One of the most memorable (and often maligned) slogans from Baltimore’s relatively recent past, was the catchphrase emblazoned on bus stop benches, “Baltimore ~ The City That Reads”.
It seemed like a cruel joke at the time, considering the city’s high illiteracy rate. But twenty-five years later, there is little doubt that Baltimore is a city on belletristic fire.
Baltimore Magazine recognized this exciting phenomena when it named a number of personalities and presses among the 171 award winners in its current Baltimore’s Best issue of Baltimore Magazine. Selected by the magazine’s editors, the 171 were honored for their outstanding and unique contributions to Charm City; with a full 60 percent being recognized for the very first time.
Space does not allow us to mention everyone on Baltimore Magazine’s impressive list. But the Baltimore Post-Examiner wanted to take a few minutes to relax on one of those weathered bus-stop benches and highlight five of Baltimore’s brightest literary stars.
Writer: Jen Michalski
In selecting Jen Michalski as Baltimore’s Best Writer, Baltimore Magazine noted:
“We’ve previously cited Michalski for editing the City Sages collection (2010’s “Best Anthology”) and we’re fans of the 510 Reading Series she co-hosts with Michael Kimball, but she really upped the ante this year by publishing three books: a novel (The Tide King), short story collection (From Here), and a pair of novellas (Could You Be With Her Now). Though admirably multi-dimensional, Mikalski never fails to tell compelling stories capable of challenging and surprising readers. That readership figures to grow substantially if she continues producing work of this caliber.”
We couldn’t agree more.
“I don’t know if I’m the best writer in Baltimore, but I certainly feel like the luckiest one this year.” (Michalski was also voted one of “50 Women to Watch” by another local publication.)
Michalski admits the year has been, “Really crazy” but is thrilled with the accolades and recognition.
“Baltimore,” she proudly exclaimed, “I am forever your girl!”
Small Press: BrickHouse Books
“Local lit hero Clarinda Harriss has been editing at BrickHouse for 40 years now,” Baltimore Magazine observed, “but she certainly isn’t resting on her laurels. In fact, she turns up new talent and doesn’t shy away from work that otherwise might have difficulty getting published.”
Getting authors published has been the charge since day one at BrickHouse Books. Harriss told the Baltimore Post-Examiner she started the press because of the hole she discovered in the publishing field.
“It was the opposite of the Everest Principle; where you climb the mountain because it is there. We started the press because one like it wasn’t there.” Harriss recalled that she found it was extremely difficult for new writers to get their work considered, let alone to ever see their efforts in print. But forty years later, BrickHouse has an extensive and widely coveted catalogue, with authors who hail from all around the world.
Harriss was surprised when BrickHouse was selected as Baltimore’s Best Small Press. “We’ve never made a single dime of profit.” she laughingly said, “But making a profit was never the mission of BrickHouse Books.”
“Everything we earn goes right back into the press, to help other authors achieve their dream. We’ve got a lot of incredible success stories. Even today, I had an email from one of our authors (Peter Weltner) who just returned from getting married to find a box with his books waiting in the mail. That made his special day, and mine, even more special.”
Author Readings: Ivy Books
“The Ivy’s excellent stock makes it a top-notch indie bookseller, but the Mt. Washington shop’s author readings and talks make it an essential destination for lit lovers.”
It’s hard to argue that point, given the roster of noted writers who have read at the Ivy. Sujata Massey and Laura Lippman have both appeared at the Ivy for author talks; Jane Austen expert Juliette Wells popped by for afternoon tea. Civility doyen P.M. Forni politely challenged his audience to stop and think, and writers Jessica Anya Blau, Shirley Brewer and humorist Marion Winik (another of Baltimore’s Best) have all staged successful book release readings at the Ivy.
As if that weren’t enough, the Ivy recently launched a brand new reading series which will showcase Baltimore’s up and coming writers, and plans are afoot to expand their outreach in the poetry community. Director of events, Lea T. Burns, said everyone at the shop is excited they have once again been recognized as Baltimore’s Best.
“We’re really happy to have been selected this time for our author readings, and to be (an active) part of the local literary scene.”
Co-owner Ed Berlin added, “Jen Michalski, Clarinda Harriss, Marion Winik and Elaine Eff. The Ivy is in great company.”
Patron Saints: Chris Toll
If there was anyone in Baltimore who could explain the engaging collage which was the late Chris Toll, it was probably Toll, himself. “My poems are like a pyramid you climb backwards.”
The editors at Baltimore Magazine honored Toll (along with the also-departed “Blaster” Al Ackerman and Thomas “Pope” Croke), as the Patron Saints of the local art scene.
“Unconcerned with celebrity and seemingly oblivious to trends, they walked through this city leaking unfettered creativity at every turn.”
Barbara DeCesare co-hosted the Benevolent Armchair reading series with Toll for over four years. But as close as the two poets were, she cannot remember the first time they actually met.
“He was so quiet! Maybe he was always there.”
“Chris read his poems – as David Beaudouin expertly described – like a stapler. He was a true subversive. His mission was so secret he didn’t know it himself, and in the close reading (of his works) that we all engaged in after his death, we only began to scratch the surface.”
“I was thinking of him on my way in to work today,” DeCesare continued.
“I was thinking about how surreal it was to lose him and how I wish I could talk to him and tell him all this great stuff I was discovering in his poems. It was easy to take his work for granted because of the obvious word-in-word play or fantastical narrative. Under that is expertise and spirituality that floods your heart.”
“Chris was like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Frank O’Hara and Gertrude Stein’s love child. In a Catholic school girl’s uniform. With a ray gun.”
Old School Zine: Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!
William P. Tandy of Eight Stone Press got the nod here, we suspect, if for no other reason, than that he proudly wears vintage tuxedos bathed with the scent of Eau de Mimeograph.
Publicly, Tandy’s take on his earnest effort being named Baltimore’s Best Old School Zine goes as follows:
“For 12 years, Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore! has been the redheaded stepchild of the Baltimore literary scene. This sort of recognition only stokes the probability that he’ll still be living in your basement at 40.”
But privately, friends will tell you that Tandy was busting the buttons off his cantaloupe colored frilly formal shirt.
Tandy has been publishing his little gem for over a decade now. Sixteen incredible issues in – Baltimore Magazine observed:
“SHYIB harkens back to when cheap photocopying and punk rock came together in a burst of DIY creativity and publishing. But that’s only one reason to love this zine. Issues are built around Baltimore-centric themes – like alleyways, the harbor, crime, and ghosts.”
They forgot to mention the rats.
Baltimore Magazine celebrates its 25th Best of Baltimore issue this evening, Thursday August 1, 2013, with the Best of Baltimore Party 2013. Presented by Covergirl, the speakeasy-styled party takes place from 6:00 – 11:00 p.m. at the Hippodrome Theater France–Merrick Preforming Arts Center, 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Ticket prices range from $80 to $135 and can be obtained at the door or through the event website. A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Family Tree, Maryland’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Costumes in the way of wing-tip collars and flapper dresses are encouraged for all who attend. And remember, when you get to the door, tell them Tandy sent you.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”