Inhuman Swill : Chicago

The Electoral College convenes today in state capitols across the country to stamp its imprimatur on our recent, horrifying election.

This antiquated, anti-democratic convocation was much on my mind two weeks ago when I returned to Chicago to appear at the 100th episode of Tuesday Funk, the long-running reading series I used to co-host. For that occasion, my brilliant wife Laura suggested I read from my first published short story.

I started work on "From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left" more than 25 years ago, in 1990, when my vision of the 2009 presidential inauguration seemed to me like nothing more than a whimsical fantasy. After much revision, the story appeared in the February 1993 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,—my fiction debut. Unfortunately, it has now proved, at least in part, to be the most prescient of my stories. I wish it weren't, but there it is.

The crowd at Tuesday Funk seemed to agree, as you can plainly hear at the 3:27 mark in the video below.

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Tuesday Funk, 100th show, December 6, 2016, 7:30 pm
I'm delighted to be appearing tonight at a very special edition of Chicago's Tuesday Funk reading series.

It's the 100th episode of the long-running series. In honor of that occasion, current hosts Andrew Huff and Eden Robins have invited all the former hosts back as guests.

Please come out to Hopleaf tonight at 7:30 to see not just me but also Connor Coyne, Reinhardt Suarez, Hallie Palladino, and Sara Ross Witt. It's upstairs and it's free! It'll be a terrific show!

It's Tuesday Funk—Chicago's eclectic monthly reading series where good writing and good beer mix. (Hey, I coined that.)

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Tuesday Funk for November 3, 2015
Greetings, Accidental Army! I haven't written a new poem in a while, but that subject line is almost a poem in its own right. But we have only 12 days left until the official release of The Accidental Terrorist and a lot to talk about before then, so let's get to it.

Review

First, I'd like to bring a terrific new review to your attention. Elena Colás reviewed The Accidental Terrorist last week for Chicago Literati, and while I hope you'll head over there and read the whole thing, I wanted to call out one paragraph in particular that I was very glad to see:

I felt his portrayal of his younger self was somehow more compassionate than I've read in other coming of age memoirs. When I finished this book, I was reminded of Joan Didion's advice that we are "well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be." Shunn resists the temptation to paint himself as either naive or savvy, opting instead for the kind of even-handed description that had me wondering pretty far into the book whether the author was still a practicing Mormon. [full review by Elena Colás]
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Tuesday Funk for Nov. 4, 2014
Hey, Shunn-watchers, I have appearances upcoming this month at reading series in both Chicago and Queens.

I'll be in Chicago tomorrow night, Tuesday, November 4, to read at Tuesday Funk, the series I used to host and produce. I'll be reading from a new science fiction story, "Our Dependence on Foreign Keys." The lineup for the evening also includes Keesha Beckford, Tom Haley, Maggie Jenkins, and Melinda McIntire. This event takes place at 7:30 pm, upstairs at Hopleaf, near the Berwyn stop on the Red line.

Then on Thursday, November 13, I'll be back home in Queens for Boundless Tales, a series that features poetry, prose, and more. I'll be reading a personal essay that encapsulates the whole of my forthcoming memoir, The Accidental Terrorist. The lineup for the evening also includes Jennifer Baker, Susana H. Case, and Aaron Poochigian. This event takes place at 7:00 pm at The Astoria Bookshop, near the Broadway stop on the N/Q line.

Please mark your calendars! I'd love to see you at either event, or both.

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Packing Kevin's painting
"What the hell are you doing?" the old man yelled into my window. "You can't park here! What's wrong with you?"

I had just backed very carefully into a space barely wide enough for the car. My friend Kevin was riding shotgun, my dog Ella in a nest in the back seat. Funny, I thought as the man angrily waved me back into the alley, we only missed our target by about twelve feet.

That was exactly one year ago this evening—Wednesday, June 26, 2013. It was the tail end of a 24-hour odyssey that already felt like a dream.

In reality, though, the odyssey went back much farther. For months, Laura and I had been planning a move from Chicago back to New York City. The company she worked for had offered her a job in its New York office, and in fact she was already spending much of her time there, transitioning into her new role. It fell to me to make all the arrangements for moving, to get everything packed, and to find us a new place to live.

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Flat Stanley in Chicago

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Flat Stanley and I wait for the el train
Back in May as we were preparing to move back to New York, I realized that I had a visitor sitting on my desk. My nephew Mark in Utah had sent Flat Stanley my way, and for months I'd done nothing with him. The school year was soon to end, so Stanley and I headed out for a Chicago adventure. Here's the letter Stanley wrote to accompany him on his trip back home to Utah.


Dear Mark & everybody--

It's nice to see you again. How have you been?

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"We"

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"We got our asses kicked yesterday."

Monday morning at a diner in the suburbs,
the words spiral over from the next table.
The men have been talking about work,
and at first I think they mean on the job site.

But of course by "we" they mean the Bears,
and the ass-kickers are Detroit, I realize,
as the sentence stutter-steps around the offense,
drops through an alternate parsing route, and scores.

This "we" that makes such strange linguistic sense,
I still can't wrap my hands around it and tuck it under my arm.
I'm not a part of this "we," this synecdoche,
the "we" meaning "they" meaning "us all."

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Glitter & mayhem & music

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Glitter & Mayhem: The Speculative Nightclub Anthology
It was almost a year ago that I received the invitation—would you like to contribute a story to a speculative rollerderby/nightclub-themed period anthology? Well, yes, obviously!

But what was not so obvious was what I was going to write about. I mean, I was a good little Mormon kid back in the mid-'80s. I went to shows, sure, and I went dancing at a few clubs, but I wasn't exactly seeking out the seedy side of the scene. I remember going to see Gene Loves Jezebel at Club DV8 in Salt Lake City in probably 1986 and being distinctly uncomfortable at all the androgynous twin-brother sexuality on display. That was about as seamy as things got in my world.

But Laura was quite a bit more familiar with the corresponding Chicago scene, so I thought would be fun for us to collaborate on the story. We talked the story through as we walked the dog, and we took the milieu and its underlying ennui straight from her memories. (Other details of the club where much of the action takes place came from the Gapers Block article "A Look Back in the Mirror at Medusa's," by Sheila Burt.)

Right at the deadline we sent "Subterraneans" off to the editors. I felt like a complete poseur submitting a story of this sort, but Laura's memory was validated when this reply came zinging back from Michael Damien Thomas:

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Chicago Writers Conference Fundraiser Invitation
As a board member for the Chicago Writers Conference, I'd like to encourage you—nay, urge you—to support this worthwhile endeavor at its annual benefit party!

The benefit takes place tomorrow night, Thursday, August 29th, at 6:30 pm, and will help support CWC's programming and outreach efforts. The $40 ticket includes food and drinks from Trader Joe's and Revolution Brewing. Along with mixing and mingling, guests will enjoy readings by Andrew Huff (Tuesday Funk co-host, editor and publisher of Gapers Block), James Finn Garner (The Politically Correct Trilogy, Apocalypse Wow!), and Hannah Pittard (The Fates Will Find Their Way). There will also be a silent auction featuring:

Tickets are now available. Space is limited; if you would like to attend, please send an email to contact@chicagowritersconference.org.

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Tell it

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Late yesterday I received an email rejection in response to my recent audition for a popular Chicago-area reading/performance series.

This is the second year in a row I've applied. Last year my submission showed "a lot of hard work and potential" but wasn't right for the series. I would not have bothered applying again this year except that one of the directors of the series saw me read one of my personal essays at Tuesday Funk and urged me to submit it.

Well, I did get the audition this time, but while my piece was "engaging" with "funny moments" and "strong" writing, there were doubts about my ability to "command the entire room." ("Think of how you might tell this story to a group of friends in a bar.") Which is potentially fixable, of course. All I need to do is pay for one of their workshops.

You know, I think I'd rather spend the money on beer, telling the story to a group of friends in a bar.

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William Shunn

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