Audrey Niffenberger

One of the “biggest and liveliest literary gatherings in North America” is hitting Chicago. The conference and book fair of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs is expected to attract 9,500 attendees to over 400 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and book signings. Skewed toward academics, the conference itself is completely sold out. But there are still loads of events open to the public. (Unless otherwise noted, the following are free and take place at the Hilton Chicago Hotel, 720 S. Michigan.)

That includes the massive book fair, featuring more than 550 publishers, presses, and magazines. The Chicago Review, n+1 magazine, and Northwestern University Press are among the exhibitors, and many university MFA programs will be setting up booths as well. The hoi polloi are welcome on Sat 3/2, 8:30 AM-5:30 PM.

Aleksander HemonCredit: Velibor Bo

There are also 20 public receptions hosted by literary foundations, magazines, and university MFA programs (Wed-Sat 2/29-3/3, 7-8:15 PM), plus free nightly dance parties featuring DJ Neza (Thu-Sat 3/1-3/3, 10 PM-midnight).

Poetry fans will want to attend a reading by current UK and U.S. poets laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine, hosted by Poetry magazine senior editor Don Share (Fri 3/2, 8:30 PM). Nikky Finney and Lyn Hejinian read the following night (Sat 3/3, 8:30 PM), or you can opt for “Literary Rock and Roll,” an evening of readings and music with local lit stars Audrey Niffenegger and Aleksandar Hemon, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, and blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks (Sat 3/3, 8:30-10 PM).

Marilyn Nelson

But that’s not all. A mind-boggling number of events are happening off-site. Readings, book launches, afterparties, before-parties, and poetry slams will go down in bars and bookstores across the city. Get the details at

Notable on the off-site list is Hunger, a Reader-recommended adaptation of the novel by Elise Blackwell, about scientists trying not to die during the siege of Leningrad (Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 4 PM, book signing between the Sat 3/3 shows, Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, 773-761-4477,, $20-$35). Also: a reading by poet Marilyn Nelson, winner of the 2012 Robert Frost medal for distinguished lifetime achievement (Wed 2/29, 4-4:45 PM, Harold Washington College, 30 E. Lake); Chicago Poetry Bordello’s A Leap Year Valentine, featuring music, burlesque, and “poetry whores” (Wed 2/29, 8 PM-midnight, Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division, $10, $5 if dressed Victorian); a reading by contributors to Windy City Queer, a multigenre anthology edited by Reader writer Kathie Bergquist (Fri 3/2, 6 PM, Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash); Poetry & Hot Dogs, the poetry part consisting of work by authors from 12 small presses (Thu 3/1, 7-10 PM, America’s Dog, 21 E. Adams); and the self-explanatory Literary Death Match (Fri 3/2, 7 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash, $10).