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Chris Green and Other Chicago Poets Celebrate and Discuss American Gun on Friday, November 20th, at 6:00 P.M.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

By Kelci Dean


Friday, November 20 at 6:30 p.m. Big Shoulders Books will be hosting an official launch party for their recently published poem American Gun. No registration is necessary; the event will be held online over Zoom meetings. The Zoom link and meeting ID can be found at the bottom of the blog, and more specific details on the party will be discussed throughout the blog.


Chris Green mentions during an interview with Donald G. Evans published in Another Chicago Magazine, “Before the pandemic, it was really the epidemic of gun violence across the country that had my attention.” Like many other widespread issues in America, awareness of youth violence faded with the onset of the health pandemic. But even with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, violence in Chicago persists. Even more so than before. On average Chicago has had a 37% increase in murders compared with 2019. Though the health pandemic persists, we are now able to refocus on other vital issues impacting our community once again.

American Gun (Big Shoulders Books 2020) is a 100-stanza pantoum poem written by a collaboration of 100 Chicago poets on the topic of gun violence, especially in Chicago’s South and West Side neighborhoods. American Gun has been affected by the pandemic, like many books launching during the quarantine season. The poem was ready for release in May, and half a year later we’re now able to celebrate its publication. The American Gun launch party will take place on Friday, November 20 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. It will be held virtually over Zoom to comply with social distancing, a change to which many in the literary community are adjusting. It has been a challenge to maintain awareness for literary and social justice through online platforms. “Because of COVID, people are reliant on the internet for work, school, and entertainment. We spend all day looking at screens. The challenge is not only finding something that would get their attention but maintain it,” says Andrea Change, Executive Director of The Guild Complex, a co-sponsor of the launch.

The launch party is hosted by the publisher Big Shoulders Books, a press run out of DePaul University’s English department, whose mission is to create a space for Chicago voices that have more difficulty being heard. Big Shoulders Books gives away all their titles for free, American Gun included. You can order a physical or digital copy of the poem to read before the event on Big Shoulders Books’ website. Like Big Shoulders Books’ previous book launches, there will still be opportunities for engagement and discussion from the attendees. The American Gun launch party will have an assemblage of important voices in the Chicago literary community sharing their insight on the poem, and the significance of its message.

Evans the founding executive editor of Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, co-sponsor alongside The Guild Complex, kicks off the event with a word; publisher and editor Green, who has dedicated much of his career to raising awareness of youth violence, follows. There will be a viewing of American Gun’s book trailer; a video of 10 actors each reading 10 stanzas from the poem. Change will then moderate the panel discussion that includes five contributing poets to American Gun: Green, Julie Parson Nesbitt, Brenda Cardenas, Jacob Saenz, and Nile Lansana.

Green is an editor, professor of English at DePaul University, and poet of Everywhere West (Mayapple Press, 2019) and three other poetry collections. He is the poet fittingly responsible for the first stanza of the poem, as well as the editor who set the project in motion.  Green has lived in Chicago for 20 years now. “I love the city’s lyrical side, but this love comes at a steep price. The violence on the South and West Sides is madness. The norm is madness.”

The rest of the panel includes:

  • Julie Parson Nesbitt: A lifelong Chicagoan, an editor, and a poet. Nesbitt authored the collection Finders (West End Press 1996), wrote the poem’s 43rd stanza. “Her poetry often comes out of Chicago streets and experiences.''
  • Brenda Cardenas, also a poet and editor, contributed to the 50th stanza of the poem. Cardenas authored poetry collections Boomerang (Bilingual Review Press, 2009), and From the Tongues of Brick and Stone (Momotombo Press, 2005). Her poems are known to blend English and Spanish. She currently lives in Milwaukee teaching Creative Writing and Latinx Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee but lived in Chicago for eight years working as the Youth Initiatives Coordinator at the National Museum of Mexican Art.
  • Jacob Saenz, born in Chicago and raised in Cicero, wrote the 57th stanza. He is the author of Throwing the Crown, (Copper Canyon Press, 2018) set in a Chicago neighborhood dominated by gang life; the book was awarded the 2018 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize.
  • Lastly, Nile Lansana: Responsible for the 65th stanza, is a young poet and journalist from the South Side of Chicago currently double majoring in Journalism and Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work centers around empowering young voices and the narratives of the people and principles he holds dear, many of them coming from his Chicago upbringing.

This event will be filled with talented and prominent voices in the Chicago literary community, each with unique experiences and perspectives on Chicago, its violence, and its poetry. In preparation for the launch, do not forget anyone can claim a free copy of the American Gun on Big Shoulders Books’ website. The poem takes advantage of the space Big Shoulders Books created, sharing the real voices and emotions affected by violence in a way only poetry can deliver.

Big Shoulder’s Books will host the American Gun launch party on November 20, 2020, from 6:00-7:30 CST over Zoom Meetings. The Zoom link, meeting ID, and passcode are listed below:

Link (Via Zoom): ZOEpjK29QcXpFcER4cHRxaWlmQT09

Kelci Dean is a soon-to-be English Literature graduate at DePaul University. She has recently completed an internship with The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and has also interned at MAKE Literature Productions and Propeller Collective.

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