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New space for writers opens on Northside

Submitted on Mon, 06/25/2007 – 16:28.
Story by Keri Lynch
Confessions of love, lust and loss opened the first-ever Chicago Lions and Typers Festival earlier this month on the Northside.

About 100 people attended the three-day festival, which organizers hope to make an annual affair. The event was hosted by and held at the Uptown Writers Space, at 4802 N. Broadway Ave., where area writers hang out to work, collaborate and socialize.

“Diary Night” began with Uptown Writers Space member Marianna Swallow sharing her teenage crush on pop star Rick Springfield, which filled up much of her dreams as well as a diary she began writing at age 10. Swallow also shared stories of real life loves, as a 20-something living in Oakland who had feelings for a co-worker while involved with another man.

Swallow said she “pestered” the organizers to let her read from her diaries, and other writers agreed to participate and kick off the first festival at the space. Over the three days, 26 pre-selected writers from a variety of backgrounds read from their work, including short stories, plays, monologues, poetry and some very personal journals.

Two area writers, Susan Karp and Julie Saltzman, joined forces in September 2006. They rented office space above the famous Green Mill Jazz Club, redesigning and decorating it to create an inviting space where writers – who can be members for one month, six months or a year – can work and drink free coffee.

Uptown Writer‘s Space member David Kodeski read from a diary he received in the mail from a fan who heard him on the radio. It had belonged to a woman named Caroline Horn, a teen in the first half of the 20th Century who wrote about her insights and heartbreaks while attending Lincoln High School in Seattle.

Besides being a member who “occasionally uses the space for writing,” Kodeski runs a bi-monthly movie series there that he says is “starting to catch on.” Kodeski created a solo series called “True Life Tales” and is a member of the Neo-Futurists and of the theatre ensemble team BoyGirlBoyGirl. In addition to writing, he said, they use the space to rehearse and collaborate.

“The biggest draw for me is that I don’t have the distractions of home, but it’s comfortable like home,” Kodeski said. “I can just sit down and work here. There are always snacks, and it doesn’t hurt to have a comfy couch.”

So far, the space has 36 members and at least eight of them are working on novels, Karp said. Writers have the option of paying $75 for a one-month membership, $425 for six months, $800 for a full year or $100 for a punch card that is good for 10 visits. Interested writers can call, e-mail or stop by to check out the space, which is open to members 24 hours a day.

In fact, there are several large cushioned and comfortable white couches, along with custom-made wooden writing desks and a break room well stocked with snacks and drinks. Member Edward Thomas Herrera also uses the space for writing and enjoys the views of the “interesting corner of Broadway and Lawrence.”

Large windows line two walls and allow for natural light and scenes of the busy intersection at Broadway and Lawrence avenues. Besides offering a great view of busy city life from a quieter second-floor perch, the space also provides views of the terra cotta facades of nearby historic buildings.

Another member, S.L. Wisenberg, read excerpts at the three-day event from her blog, which she started when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. On her site, called Cancer Bitch, she has shared her thoughts about the disease and how she is dealing with it, and she reads excerpts occasionally on the local National Public Radio station WBEZ (91.5 FM).

In her first-ever “strip tease,” Wisenberg unveiled her newly decorated bald head, which was full of henna-colored swirls and curlicues. She said she finds herself at times “oddly cheerful” and relieved about the cancer and that no one expects things of her now, such as help moving. Her insights may be biting, but she is not angry, she said, as it’s just the luck of the draw.

“You can’t hate cancer,” she said. “It’s just cells that took the wrong turn.”

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