This review of Once I Was Cool at Literary Chicago is my entire heart.

“I felt like, for the first time, I had this window into the interiority of Shaelene’s mind during those early months after our baby was born. After reading ‘Channel B,’ after being moved by it emotionally, I felt like I could empathize with her. Story—when done well—grants us the power of empathy. I gave it to Shaelene to read. I know it would make a better story if I had been there when she read the essay, but this isn’t fiction, and I wasn’t. I was working. She also cried. More than once. She told me after: ‘That was me. Step by step. I was there. That was me.’”

I was lucky enough to work with Scott Eagan at Columbia College, and he wrote an essay about what it was like for him, as a new dad; what it felt like when the woman that he loved was going through something like this. He read it aloud in class and I lost it. I melted down. In a good way. I melted, maybe. His writing allowed me to empathize more with Christopher. It’s this big, complicated, difficult, perfect back-and-forth of sharing and understanding and challenging and explaining, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

As a preview to the 2014 Children’s Read & Write Program, Printer’s Row asked some Chicago writers about their favorite character from childhood books. Per usual, I was not able to narrow it down to one, but I tried to show restraint and only talked about three

The Chicagoist on Once I Was Cool (Ekphrasis!!): “That is Stielstra’s talent: her ability to create experiences. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen her perform her work live before, but every narrative seemed to pick itself up off the page and turn itself into a performance before my eyes. The numerous asides, amendments, and annotations, force the reader to see and hear her work, not just read it. Ekphrasis (visual description) at its best, there is no contemporary author more vivid in description that Megan Stielstra.”


#20 For years Megan Stielstra has been injecting the Chicago lit scene with a pizzazz that belies an incredible emotional power. She’s a founder of the venerable 2nd Story reading series and a frequent topnotch reader at live lit events all over town—one of which saw her opening for The Jesus Lizard. Her students at Columbia College and the University of Chicago know her as a warm yet dogged teacher who cares about more than what they put on the page. But Stielstra’s been invading the page in a big way with a piece in the “Best American Essays 2013,” and of course, her full-length essay collection, “Once I Was Cool,” recently out from local press Curbside Splendor. This Time Out Chicago review of her short story collection, “Everyone Remain Calm,” says it all about Stielstra: “Her work possesses a rare aural quality, no doubt the result of so much time on stage, or even in front of a classroom.” The Rumpus editor Gina Frangello adds, “Her voice is so palpable, so immediate and vibrantly alive, it feels as though she’s standing right in front of you.”