If your wanderings take you down Main Street and past the Brothers K coffee shop, you’re likely to see one of our local literary luminaries. Most days, you can find author and Evanston resident Peter C. Baker typing away.
Baker first found his way to this beloved local spot due to proximity.
“It was the closest coffee shop,” he said in a recent interview. “I was living on Michigan Avenue and South Boulevard. This was the closest…I wonder if it still is.” Proximity got him through the door, but more than that has turned him into a fixture at the local spot.
Laptops and coffee shops have become synonymous, including here in Evanston with its large student population. Coffee shops serve as a place to work and an office for many. What is it about Brothers K that Baker find so inviting?
“I like the space,“ Baker said. “What it is and what it isn’t. But also that much-overused word in relation to businesses and what they’re trying to be, but the community at Brothers K is special and different from any other Evanston coffee shop.“
Baker indicated that what makes this coffee shop special is “the diversity across age, and what people are here to do: work, see people, meetings, take a breather after school drop off. It really is a meeting space. Not just in and out with coffee.”
Baker’s first novel, Planes, was published at the end of May. Among its many accolades, the book has received rave reviews from The New York Times, Harper’s and The Wall Street Journal as well as a star in Kirkus. The novel centers on two couples and is split among locales. “Half the book is set in North Carolina, a white couple approaching middle age and dealing with an empty nest for the first time,” Baker said. “And half the book is set in Italy and Morocco with a couple that is in much more immediately dire circumstances. The husband is in prison under very murky circumstances.”
According to Baker, Planes has been in the works for over a decade and has gone through “many different iterations, with different narrators and different characters expanding and compressing the amount of time it was set. I was in danger of doing that forever.” The COVID outbreak and ensuing global shutdown changed that. Baker had been working as a freelance magazine writer with assignments lined up, but, overnight, a large number of those jobs disappeared. A dearth of assignments and fatherhood on the not-too-distant horizon gave him the time and motivation to craft, shape, and finish Planes a few days before his son was born.
A simple building was the inspiration for the book. The innocuous looking structure nestled among houses, a real estate office and a sandwich shop in North Carolina, where Baker went to grad school (and met his Evanstonian wife) was a CIA shell company tied to black sites. Baker was already working as a magazine journalist. In his research, he came across a 2005 New York Times cover story that mentioned the site, and a quick Google search showed it wasn’t too far away. Off he drove the next morning to check the site out. The juxtaposition crystallized the novel’s possibility: “small town domestic fiction, but pushed up against the geopolitical stuff.”
Baker is already at work on his second novel. While there’s “absolutely no relation” subject matter wise, the similarity in this book is Baker’s take on fiction. ”Fiction is a place where you can take subjects that are familiar – from the news, from cultural conversations, from wherever – and make them alive again. Because fiction isn’t telling people what to think. It’s this machine the writer makes but lets the reader into, and they operate it together.“