuss the show with the Examiner.

EX: CHC is billed as celebrating the unique tradition of Chicago storytelling--what tradition are you referencing, who/what has influenced this annual bill?

DDG: I'm referencing my grandpa, when he was drunk, and my Serbian landlord when I hang out in his office after dropping off my rent check, and you when you were tending at Higgins. There is a very distinct Chicago way of telling a story. I'm not going to try to define it, exactly, but it often involves the storyteller taking on the persona of the different characters in his story, one of which is invariably kind of a wiseguy who talks with a really nasally voice. This is a hallmark of most stories John McNally has told me. Less specifically, I think there is a unique Chicago storytelling tradition that has directly shaped the Chicago arts and literature traditions.

EX: Highlights from the two years past?

DDG: Oh, my... where do I begin? Alex Kotliewicz reading one of the best pieces of non-fiction I've ever heard. Rick Kogan playing Del Close and Charna Halpern playing Charna Halpern during a scene reading of Charna's screenplay about Charna and Del.

The Malort Girls crushing the myth that you can't even give Malort away, when they moved seven bottles in one evening. Steve McMichael taking the stage as I sat in the audience wondering how many of us it was going to take to get him down if things went badly, only to see him rock the audience with apocryphal tales about Mike Ditka. Second City & I.O. legends Dave Pasquesi and Tim O'Malley reading original prose. Some guy recounting how he had just ran the Chicago Marathon while smoking half a pack of cigarettes, a six-pack of beer, and three shots of Malort--and still beat Oprah's time. Erwin Helfer playing and talking about Chicago blues and jazz history. Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky doing a raucous sort of townhall Q&A about Daley. I could go on.

EX: There's a strong sense of community at the event, bringing in 'rookies' with established writers, partnering with local lit mags. Why is this important?

DDG: Well, it's in everyone's best interests to nurture a strong chicago literary community. there's a basic idea with economics that you have to instill confidence, so I think it's in all of our interests to showcase all the different things that are going on here--to celebrate our legends and encourage our rising stars. The more we all point out that Chicago is a cultural mecca, the more it will stay that way.

The event is FREE.


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