Credit: Leslie Herman

The Reader‘s fiction issue has long been a favorite of mine. It provides an equanimous counterpoint to the energetic band reviews, restaurant openings, and Savage advice—a moment to slip into other spaces and imagined worlds. That the Reader makes time and room for fiction is almost subversive in today’s publishing landscape. As the conglomerates conglomerate further (consider Random House’s recent swallowing of a Penguin), the energy of literary-minded folks continues to find expression in independent outlets. Readings like the Danny’s Tavern series, presses like Curbside Splendor, and publications like the Reader continue to provide vital venues for storytelling in Chicago.

As other demands on attention grow louder, it’s hard not to treat this space as sacred. It’s like the rare pleasure of having an el car all to yourself. Every year, I’ve looked forward to hearing familiar Chicago voices, as well as discovering new ones. That feeling was amplified by having the honor of judging this year’s contest. I can’t say much about my methods, save that they share some similarities with the way we pick manuscripts for publication at Featherproof Books, the small press I cofounded in Chicago eight years ago. Sheer gut feeling. If there’s a common thread running through this year’s winners, it’s that each voice is entirely its own: assured, idiosyncratic, and issuing from some hidden corner of the city. The selections provide a sense of scope, ranging from the clairvoyant prose of “Conjuring Danny Squires” by Sam Weller to the spiky sneer of Bridget Gamble’s “State Hospital,” and from the shambling humor of “Isn’t That Right, Pete?” by Andrew Hicks to the rigid neurosis depicted in J.D. Sommer’s “LOS.” Chicago’s publishing scene remains as vibrant and independent as ever. This issue is, I hope, some small reflection of that. Zach Dodson

“Isn’t that right, Pete?”
by Andrew Hicks

“He slipped or his perch gave way, and down he went. The father climbed down after him, but there was nothing that he or the Coast Guard could do.”

by J.D. Sommer

“When I look out the capsule window all I see is the moon. … If I landed where I was supposed to I would be able to see home.”

“Conjuring Danny Squires”
by Sam Weller

“Sometimes, in the twisted wreckage of the car, I could just make out a clump of Danny’s blond hair. I could smell the gasoline.”

“State Hospital”
by Bridget Gamble

“I’ve been making up answers to people’s questions about my future. I’ve been showing my breasts to strangers on the Internet.”