Evanston resident Lynn Sloan is a writer and photographer. Her first novel, Principles of Navigation, was chosen for Chicago Book Review’s Best Books of 2015, and her second novel, Midstream, was published in 2022 and called “luminous” by Foreword Reviews.
She is the author of the story collection This Far Isn’t Far Enough. An art book featuring her flash fiction, titled Fortune Cookies, was produced by Lark Sparrow Press in 2022.
Her short fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Shenandoah, and American Literary Fiction, and included in NPR’s Selected Shorts. She graduated from Northwestern University, earned a master’s degree in photography at The Institute of Design, formerly the New Bauhaus, and has exhibited her work nationally and internationally.
For many years she taught photography in the MFA program of Columbia College Chicago, where she founded Occasional Readings in Photography and contributed to Afterimage, Art Week and Exposure before turning to fiction writing.
Bookends & Beginnings asked Sloan a number of questions for the RoundTable; here are her edited responses.
Your cocktail-party description of Midstream: It’s the summer of ’74, Chicago. Polly Wainwright thinks she’s finally landed on a safe perch in a turbulent world – anti-war protests, noisy feminists, the old ways fraying when she finds that every decision she’s made is based on a lie.
When you realized you wanted to be an author: In my first career, I was a fine art photographer. While I continue to love photographs, I wanted to go below the surface of events. I wanted to explore what’s inside characters and relationships. For this, nothing beats fiction.
Your first published work: When I was a professor at Columbia, I contributed essays and art reviews to Afterimage, Art Week and Exposure. At the same time, around 1990, I began to write stories. My first was published in Roanoke Review, a small literary journal connected to Roanoke College. Since then my stories have appeared in many fine journals and included in NPR’s Selected Shorts. My story collection This Far Isn’t Far Enough appeared in 2018.
How writing a book impacted you: Writing a novel takes a long time. It’s a process of uncertainty, discovery, exploration, effort – which makes for excitement – and error, which makes for frustration, then starting over again. Basically, I love it. Finishing a book, having it launch into the world, having it read by friends and strangers is satisfying, but a little strange. When I read a section of Midstream in a public setting, I think, “Did I write that?”
Author you most admire: Louise Erdrich. From her first novel, Love Medicine, involving the Kashpaws and Lamartines families on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota through her most recent, The Sentence (2021) set during the first year of the pandemic and revolving around a bookstore, her riveting work, which is wise, lyrical, often unruly and comic, takes me into an America I know little about and makes me care deeply about the characters I come to know.
Many of Erdrich’s early books involve passionate jealousies and rivalries. In The Beet Queen, an early novel that is very funny, two young women, one Ojibwe, one German-American, are frenemies.
The scene: a potluck dinner. If you’ve ever taken a dish to a big potluck dinner, you know that it’s common to write your name on tape and stick it on the side or the bottom of the dish, so you get your dish back at the end of the event.
In Erdrich’s story, one of the young women makes a Jell-O salad and fills it, not with nuts, pineapple chunks and marshmallows, but with screws and rubber washers from the hardware store, and she writes her friend’s name on the tape on the dish’s side, so her friend gets blamed.
Things you like most about living in Evanston: During the first year of the pandemic before the vaccines, when staying safe meant staying six feet away from others, all over town people put lawn chairs in their front yards or in the parkways. Picnic tables appeared in the courtyards of apartment buildings. People found ways of connecting with others because being together was too important to give up.
Where you’ve lived besides Evanston: When I was growing up, my father was in the Air Force, so we moved a lot. I’ve lived all over the South and in Europe. But I’ve lived in Evanston for 25 years now.
Three favorite local shops/restaurants: All the coffee shops (let’s count that as one entry), Union Pizza near Dempster Street and Lush wine bar on Central Street.
The last time you read aloud to someone/someone read aloud to you: Every day my husband and I read each other things we find too good not to share.
Book you love the most: There are too many to name.
Book you hate the most: I enjoy murder mysteries, but I can’t stand books that involve harm to women or children.
Book you think should be in every child’s library: David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work. All of David Macaulay’s illustrated books.
Book you are reading now and want to recommend to others: I’m enjoying contemporary Irish authors. Currently I’m reading Anne Enright’s Actress, and I just finished Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane.