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Once upon a time...

An Evening of Modern Fairy Tales
Thursday, April 7; 6:00 pm
Harold Washington Library Center
FREE event! Click here to reserve seats for the program.

“Once upon a time…” It’s with such simplicity that so many satisfying stories begin; a line at once expected and unfailingly seductive. For many of us, fairy tales are the foundation of our reading lives, following the archetypal characters (read: innocent young beauty tortured by evil stepmother miraculously rescued by handsome prince…) who wrestle with good and evil is an exquisite literary pleasure that rarely diminishes with age.

Kate Bernheimer's Horse, Flower, Bird from Coffee House Press

Kate Bernheimer is one writer for whom fairy tales are an ongoing obsession. The founder of The Fairy Tale Review, author of Horse, Flower, Bird, a collection of contemporary fairy tales, and the editor of the critically acclaimed (and tantalizingly titled) My Mother She Killed Me; My Father He Ate Me, Bernheimer is an eloquent and incredibly passionate advocate for the fairy tale.  Her own work in Horse, Flower, Bird  abandons Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs in favor of edgier, original, and darker fairy tales that hint at contemporary horrors. Kirkus Reviews puts it succinctly as, “quietly unhinged narratives by an author who reinvents the fairy tale with her postmodern approach.”

Bernheimer, then, is the ideal host for an Evening of Modern Fairy Tales. Her scholarly perspective and tremendous creative work in the field will shape an hour of storytelling and conversation. She will be joined by her longtime friend, the award-winning novelist Lydia Millet. Millet, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is also enamored with fairy tales. “I grew up on them, as many of us do, and because of it have always been in the thrall of the dark, the magical and the unspeakable. I love their subversiveness and their infinite relevance--they never become dated.” Her work, like Bernheimer’s, takes on the almost-unimaginable in our times. In Oh Pure and Radiant Heart she creates a world in which the scientists behind the atomic bomb populate present-day New Mexico. It’s a brave, provocative, and wholly original proposition.

Lydia Millet's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Bernheimer and Millet aren’t the only writers who are fascinated with fairy tales. Chicago’s own Green Lantern Press ( will be publishing a new fairy tale this spring. Written by Erica Adams, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009, The Mutation of Fortune, is spare and beautiful, and plays with the familiar fairy tale form. 


Erica Adams's, The Mutation of Fortune, forthcoming from Chicago's Green Lantern Press. 

Caroline Picard, the founder and senior editor for Green Lantern, shared some thoughts, both writerly and editorially, about the continued relevance of fairy tales and why she is excited be publishing this new work.To me, the fairy tale offers an intersection between good storytelling and delight…(and have always had) such dynamic histories. Originally they were oral, of course. And originally they conveyed knowledge about life—about marriage, etc. Many of those fairy tales have continued to shift, and in the space of our contemporary culture, reduced the role of women to one specific occupation: waiting for the prince. What I love about Erica's book is that while using the same archetypal voice, her focus is on something else entirely—Erica's stories describe an often violent struggle through different hierarchical scenarios.”

And what of artists who are making some beloved fairy tales new again? Illustrator and silkscreen artist Sanya Glisic, who was a Resident Artist at Chicago’s Spudnik Press this past autumn, shared her amazingly lush and vivid illustrations of Struwwelpeter, a collection of German fairy tales originally published in 1844, with an audience at Quimby’s Bookstore in early February.

An illustration from the preamble of illustrator Sanya Glisic's 2011 edition of Struwwelpeter

Glisic, who was kind enough to send us a few images from her book, wrote to me about her creative inspiration, "There’s a strong folkloric tradition in Eastern Europe, and I grew up with my grandmothers reading old stories and folk tales. I loved hearing them read these stories, especially the darker ones, such as Brothers Grimm tales…Part of me always remained very attracted to the fantastical and grotesque aspects of folk tales, as well as the dark humor, the absurd. When I came across Der Struwwelpeter, I just fell in love with the characters and the playful, morbid mood of the book. As an illustrator, it's exciting to think about how to depict these stories in my own way. What I love about stories like these is that they're not necessarily for children today, but that they occupy that space where the children's and adults' worlds overlap. I am very interested in working in that space, as I think we tend to carry our childhood with us throughout our adult lives.”

Another print from Glisic's book

Meanwhile, Hollywood is equally smitten with fairy tales, offering glitzy takes on Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White (Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen is a classic move in playing against type!), Beauty and the Beast, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few that are slated for release during the coming year.

Whether revisiting a favorite fairy tale or entertaining a new one, CHF’s Evening of Modern Fairy Tales will certainly provide readers with a happily (albeit slightly unsettling) ever after…

An Evening of Modern Fairy Tales is presented in partnership with the Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago program, and is a part of a slate of activities honoring the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman (a former CHF presenter and a contributor to Bernheimer’s My Mother She Killed Me; My Father He Ate Me anthology).

Click here to reserve seats for the program.

Tags: fairy tales, Kate Bernheimer, Lydia Millet, Green Lantern Press, Erica Adams, Sanya Glisic, Spudnik Press

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