Credit: Jeffrey Alan Love

In the 18 months since I’ve moved back to Chicago, I’ve learned a great deal about all that’s changed in this city of my youth. I grew up on Emerald Avenue, precisely 13 miles south of the setting of one of this year’s notable stories, and am myself a writer made by the history and geography of Chicago, but still the opportunity to curate this year’s Reader Fiction Issue may have done more to help catch me up on the current literary voice of the city than the last year and a half of teaching, writing, walking, and CTA riding. What I found in the most memorable of this year’s submissions was a palimpsest of the still hard-ass grit of old Chicago but also a quicksilver catalog of formal uncertainty and narrative innovation, the utterance of a former steelmaking city that’s now home to at least a half-dozen college creative writing programs.

If these stories are any indication, the literary voice of Chicago today is a unique lyric-urban fusion. Billy Lombardo’s “Shake Hands Like a Man” haunts me with hovering intimacies of rejected embraces and childhood rebellions lit by the light of a match tossed into a Bridgeport basement grate. Laura Adamczyk’s “Gun Control” deconstructs and reconstructs the cold blue (and surprisingly also delectable) narrative tensions of both the petty and the apocalyptic. Heather Michaels’s “Diáspora” compresses a disassembled family into a poetic and terrifying episode of migration-bound captivity.

I was drawn, in my choices, to voice, place, surprise, and longing, and found form and moment more interesting than straight-ahead plot. Though I came up in the far-southern regions of Chicago, I came of age as a writer in the far-northern regions of Minneapolis, so I trust impression and swerve far more than linearity. The stories that stayed with me, the stories I am honored to share with you here, help me better see the new place I’ve returned to, while also giving me a glimpse of what the literature of this old-new city will come to be. Barrie Jean Borich

Barrie Jean Borich is the author of Body Geographic and a professor of creative writing and publishing at DePaul University, where she will soon debut Slag Glass City, a new literary journal.

“Shake Hands Like a Man”
by Billy Lombardo

“There are plenty of stories like those—the fires, the Jolly Rancher. That kiss. And two other stories I’ll never tell.”

“Gun Control”
by Laura Adamczyk

“If there’s a gun in act one, flirt with the gun in act two. Treat it like a boy. Look at it, look away, then look back again.”

by Heather Michaels

“The brakes squeal and cry like a child as the car comes around again and again. You do not like the way Tía Rosa breathes as if all the air in the world were not enough.”

Honorable mentions

“And When Were We in Delaware?”
by Lex Sonne

“I should have said, ‘I’m so afraid that I will have to leave, and I know that you cannot help me.'”

“Sugar Pop”
by Robin Kirk

“For one terrible moment, she saw the thing that lived in his eyes when he thought no one but Allison was looking.”