04 May 2016

Spying on Chicago, for a Good Cause

by Robert Lopresti

Take a look at the photograph on the right.  Notice the store I am standing in front of?  Or of which I am standing in front?  Boy, was that awkward.

Okay.  Last month I visited Chicago and wandered, not for the first time, into the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Company.  You are probably thinking that it is a spy shop, selling listening devices, cameras smaller than a grain of rice, and the like.  You are, of course, wrong.

As the employees confidentially explain to each newcomer: the store is a front.  It is secretly the headquarters for 826CHI, "a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write." So anything you buy in the shop (mostly writing-related material) supports the real work of the organization, which is encouraging kids to write.  Pretty cool, huh?

There are actually seven 826 branches promoting writing in different cities, and each has its own cunning disguise.  For example, in San Francisco 826 Valencia hides behind the Pirate Supply Store.  Clearly these people take kids seriously, but not themselves.

Among the merchandise for sale in the Secret Agent Supply Shop is a small selection of books, including the works of novelist Dave Eggers, which is fair because he is one of the two founders of the organization.  More power to him.

But I was more interested in another book I saw there.  I picked it up and told the enthusiastic salesperson "I have a story coming out in the 2016 edition!"

"Really?  That's great!"

Out of Print Clothing Company
"Yup, and the same story has been selected for the Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror collection."

"Oh, now you're just bragging."

"Damn straight," I said.  "I've been writing for forty years and this is my first best-of appearance.  Of course I'm going to brag about it."  Which, you may notice, I just did.

Of course, I had to buy something and I did.  See the photo.

Next time you are in Chicago I recommend you drop by.  You don't even need a secret password.

9 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

You look like a Secret Agent Man in that pic, Rob. Patrick McGoohan incognito. That aside, the shop sounds like a great idea.

janice law said...

A big double of selections!
Congratulations!

Eve Fisher said...

Love the shop, love the cup, and love the BSP - keep it up, you've earned it!

Barb Goffman said...

How cool. Love the secret agent stuff being a front. And congratulations again on the story, Rob. Most excellent news!

John Floyd said...

Sounds like a great store!

Congrats on your Best Am. Myst. Stories selection! Well deserved.

Robert Lopresti said...

Someone asked where to get the coffee cup. Click on the company name under the picture. Or contact 826!

Herschel Cozine said...

Rob, I can say without question that I have never bragged about my writing because I have never had an occasion to do so. Congratulations on the BAM 2016. If something like that happens to me you will see it posted in lights at Times Square.

Liked the blog BTW.

Leigh Lundin said...

That is indeed a good cause, Rob. And congratulations on your story (and the journey).

Dixon Hill said...

Congratulations, buddy! That's fantastic news!