Author Archives: Paulette Livers

About Paulette Livers

Paulette Livers is the author of the novel Cementville (Counterpoint Press), which received the Elle Lettres Prize, and was a finalist for the Center for Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and the Kentucky Literary Award. Among recognitions for her work are fellowships and grants from the Artcroft Foundation, Aspen Writers Foundation, The MacDowell Colony, Ox-Bow Artist Residence, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for Creative Artists, and Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. While earning the MFA at University of Colorado, she taught creative writing, worked as a speechwriter to the Chancellor, and curated the University’s reading series. The recipient of the Meyerson Prize for Fiction at Southwest Review, her work has been honorably-mentioned or shortlisted for the International Bridport Prize, Lamar York Prize, Mosher Prize for Short Fiction, and Red Hen Press Short Story Award, among others. She teaches at Story Studio Chicago and is Creative Director at Mighty Sword Studio, specializing in fine book design, editing, and helping publishers, writers, and artists bring their work to the printed page.

Orlando: Beauty in Deepest Cold

From my homey burrow I stare out at the deep freeze gripping Chicago. Not easy, given that the window glass is encrusted in a hard salty rime, courtesy of de-icer and gale-force winds. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando keeps whispering at me through all this white, forcing me to dig out the gorgeous passage detailing the coldest winter England had ever seen. It’s right there in Chapter 1. Here’s a bit of it.

“The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner. The mortality among sheep and cattle was enormous. Corpses froze and could not be drawn from the sheets. It was no uncommon sight to come upon a whole herd of swine frozen immovable upon the road. The fields were full of shepherds, ploughmen, teams of horses, and little bird-scaring boys all struck stark in the act of the moment, one with his hand to his nose, another with the bottle to his lips, a third with a stone raised to throw at the ravens who sat, as if stuffed, upon the hedge within a yard of him. The severity of the frost was so extraordinary that a kind of petrifaction sometimes ensued; and it was commonly supposed that the great increase of rock in some parts of Derbyshire was due to no eruption, for there was none, but to the solidification of unfortunate wayfarers who had been turned literally to stone where they stood. . . . [about the Thames:] Here and there burnt vast bonfires of cedar and oak wood, lavishly salted, so that the flames were of green, orange, and purple fire. But however fiercely they burnt, the heat was not enough to melt the ice which, though of singular transparency, was yet of the hardness of steel. So clear indeed was it that there could be seen, congealed at a depth of several feet, here a porpoise, there a flounder. Shoals of eels lay motionless in a trance, but whether their state was one of death or merely of suspended animation which the warmth would revive puzzled the philosophers.”

Wherever you are now, whatever your weather, what sends you back to books you fell in love with the first time you read them, authors whose words pop into your head seemingly from nowhere, until you have no choice but to comb shelves and pages to find that certain passage and savor it again?

I’d love to hear from you.

Revision, Re-seeing. Writing, Re-writing.

Photo by the author

Taking a breather from preparing all my baggage (in both senses of the word) to head off to Vermont Studio Center, I looked up from my manuscript pages just now to see this jumbled geometry of umbrella, roof, sky, walls, stairs, and green. Now, it wasn’t as though some great revelation hit me, and I haven’t often thought of my city’s tight spaces as particularly awesome. But it did feel as though I was seeing something I’ve looked at hundreds of times in a way I hadn’t quite seen it before.

Draft No. 3 of my current novel-in-progress can feel like that at times. My few trusted readers have helped me re-see—and then revise—which is the only way I can get anywhere with rewriting.

Make no mistake: Draft No. 3 is a rewrite. First of all, half of Draft No. 1 is gone, cut, sacked. Along with losing that thread of the story, a major character now sleeps in the proverbial ‘drawer.’ (Every writer I know has such a drawer.)

Working on Draft No. 3 has made me alternately demoralized, cocky, joyful, and utterly depressed, sometimes within the same paragraph. There are days I wake up thinking about my protagonist and ready to work, and days when I’d rather alphabetize my spices or violently deadhead every plant in the garden than face the page with its awful blinking cursor. I am fortunate in faithful friends who cheer the former and drag me from the doldrums of the latter.

Part of this long slog has been taken up with health challenges I hope to never meet again. Over the last two years, a series of rough beasts have slouched toward various body parts to be born, and none of these beasts have been pals. My plan is to hang onto what I wish to call an upward swing of good strong progress on that front. 

The pieces of this story will continue to fall into place as I spend the next month working through the rewrite at Vermont Studio Center.* I just have to look up once in a while, and recognize the jumbled geometry as mine.

*Thank you, Illinois Arts Council and VSC.

Demonstrators protest against U.S. President Donald Trump during the Women's March inside Karura forest in Kenya's capital Nairobi, January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya NYTCREDIT: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

They Did March for Me

In the photo above, demonstrators protest against U.S. President Donald Trump during the Women’s March inside Karura forest in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, January 21, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/ NYT: Thomas Mukoya, Nairobi


As we settled into bed on the Sunday night after the January 21 Global Women’s March, my husband read a post that had been shared on a family member’s Facebook page. The gist of the post was that several million women, men, and children who marched did not speak for the post’s original author, Brandi Atkinson, about whom I’ve been able to find little information.

Now, I come from a large family containing every brand of spiritual beliefs, gender preference, and political persuasion. We’re spread around the country, but manage to get together fairly regularly and, by avoiding intensely political conversations, we are generally affable and fond of one another. Yet after my husband and I turned out the lights that night, I laid awake for hours, my thoughts racing. Should I:
A. comment on the piece (which my relative had shared, not authored),
B. block this beloved relative’s future posts (which not only feels passive aggressive but runs counter to my belief in the necessity of healing our country’s dangerous red-blue rift through open respectful dialogue),
C. try to figure out why the post bothered me so much, or
D. explore the genuine feelings of someone who views our nation and our place in the world differently from me, with the aim of finding respectful dialogue.

MORE: Read this entire essay online, free, at Hypertext Magazine.


As Chicago’s crowd grew, it became apparent that actual marching was impossible. Far from being cancelled, the rallies and speeches occurred throughout every block full of marchers. Credit: CBS News Chicago


Inspiration & Tarot: Jessa Crispin talks with Chicago Review of Books

9781501120237Chicago is the lover Jessa Crispin returns to from time to time. Her new book, The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life, reminds me of my on-again/off-again affair with the Tarot years ago, which had less to do with prognostication than with diversion, a rerouting for writing projects that seemed hell-bent in unpromising directions. A fictional character I was involved with at the time had sent me to the deck for research, which led to multiple trips to NOLA’s Jackson Square and some dispiriting meetings in claustrophobic rooms entered through a curtain of beads. But that’s another story.

Crispin, founder of, tells of her own visit to a “skilled reader” who helped her re-see her life during a particularly difficult time, so that it became a story she could tell differently. She was hooked after that, not on the cards’ use as a window to the future, but as a tool for laying out the bones of story.

Indie Bound calls The Creative Tarot “a hip, accessible, and practical guide for artists and creative people looking to tarot for inspiration.” The book gets the coveted star-rating at Publishers’ Weekly, which says, “Crispin presents a persuasive case for the tarot’s usefulness to writers and artists; her many insights into the creative life as well as her dazzlingly wide array of examples throughout make this a valuable reference for readers not remotely interested in the ‘psychic arts’.”

Reading Adam Morgan’s interview with Crispin at the Chicago Review of Books was a nice way to celebrate yesterday’s publication date for Crispin’s new title. You can find the interview here: Jessa Crispin’s Creative Tarot Will Change the Way You Write

2016: 2 new events and a residency, and more to come

Near VCCA, the Cold/Cole Mountain Trail (portion of Appalachian Trail) George Washington National Forest, VA

After a five-week writing residency at Virginia Center for Creative Arts (Thank you, VCCA!) and a quiet holiday interlude, I’ll be back on the road next month.

Carnegie Center, Lexington KY

Carnegie Center, Lexington KY

February 9, Carnegie Center for the Creative Arts, Lexington KY.  I’m excited to be included in the Kentucky Great Writers Series with novelist Tania James and poet Tom Hunley. Tom is the director of Steel Toe Books Press and a professor at Western Kentucky University. Tania’s novels have been included on multiple Best of lists. Be sure to visit their websites before you come to our reading on Tuesday Feb 9 at 7:30pm. Also, if you want to join in the community reading before hand, arrive at the Carnegie Center around 6 to sign up for open mic, which begins at 6:30 (3-minute limit). A book signing follows the reading, with books available for purchase from The Morris Book Shop.

UofL Women's Basketball Team 1909, courtesy of University of Louisville Photo Archives (Ref

UofL Women’s Basketball Team 1909, courtesy of University of Louisville Photo Archives (Ref

March 5, the 10th Annual Kentucky Women’s Book Festival will take place, an all-day event at the University of Louisville, sponsored by The Women’s Center. What an honor to be presenting with so many stellar Kentucky literary women. The full schedule will be up soon, so check their website for updates.

March 27 begins a month-long residency at the Vermont Studio Center to work on my new novel. I am eternally grateful to supporters of the arts and the good people who keep these places running. The quiet environment, space, and time to devote to our work is a blessing for artists, writers, composers, etc who are fortunate enough to attend.

Speaking of novels, a limited number of 1st Edition hardcovers of Cementville are still available. In addition to the new softcover, Cementville can be downloaded as an E-Book for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple iBook formats.
Cementville400Booksellers, please consider stocking Cementville in softcover—and there are a limited number of 1st Edition HC still available too. Let me know what I can do to help your efforts to get great reads into the hands of your customers. We writers appreciate all you do on behalf of the literary community.
Book groups, perhaps the modest softcover price will encourage you to add Cementville to your reading list. I love meeting with book clubs, and have met with many around the country over the past year. Let me know if you’d like me to join you via Skype or in person if I’m in your area.
And dear readers, thank you for picking up my novel. I love hearing from you! Please tell your friends!
Purchase Cementville wherever books are sold:
Your local independent bookstore
Barnes and Noble


Christopher Rosales Chicago Release Party!

Christopher David RosalesSaturday, Sept 5, 3-5pm, at the Side Project Theatre 1439 W Jarvis AveA debut, yes. But not your ordinary debutante. My good friend and badass writer Christopher Rosales is coming to Chicago to celebrate the release of his debut novel, Silence the Bird, Silence the KeeperMixer Publishing has invited a wild-ish crew of Chicago area writers to kickoff Christopher’s new novel. Readings will be performed (or mumbled, or danced, or whatever hijinks might occur) by: Brenna KischukWeiyi KongRichard Thomas, and Adam Webster.
Oh—and me.

A Shifting Literary Light

John Rich. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux Chicago. Courtesy NewCity.

John Rich. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux Chicago. Courtesy NewCity.


I just received some bittersweet news in my email now: John Rich will be leaving his post at the Guild Literary Complex. John has been a gentle and moving force on the Chicago lit scene, bringing us years of fantastic cross-cultural programs at the Guild. The good news is that he has been hired on at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago​ as Manager of Performance Programs. So Chicago hasn’t lost him after all.

Here’s the brief bio posted earlier this year at NewCity when John was selected as one of Lit 50 2015: Who Really Books in Chicago (I’m sure I was one of many people who nominated him for the list):

“Prior to his current role at the Guild Literary Complex, John Rich founded the Chicago Book Expo, which supports local publishers, independent bookstores and authors of every genre. Working alongside Michael Puican, president of the Guild Literary Complex, Rich has helped the entity branch into various literary and artistic events throughout the city and across the nation, most recently partnering with the International Cities of Refuge Network, an organization that provides safe havens for persecuted authors and artists across the globe and creating the local programs 25 Writers to Watch and BrooksDay, an annual reading and celebration of the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks.”
(Read about the other 49 on the 2015 list at: NewCityLit)

Thank you for your work on behalf of the literary community, John, and good luck to you!

New Events Added to Cementville’s Paperback Tour

Cementville was released in paperback a few months ago, and I’m back on the road. 

In addition to the new softcover, Cementville can be downloaded as an E-Book for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple iBook formats. A limited number of 1st Edition Hardcovers are still available.

Purchase Cementville wherever books are sold:
Your local independent bookstore
Barnes and Noble

Booksellers, please consider stocking Cementville in softcover—and there are a limited number of 1st Edition HC still available too. Let me know what I can do to help your efforts to get great reads into the hands of your customers. We writers appreciate all you do on behalf of the literary community.
Book groups, perhaps the modest softcover price will encourage you to add Cementville to your reading list. I love meeting with book clubs, and have met with many around the country over the past year. Let me know if you’d like me to join you via Skype or in person if I’m in your area.
And dear readers, thank you for picking up my novel. I love hearing from you!

New events recently added to the 2015 schedule:

Tuesday, June 23, 7pm, The Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th Street, NY
Dylan Landis (Rainey Royal), Rebecca Makkai (The Hundred Year House), and Paulette Livers (Cementville) will read and talk with the audience about our novels, all released in paperback this spring. Rebecca is also celebrating a brand new story collection, Music for Wartime!

Monday, June 29, Story Studio Chicago. 4043 N. Ravenswood, #222, Chicago, IL 60613, 773.477.7710. I’ll be teaching a one-night class on the creation and uses of character backstory in fiction, an introduction to the full-session class coming this fall. Visit the Story Studio website to register.

Thursday, July 9, Squaw Valley Community of Writers Click the Squaw link to see the incredible lineup of faculty and special guests at this historic summer workshop (July 6-13). Some other Squaw alumni and I will be reading and discussing our work Thursday night at an open-to-the-public event.

Saturday, July 18, “Exploring the Writer’s Craft” at the Louisville campus of Indiana Wesleyan University. I’ll be leading a session at the fourth annual conference sponsored by Women Who Write—this day-long event is open to member and non-member women, as well as men and students.

Slice-Issue16Saturday & Sunday, Sept 12 & 13, 10-5pm. Slice Literary Writers’ ConferenceSt. Francis College, 182 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, NY. I couldn’t be more happy about being part of the 5th annual conference put on by Slice magazine.

Thursday, Sept 17Book Club meeting, Louisville, KY

September 21, 2015The Book Stall, 811 Elm Street, Winnetka IL 60093. Reading with novelist Christine Sneed, author of Paris, He Said, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct 9Prairie Path Books, 303 E Front St, Wheaton IL 60187. Reading with novelist Christine Sneed, author of Paris, He Said, 7 p.m.

Sept-Oct-Nov,  Story Studio Chicago. 4043 N. Ravenswood, #222, Chicago, IL 60613, 773.477.7710. I’ll be teaching a workshop on the creation and uses of character backstory in fiction.

Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016Kentucky Great Writers SeriesThe Carnegie Center, 251 W. Second Street, Lexington, KY 40507. Reading with novelist Gwyn Hyman Rubio, author of Love & Other Ordinary Creatures.

Author Night at the Book Cellar Chicago

BookCellarButtonsMay 20, 7pm I’ll be part of a diverse trio of writers — and we hope you will be there — for an evening of conversation, sipping, and reading at one of Chicago’s favorite venues, the Book Cellar. If you’ll be in the area, please come. The Book Cellar has a cafe atmosphere: in addition to books, you can also purchase wine, beer, coffee, and lovely treats.

 Jennifer Jordan is the author of Edible Memory, examines the ways that people around the world have sought to identify and preserve old-fashioned varieties of produce. Jordan interviews farmers who are devoted to restoring heirloom fruits and vegetables and offers a powerful retelling of our many historical connections with these foods, from the heirloom tomato (now ubiquitous with the farm to table movement) to antique apples; changing tastes in turnips and related foods like kale and parsnips; and the poignant, perishable world of stone and tropical fruit. Along the way she reveals the connections—the edible memories—these heirlooms offer for farmers, gardeners, chefs, diners, and home cooks. She is associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Angela Doll Carson is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in Burnside Writer’s Collective, Image Journal’s Good Letters, St Katherine Review, Rock & Sling Journal, Ruminate Magazine’s blog, Elephant Journal and Art House America. You can also find her writing online at If you enjoy the writing of Anne Lamott, check out her newly released memoir: Nearly Orthodox: On being a modern woman in an ancient tradition. From Catholic schoolgirl to punk rocker to emergent church planter, Angela Doll Carlson traveled a spiritual path that in many ways mirrors that of a whole generation. She takes us with her on a deep and revealing exploration of the forces that drove her toward Orthodoxy and the challenges that long kept her from fully entering in.