The Young Lit

This winter, three debut novelists help Chicago’s literary fire burn a little brighter


From left: Kyle Beachy, Nami Mun, Frances de Pontes Peebles

 

KYLE BEACHY
The Slide (Dial Press; $13)
After completing his philosophy degree in 2001 at Pomona College in California, Kyle Beachy returned to his hometown of St. Louis for the summer. There, at 22, he began working on the book that would be published eight years later. With a refreshing sincerity, The Slide follows Potter Mays, a recent college graduate who suffers from delayed adolescence. Like his character, Beachy had some difficulty making the transition from undergraduate study to postgrad life. He was initially rejected by a number of creative writing programs, but was finally accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he now teaches essay writing. In Chicago, Beachy says he “fell into a circle of people doing things”: editing their own magazines, starting small presses, creating reading series. As proof of the city’s cultural influence, The Slide features cover art by the local graphic novelist Anders Nilsen, and the February 13th release party at Beat Kitchen will include Chicago indie favorites Bound Stems and the local hip-hop artist Serengeti.

NAMI MUN
Miles from Nowhere (Riverhead; $21.95)
Nami Mun began Miles from Nowhere on January 1, 2000. Nine years later, Riverhead Books has published this beautifully grim, completely addictive novel. Miles from Nowhere depicts 13-year-old Joon, a Korean runaway who is hurtled from job to job—underage escort, smalltime crook—and her attempts at finding legitimate work, which are upended by her frequent drug use. Mun, like her protagonist, was raised in the Bronx in New York and left home as a young teen. She drifted from job to job, working as a dance hostess, an activities coordinator at a nursing home, and an Avon lady, before deciding to pursue her writing. After finishing a bachelor’s at the University of California–Berkeley, she completed a master’s degree at the University of Michigan in 2007, revising the material that would become her novel. Mun, who recently joined the faculty of the fiction writing department at Columbia College Chicago (where I teach), finds el trains are a great place to listen for dialogue. The el also reminds her of her New York childhood: “When I ride the train, I feel like I’m home, which is a definite rarity for an ex-runaway.”

FRANCES DE PONTES PEEBLES
The Seamstress (HarperCollins; $25.95)
It was her grandmother’s rural stories—like the one about a great-uncle who was kicked to death by a horse—that helped inspire Frances de Pontes Peebles’s novel, The Seamstress, which was published last fall. Peebles—age 30, born in Pernambuco, Brazil, raised in Miami—sets her tale in the northern countryside of Brazil in the 1930s. Having spent summers each year on a family farm in the rural town of Taquaritinga do Norte, the place where most of the novel takes place, Peebles drew on hours of interviews to build the incredibly evocative world of two orphaned sisters and their country caught in a moment of extraordinary historical change. Although Peebles earned her graduate degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and spent two years in Brazil researching the book, it was not until she moved to Chicago in the winter of 2005 that she began writing The Seamstress, which is as compelling and violent as any James Michener novel. “I arrived in the dead of winter, which gave me a chance to hole up and write. I credit Chicago with giving me the discipline to finish the book.”   

Photography: (portraits) Kevin Banna (books) Michael Boone Photography; 1st Asst.: Greg Hanrahan  Hair & Makeup:  Eileen McNulty  Stylist:  Matt Idzikowsk  Producer:  Kyle Kramer

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