Chicago area-based authors to speak at Bookends & Beginnings about sense of place

Kelley Czajka, Reporter


In a bookstore, each book is like its own universe and authors are like wizards who create these universes, said Nina Barrett, owner of Evanston bookstore Bookends & Beginnings.

Two authors, Audrey Niffenegger (Graduate School ‘91) and Aleksandar Hemon (Graduate School ‘97), will speak at Bookends & Beginnings on Friday about the universes they’ve created in literature as part of the second annual Evanston Literary Festival which runs May 4 through 14.

Niffenegger, who grew up in Evanston, and Hemon, who is from the former Yugoslavia but has lived in Chicago for many years, have both written novels that take place in Chicago and its northern suburbs. At the event, they will read from their works, discuss the significance of a book’s setting and respond to questions from the audience.

Barrett said she thought it would be interesting to have the authors talk about the concept of setting in fiction and what happens when authors put a real place in fiction.

This event is particularly special because a scene in Niffenegger’s novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife” takes place in the bookstore Bookman’s Alley, which used to occupy the same space Bookends & Beginnings now does, Barrett said.

Niffenegger said she would often spend time in Bookman’s Alley as a graduate student at Northwestern, exploring the aisles, enjoying the atmosphere and talking to the bookstore’s staff.

“The flavors or the vibes of these two places are quite different even though they do occupy the same space,” she said. “The old place was very meandering. It extended and extended; it was sort of like those dreams where you realize you have an extra room attached to your house.”

Barrett said when she and her husband opened Bookends & Beginnings about two years ago, they focused on distinguishing their bookshop from often sterile-feeling generic bookstores.

“What we love about this space is how it’s still got the brick and the floors slope,” she said. “It’s oozing with unique character and once you’ve been here you know you’ve been somewhere special and unique.”

This unique character and homey feel are what make the store a great place for speaker events, said Lynn Haller, a co-organizer of the Evanston Literary Festival. She added that being in the store is like being in a literary person’s living room talking about literature.

Barrett said this event fits with the purpose of the Evanston Literary Festival to engage the community in literary conversation, highlight Evanston’s rich literary culture and give people the opportunity to be in the room with incredible writers.

Hemon, whose book “The Making of Zombie Wars” debuted last May and came out in paperback this week, said discussing his writing with readers is always rewarding.

“Talking to readers about a book I’ve written completes the experience of writing a book,” Hemon said. “The book doesn’t really exist until it reaches the readers, and to get feedback from the readers is one of the best parts of the process.”

Niffenegger said she is excited to sit down and chat with Hemon as well as her readers. She said she hopes she can help them pay more attention to the element of place in the books they read or write.

“It’s not so much that I hope to send them home armed with facts,” Niffenegger said. “If they’re writers, perhaps they’ll be thinking about their own practice, how they go about including places in their work. If they’re readers, I’m hoping it’ll make them more attentive when they’re reading in terms of where the settings are and how the settings are (impacting) the characters in the book.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @kelleyczajka