New tools for Chicago’s literary community

By Luke Wilusz

Chicago has a large, thriving literary community with an abundance of blogs, zines, reading series and other assorted events to support it. Now the city is stepping up to provide local writers with two new resources to help them further their careers.

On Nov. 9, the city of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs debuted two new websites— and a new literary section at—with a launch event at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. The sites were created as part of the department’s Publishing Industry Programs, which aim to support and promote writers and publishers in Chicago.

The department’s Publishing Industry Programs began approximately three years ago, and the first major project to come out of it was the debut of the Publishers Gallery and Cafe at the Cultural Center in October 2008. The gallery exhibits books, magazines, comics, zines and online publications from local authors and publishers and is open to the public free of charge.

Chicago Publishes and CAR Literary are the programs’ latest efforts. While the sites were launched simultaneously, they were developed separately and are intended to complement each other.

“Once we realized we were each working on slightly different but complementary sites, we did have a discussion about whether we should launch them separately or together,” said Barbara Koenen, director of CAR. “We kind of thought we might as well launch them at the same time, so people knew we knew we had two, and so we could explain the complementary nature of them.”

Danielle Chapman, director of Publishing Industry Programs, said the new sites aren’t filling a void or compensating for a lack of resources available for local writers but rather aggregating all of the available information.

“I think there are a ton of resources available in Chicago,” Chapman said. “But I think it was kind of hard to figure out exactly what they are and where to find them. I sort of thought our role was to provide some connective tissue or some glue between those parts to sort of help people find what is available and also to show the kind of work that’s being done here. It’s not that there was a lack of resources, but I think there may have been a lack of a place to find out about them.”

While the sites share a similar theme, they differ in focus. CAR Literary provides specific resources for writers in the form of curated content—including helpful links and information compiled and posted by CAR researchers—and community content, such as event listings, calls for work and submitted “artist stories” describing individual experiences and lessons learned working in the industry.

CAR Literary researcher Laura Pearson said she thought it was important to support local writers because making a career out of writing can often be difficult.

“I think, just like any other discipline in the arts, there’s need for people who are doing this professionally to get support,” Pearson said. “It’s not always obvious to people sometimes, myself included, how to file taxes as a freelancer or who to network with. I think CAR kind of gives people an opportunity—and a pretty high-profile one because it’s supported by the city—to do that.”

Chicago Publishes, on the other hand, intends to offer a more up-to-date look at news and events in Chicago’s publishing industry, and highlights and showcases work by local publishers.

“Chicago Publishes—just because of its format and the way it’s set up—allows us to publicize things as they’re happening,” Chapman said. “[It allows us] to pull out features and news, have really live components like a Facebook page to highlight events as they happen, and also to provide news about the publishing industry as it comes out.”

Koenen said both sites serve an important purpose by supporting local writers, whom she considers to be a vital part of the city’s culture.

“What they do is so important—telling stories and reporting on events, and sort of creating the dialogue that describes our city and the people who live here and our culture—and so it’s important to support them,” Koenen said. “Both traditionally, like how people support through commissions and grants but also intellectually, with knowledge and tools, so we’re providing information they can use so they can do whatever it is they want to do.”

To learn more about the publishing or literary communities in Chicago or to get involved with the city’s publishing industry programs, visit and