Best of Literate Ape 2018 | Don Hall Dies & Other High Points
Sometime before dawn on August 24, 2016, I wrote Don Hall an email. The subject was, “The Fate of Creativity, the Need for True Journalistic or Gritty Commentary, The Focus of Far too Much Anger.” It was 956 words long and it was glorious. That is, if you will define glorious as the controlled rantings of a wily madman hopped up on early morning java and amphetamines. It was my pitch to him that we partner up and do some kind of literary, artful thing. I asked him out for a beer so we could discuss the idea.
Long story short, that’s how we got to the Literate Ape you see today. Fiction, poetry, commentary, quips, events, podcasts, a stable of thoughtful, talented, funny writers. And sometimes, enough money in the bank to pay those writers. We’ve come a ways and we’re not even close to where we want to be, but by golly, we’re sure as fuck getting there. These things take time. And while considering time…
2018 was a good year for The Ape. As Hall and I bait the internet for search results, we’re offering up our year-in-review, Best of The Ape. He has his opinions and I have mine. And if they differ, well, that’s what oftentimes makes us a great team.
David Himmel’s Best of The Ape 2018
My favorite moment this year was when I killed off Don Hall. It was true fiction based on fact that never occurred because I believe that what I wrote is exactly how Hall could have died and one day should die. Raging out over rage profiteering seems likely, and it was an accidental metaphor for precisely what’s wrong with a small, but noisy corner of our modern culture. Furthermore, it was our second most-read piece of the year — just 40 views shy of Bill Arnett’s Breaking Down the 2nd Amendment. It’s not that I want Hall to die, rather, I’d love the guy to live forever, but I know that this April Fool’s post gave many in that small, but noisy corner hope that their enemy had been vanquished. And that it wasn’t true, that they took the bait still makes me smile. Granted, there were those who did not like this post. His wife, Dana Jerman, for one. Bill Kurtis and Donna LaPietra were annoyed with me. But come on… I had him shit himself: “The apartment stunk. It stunk bad. Like hot milk and scorched opossum innards. Don had shit his pants.” That’s funny. I don’t care how heartbreaking Hall’s demise will be. Poop in pants is always funny.
This was an experiment. Get eight of our writers to collaborate on a short story, each writer adding their own spin in flash fiction form. The individual submissions on their own are fun to read, and the larger, completed piece is equally as interesting. As the editor, I had a few moments wondering how the next piece would keep everything connected, but that was one main reason for doing this at all. We wanted to scratch our heads and wonder where it was going. So much writing out there is expected and safe. Love Curse, and its parts, is not going to change the way fiction is written or read, but at least it offers hard turns on gravely roads that still get us to our destination. Best of all, it allowed our writers to work together for the greater good of Literate Ape — the shrewdness united in one goal with many different points of view and voices. I think it’s a good example of what America ought to be more like.
Kari Castor’s disquisition against the straw ban was beautiful. As the debate over whether keeping plastic straws would kill us or if banishing them from eateries everywhere would save us raged on, Castor jumped in with a piece of journalism that was well-researched, persuasive and entertaining. And of course, it was riddled with that wonderful Castor wit we’ve come to love so dearly here at The Ape. In this story, Castor does more than just destroy the take that a straw ban is sensical or beneficial in any real way; she brings down the all-too common school of thought that popping zits will cure your acne. Little bricks build a big house, yes, but sometimes, thinking too small is just naval-gazing. The piece comes with a long headline, which is not good for click bait or search results, but that’s not how we do things here. Although, maybe we should have used the four stand-alone words Castor used in the third paragraph as the headline: “Fuck your straw ban.” It says exactly what it needs to on a variety of levels and it is perfectly and gracefully Kari Castor.
Another piece I’m proud of with another long headline. I don’t choose this because I wrote it. I choose it because the story it tells is a good story. It’s one of true grit — the kind Chicagoans ubiquitously pound their chests about, the kind Carl Sandburg and Mike Royko and Studs Terkel wrote about. Reporting on Cassie Krepel’s story made way for Literate Ape to reach a new audience thanks to Krepel’s sharing of the story, which is important if this thing is going to thrive. And, I hope, it helped Chicago meet this neighborhood workhorse and drive some business to Krepel’s Little Broken Things studio. I’m now a dedicated customer. She cuts good hair and the place is exactly what you want in a neighborhood business: down-to-earth, friendly and interesting. Plus, Krepel digs The Ape and supports us by reading our stuff, promoting our writers’ books and attending events — how about that! After leaving the initial interview at LBT with Jerman, I said to her, “Little Broken Things is like Literate Ape — if Literate Ape did hair and had a storefront.” It’s cool to have a friend in town.
Letters to Harrison Himmel
Whenever writers of The Ape are together, I feel good about what we’re doing. Whether it’s with collaborative projects or at our events like BUGHOUSE!, herding the writers into a room to meet each other and participate in literary shenanigans is ultimately the thing that keeps me from calling up Hall and saying, “Fuck it. This is stupid.” I like our little community and I like how it’s growing and I like how, as time goes on, we’re all going to become more invested in each other’s success and the collective success of The Ape. But as it relates to our personal successes, I can find no better example than when Hall and Brian Sweeney — completely exclusive from one another — offered up advice to my son shortly after he was born. If anyone on this planet is ever going to make the most of their time here, they need good people. They need to feel loved and looked after and know there are people who have their back. And this is how they learn to love and be kind. My son has that. When I read Hall’s A Few Pieces of Unsolicited Advice to Young Prince Harry Himmel, I got misty-eyed. The same thing happened when I read Sweeney’s Advice and Wisdom to Baby Himmel. Not only did these two pieces reveal that Harry already had a support system outside of his bloodline, but it also revealed that the two writers knew and understood Harry’s parents. Things like this make all the difference in a person’s life. And with advice from Sweeney like, “Ghosts are real. The ghosts of your ancestors are around you at all times and they watch you changing clothes and they jack off. They watch you go to the bathroom and they jack off. When you sleep, they watch you and jack off. When you wake up in the morning and have crust in your eyes, that's the ghost cum of your ancestors,” and Hall’s “If you only have one thing you are passionate about and talk about and write about, don't get upset when people stop inviting you over for ‘game night’,” I know my kid is going to be A-OK.
Bonus — American Shithole by Eric Wilson
Eric Wilson’s writing reminds me of that of Hunter S. Thompson. It’s insightful and funny without being jokey. I read Wilson, and like when I read Thompson, I am inspired to be a better writer. Wilson is ripe with rage but manages to hone it into prose that is smooth yet cutting. Beyond that, I appreciate the guy. He’s a new friend I haven’t met in-person yet, and he’s already managed to find his way into the acknowledgments of my latest book.
There you go. This co-editor’s picks for what made another year of Literate Ape worthwhile. Of course, I’m proud of everything we publish and I hope you’ll keep reading, spreading the word and enjoying what we’re all doing here. And to the Apes who dump their brains and hearts and guts out on the keyboards, thank you. All of you. Even if you didn’t make the list this year, none of this shit we’re flinging matters without you.