New grants further Story Week’s diverse agenda

By Assistant Campus Editor

Kayla Koch

Story Week, an annual festival sponsored by Columbia that showcases prominent authors work across Chicago taking place from March 16 to March 21, has received a combined $25,850 in grants from three Illinois foundations.

The festival received $15,000 from the Chicago Community Trust, an organization that funds city events, $5,850 from the Illinois Arts Council, an organization that strives to build a creative connection through the arts in Illinois, and $5,000 from the Illinois Humanities Council, an organization that promotes greater appreciation for different cultures. Last year, the festival received a three-year $27,000 grant as well from the MacArthur Fund for Arts & Culture, a creative arts foundation.

Sheryl Johnston, a Story Week board member who also serves as an artistic consultant to the festival, said it is also being supported by the Chicago Public Library and The Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., March 16–21, a nightclub in the city.

Johnston said the grants would be used to cut the visiting authors’ costs, including compensation and hotel and travel expenses. Johnston said authors are chosen based on suggestions the board receives from the college community. She said newly debuted and well-known writers are featured, such as Stuart Dybek, author of “Childhood and Other Neighborhoods,” and Cristina García, author of “Dreaming in Cuban.”

“The thing [the authors] have in common is that they are some of the best,” Johnston said.

Johnston said the board tries to incorporate something new every year for the festival, which is why this year’s theme is “DiverCity: Urban Stories.”

“This year it’s all about diversity, urban stories and the idea that cities aren’t made just of buildings, they are also made of words and stories,” Johnston said. “We’ve always tried to hold our events all over the city so that everybody has access to them and this is just [going even] farther into the city.”

Johnston said there would be an emphasis on the Latin and Caribbean cultures and events will be held in neighborhoods such as Humboldt Park, Logan Square and Pilsen, where those cultures have strong roots.

Randall Albers, founder of Story Week and chair emeritus of the Creative Writing Department, said he created the festival because he wanted a way for writers, literary agents and publishers to connect with Columbia students. Albers said he wants students to be exposed to a wide range of writers so that students can challenge themselves and find inspiration.

“[I] thought we were just going to do one year, but we got an excellent response and then the humanities council suggested that we should apply for a major grant and then we were kind of off and running after that,” Albers said.

Barry A. Benson, a Story Week board member, said he originally joined the board to help the festival raise funds but his passion for literature keeps him coming back.

“It’s the greatest literary festival in the city of Chicago,” Benson said. “Every year it’s just got so much charm, magic and energy to it.”