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This chapter examines the two Chicago-set graphic novels of Chris Ware entitled Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) and Building Stories (2012), as well as Lost Buildings (2004), Ware’s “on-stage radio & picture collaboration” with Ira Glass for National Public Radio. The chapter argues that Ware’s body of work explores how various human networks engage with the storied history and urban geography of his adopted city, and that it does so in endlessly experimental ways that have continued to redefine the expressive potential of the comics form. In these works, Ware creates complex visual narratives in which the city and its ever-changing urban landscape is often as much of a character as the people inhabiting it, and his meticulously drawn pages are thus an attempt not only to depict and make sense of Chicago but also to create a visual index of the relationship between its spatial and emotional lives. Despite his untraditional choice of form, this approach places him in a lineage of Chicago writers that reaches all the way back to the earliest recorders of life in the city.
This chapter outlines the literary history of Chicago from the city’s inception to the present day. Guided by the idea of Chicago as the crossroads of modern America, the chapter argues that the city occupies a distinctive place in American literature by virtue of its particular geographic and material features. As Chicago developed from prairie outpost to modern metropolis inthe nineteenth century, it became home to a diverse range of literary voices that grappled with representing the city’s new urban realities in its literature. The introduction also outlines how especially women, African Americans, and ethnically diverse immigrants have contributed to Chicago literature, and how successive generations of writers have provided different visions of the city that are influenced by the complex cultural and historical contexts of both the city and America at large. Pointing out that the literary history of Chicago is one of reaction by individual writers to their urban environment, the introduction considers the centrality of Chicago literature for styles and movements such as realism, naturalism, and modernism, before providing a short outline of the book’s five sections.
Chicago occupies a central position in both the geography and literary history of the United States. From its founding in 1833 through to its modern incarnation, the city has served as both a thoroughfare for the nation's goods and a crossroads for its cultural energies. The idea of Chicago as a crossroads of modern America is what guides this literary history, which traces how writers have responded to a rapidly changing urban environment and labored to make sense of its place in - and implications for - the larger whole. In writing that engages with the world's first skyscrapers and elevated railroads, extreme economic and racial inequality, a growing middle class, ethnic and multiethnic neighborhoods, the Great Migration of African Americans, and the city's contemporary incarnation as a cosmopolitan urban center, Chicago has been home to a diverse literature that has both captured and guided the themes of modern America.