More than two years ago, Noah Isackson started asking for interviews for a story about a 2005 accident in which a mentally ill woman rammed her Mustang into a car carrying three musicians, killing all three. People were reluctant to speak. "It was difficult for everyone to talk about," says Isackson, a contributing editor to Chicago. But as time passed, people opened up, and divergent perspectives materialized. In writing Collision Course, Isackson tried to let each story be told. "Three versions, three good sources," he says. "No one, still, has any real idea what happened."
"He is both what his supporters claim and what his detractors claim," says Ben Goldberger about the subject of What Makes Jim Run?—the always-a-bridesmaid-never- a-bride GOP candidate Jim Oberweis. "He’s motivated by a healthy mix of earnestness and ego." A former reporter and editor for the Sun-Times, Goldberger took on a new position after writing the Oberweis story: editor of Huffington Post Chicago, a nonpartisan local version of the well-known (and partisan) news and opinion Web site.
Scott Ackman and Christopher Schwarz, colleagues at Niles West High School, hit upon the seed for their Reporter column, "Dubious Legacy," when researching an elective about World War II. They explored Chicago’s connection with Italo Balbo, a prominent Italian Fascist aviator who led a historic flight here for the 1933 world’s fair. "The more we read into it, the more we realized what a truly bad guy this was," Ackman says. Finding time to work on the article proved difficult, with full-time teaching jobs, plus coaching duties. "It’s weird writing about Fascism in your baseball uniform," Schwarz says.
A contributor to Time Out Chicago, Venus magazine, and the Tribune, Joanna Topor MacKenzie seized the opportunity to talk to expert teachers to put together her article "Feed Your Head," about adult-education courses—not all of them guts. "People assume it’s just basket weaving or something," she says. It’s the second time MacKenzie has written an Adult Education column for Chicago. After the first time, she tried to register for a tour of the South Side she had written about and found it had filled up. "This year I’m going to try to register early," she says.
The narrative is in the details for Taylor Castle, who photographed Kid Sister for Arena this month. Through careful attention to individual elements, he says, setting can tell a story with the photo subject: "Being so anal, I’m able to create a good symbiotic knot." For this photo, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Joe Sorren inspired the collection of antiques, flowers, and foliage behind the curtains. "Pull in her style; take her out of her element," he says. Viewers fill in the rest. "I try to make my work as open-ended as possible."
"It’s the first professional review I’ve ever done," says Libby Fischer Hellmann, who wrote about her fellow crime writer Marcus Sakey’s new novel in Arena‘s Writers on Writers this month. Hellmann has written five novels and numerous short stories, and she also edited and contributed to Chicago Blues, a 2007 collection of short stories by Chicago crime writers—its own subgenre, in a city with a distinctive crime history. "The tradition of crime in Chicago is so brazen," Hellmann says. "The cases [in which someone is] not guilty are even more surprising and shocking."
Photography: (Isackson) Megan Lovejoy, (MacKenzie) Duncan Mackenzie, (Castle) Michelle Nolan