Literary Spotlight: Chicago
Home of The Poetry Foundation, some of the most prestigious creative writing programs, and a wealth of bookshops and resident writers, Chicago’s poetry scene is among the best in the country. Whether you’re looking to support local businesses or get involved with a literary organization, we’ve selected some of the best places and programs for poetry lovers in Chicago.
Chigaco’s only Black and woman-owned bookstore, Semicolon aims to nurture the connection between literature, art, and lifelong learning. The shop is a great space to read, write, and hang—with a friendly BYOB policy. To help keep people safe and enforce social distancing, the bookstore requires reservations 48 hours in advance for in-person visits. Semicolon also has a nonprofit program called Parenthesis, which promotes literacy for Chicago Public School students and donates books all year long.
The Underground Bookstore has a nearly 30-year history serving the Chicago South Side. The shop stocks a variety of books on Black and history, as well as a mix of African and Diaspora authors. Whether you’re looking for children’s books or adult fiction/nonfiction, Underground’s empowering and illuminating titles are sure to expand your mind.
Frontline Books is located in the historic Hyde Park neighborhood, but the organization is much larger than a single storefront. The shop is a subsidiary of Frontline Book Publishing, Chicago’s premier Rastafari and Pan-African book publisher and distributor. They publish countless titles on natural health, spirituality, history, Black empowerment, children’s books, and more—and they work hard to promote publications from other Black-owned publishers as well.
Bars and Coffee Shops
Dark oak planks, ornate chandeliers, and book-lined walls give this bookish pub a Tudor-themed ambiance. Guests are welcome to explore the books or grab a seat on the open-air patio in the summer, by a cozy fireplace in the winter, or on the intimate private balcony. Spirits and snacks are provided. Located in Lincoln Park, The Red Lion Pub prides itself on being “a place to talk about ideas.”
This non-profit book bar is the perfect place to unplug. An official wifi-free zone, the shop encourages folks to sink into comfy chairs and cozy up at communal tables to read, think, and socialize. The space also offers board games, typewriters, foosball tables, and of course a full bar. Kibbitznest is currently closed due to city ordinances, but curbside pickup is still available.
Located in Wicker Park, Volumes Bookcafe is one of the newest independent bookstore cafes in the neighborhood. Baked goods, espresso, beer, wine, and books are all within reach in this warm and inviting space. Started by two Chicago sisters, the bookstore remains family-owned and operated and is a friendly spot for readers of all ages.
One of the oldest independent literary organizations in the country, the Poetry Foundation is headquartered in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. While Poetry magazine is one of their best-known efforts, the organization also offers events, exhibitions, grants and awards, and online resources. If you get the chance to visit IRL, be sure to check out the Poetry Foundation Library—the Midwest’s only library dedicated to poetry.
This independent non-profit organization has been promoting poetry in the Chicago area since 1974. Holding workshops, readings, and arts education programs throughout the city, the organization brings poetry to young people and career opportunities to seasoned writers. They are located in the Chicago Cultural Center.
Another non-profit in the Chicagoland area, Poets & Patrons holds workshops, contests, and annual awards. Many of their workshops are free to the public, held at museums or other outdoor venues. Their professional workshops are held at the Harold Washington Library. Their workshop series, Write! Chicago, meets four times a year to help poets enhance their skills in both traditional and non-traditional forms.