National Pizza Day: Agate reflects


It’s been nearly two years since we celebrated the release of Passion for Pizza: A Journey Through Thick and Thin to Find the Pizza Elite. At the time, we solicited staff opinions on the dish as part of a modest series of reflections by Agate staff on the topics of new Agate releases; much has changed since then. We have a new president. Beyoncé is having twins. The Cubs won the World Series. We published 48 more books. We have better pictures of Pluto than ever before. Amid all this change, one thing remains largely the same: pizza. We still have pizza, and it is still very good. Let’s look back on these opinions and celebrate our differences, for it is our differences that make us great. No matter our preferred styles—be it deep dish, be it thin crust, be it personal pan—we must remember that we are united in a common goal: to eat some more pizza, and hopefully, to eat it soon. 

With that, here are Agate’s reflections on pizza from March 2015:

--"I make my own, usually, with my own pasta sauce as the base, dough made from a blend of mostly atta but also bread flour, and with buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and either pulled pork (if we have any left over from a previous meal) or prosciutto as the toppings. The only brand of frozen pizza I buy is Paul Newman. The extra thin multigrain crust is excellent; our favorite is the margherita. If we eat pizza out, it's always Giordano's stuffed with spinach. It's not really pizza, per se, but it's the best."

--"Oh, you know I'm a pizza curmudgeon. I could spout off about this topic in my sleep. Even after 10 years of Midwest living, I flinch whenever "deep dish" and "pizza" are used together. Deep dish is not pizza. It is casserole. And don't even get me started on how they cut thin-crust pizza here into squares. [I like a] thin, floury crust that's crispy outside and soft inside—the idea is that it should provide a solid base yet be receptive to being folded in half, lengthwise. Tangy sauce, but not too much of it. Enough mozzarella to cover it but not so much that it's a gooey mess. Cut into slices. Heaven. All-time faves are Joe's in NYC and Salvatore's in Allentown, PA."

--"Deep dish all around. My fav? Lou Malnati’s—butter crust, sausage pieces (NO wheel please), and pepperoni. On the other hand, one pizza lover in this house favors Gino’s East, wheel/patty of sausage and extra sauce, while the other prefers a classic Giordano’s deep with cheese only. We have been known to bring back one of each from Chicago on many occasions. Thank god for the half-baked option."

--"My favorite pizza includes margherita toppings on sourdough thin crust, cooked in a brick oven. I prefer pizza that doesn't use any canned tomatoes and includes only the freshest basil—tons of it! After living in Europe, and in Chicago where deep-dish reigns supreme, I've come to find the simplest pizzas with the freshest ingredients are the best. My favorite pizza restaurant has to be, hands down, Biga Pizza in Missoula, MT. The pizzas are seasonal and the specials change regularly. Each pizza is made fresh to order and once they run out, they're out! The place is small and always has a line."

--"For years, probably into my early thirties, I would have told you that the best meal I ever ate was a large slice of pepperoni pizza washed down with a Dr. Pepper, which was presented to me one summer evening when I was ten years old and which I consumed outdoors. The town I grew up in on the East Coast didn’t have terrific pizza, but I certainly consumed lots of it, especially after late nights out with my friends. After moving to Chicago, I embraced deep-dish and stuffed pizza—I believe there’s good pizza and the other kind, to paraphrase Duke Ellington’s judgment regarding music. There’s great thin-crust, deep-dish, neo-Neopolitan, cracker-crust pizza all over, but unfortunately there’s also plenty of terrible renditions of same. I believe that it’s important to understand pizza as bread with stuff on top of it. Whatever kind of crust you’re using, if it’s not good, it’s hard for the pizza to overcome that. Favorites: Lou Malnati's for deep dish, John's on Bleecker for the traditional."

--"To me, a pizza can be thin crust or thick (or deep dish, which I also love), but it's not pizza without mushrooms. There is just something about the flavor and texture of high-heat-roasted mushrooms that makes pizza, well, pizza to me. My favorite deep dish is Gino's East, but that's probably simply because that was my first, real Chicago deep-dish pizza. I still love deep dish, and my favorite is mushroom, spinach, tomato and garlic from Lou Malnati's. After going vegetarian in the late '90s, and for a while, dairy-free, I've also branched out into more non-traditional pizza. One of my favorites is the super-thin crust pizza at Bluestone in Evanston, with pesto, goat cheese, mushrooms (of course), garlic, and basil. I once asked how they got their crusts so thin and crispy, and it turns out they use flour tortillas instead of pizza dough! It changed how I make pizza at home forever. If I want thin crust, I've found the best way to cook it at home is to use flour tortillas, brushed with some olive oil, tossed on the grill until they are firm and crispy. Then top with whatever you want and grill again to warm the toppings through. It's amazing (and SO easy)." 

--"I make my own pizza on a fairly regular basis using a variety of ingredients: San Marzano tomatoes, sweet Italian turkey sausage, fresh baby bella mushrooms, provolone, and mozzarella cooked in the oven is the standby for me. I go for a white pizza with a mushroom bechamel sauce, fresh mushrooms from the farmer's market, white truffle oil, and parmesan cheese cooked on my grill when I am feeling ambitious or when it is a nice day. The grill imparts an amazing smoky flavor to the bechamel sauce and a nice crispy crust. I tend to seek out authentic Neapolitan pizza or Chicago-style deep dish when I go out, but nothing beats the pizza of my childhood. Someguy's Pizza in Indianapolis, IN has my favorite pizza of all time. It is cooked in a wood-fired oven and uses the best mix of cheeses that I have ever tasted on a pizza. I always go for my standard (some would call it boring) childhood pizza consisting only of the fresh wood-oven cooked sausage and cheese. It immediately sends me back to my childhood every time I visit and take a bite. I tend to eat my pizza in a fairly non-traditional way. I typically cut the crust off of the pizza first and eat it before I start on the main portion of the pizza slice. I think this goes back to my childhood mantra of 'always saving the best for last.'" 

--"Pizza is best when it's circular, simple, and spinached. Its procurement should spring from spontaneous circumstances dictating the need for unassuming and filling sustenance—pizza should never be a planned meal. Its consumption should be effected—always—with the cutlery that distinguishes gentleperson from oaf."

--"This may be shocking, but as a child I didn't like pizza. I thought it was greasy and rubbery, and pepperoni weirded me out. That and pizza's association with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who scared me at the time, combined to create an impression of it being a non-food. Then my family got into grilling pizza outdoors during the summer on the barbecue. My dad was into buying fresh dough (pulled into random shapes—not circular) and using fresh garlic and tomato slices instead of canned sauce. It was SO GOOD--super smokey and melty. And thus, I became a pizza snob."

--"I have many fond childhood memories of celebrating my birthday at Chuck E. Cheese's, hopped up on pizza and video games. My tastes became more refined with age, and as a family we began ordering from purveyors by the names of Edwardo and Malnati. Of all my favorite pizzas, however, I think the one with which I have the most deep-seated personal connection is of the frozen variety. There are few things that remind me more of home, or of late nights spent hanging out with my brother, than popping a Home Run Inn "froze peez" into the oven. My brother and I have been accused by friends of having an unhealthy loyalty to this Chicago brand, an accusation that reliably spurs heated knee-jerk defenses from both of us. Several years ago, my mother thought she would be creating a warm family memory by taking her sons to the original Home Run Inn pizzeria on 31st Street before a White Sox game. Though the pizza was satisfactory, the consensus was that it did not compare to the kind in the grocery aisle that came in the box. Maybe with its ubiquity and variety across the country, pizza has as much to do with sense memory as it does taste. It's a food as much about where you are and who you're with as it is about shape, style, and toppings." 

--"Who am I to say what is and is not good pizza? Who died and left me in charge? No one. How I feel is this: All pizza = good pizza and any pizza > no pizza. Would you rather eat a piece of pizza out of the garbage, or nothing? The pizza one. To burn the roof of my mouth on a piping hot piece of pizza is to live. So seize the day, I say. Embrace the pizza—all pizza. I can't change the direction of the wind, but can I adjust my sails to reach my destination? You bet. And my destination? It's that piece of pizza over there. It's on the floor, sure, but it looks good, and will I eat it? I will."

Eight Years After Racism Ended

The celebrated Leonard Pitts, Jr., longtime Agate author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, has offered us this brief essay about how Grant Park, his 2015 novel recently released in paperbackbears on the end of the Obama Presidency and what looms ahead.

My novel Grant Park ends with a beginning.

The narrative of race, rage, and recrimination has reached its denouement. The characters have contended with kidnapping, assassination, and long-lost love and have met their respective fates. And then, they find themselves faced with the astonishing fact that Barack Obama has won the election of 2008, ushering in a presidency that, in the eyes of one character, will pave the way for a new America, transformed and post-racial.

“All that old racial stuff,” he says, “we’re moving past that. “These next four years, you’ll see. It'll be different from now on. We just elected a black president. You can't tell me that doesn't mean people are finally getting over all this stuff.”

I hope the average reader found that speech as sweetly naïve as I meant it to be. I hope it made her ponder America’s stubborn insistence upon deluding itself where racism is involved, its determination to believe this cancer of the human spirit can be excised in some singular, dramatic moment of progress after which we can finally declare ourselves well.

It doesn't work that way, of course. It never has.

“I'm an old cat,” the historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. told me not long after Obama’s inauguration. By which he meant that he's seen this before.

“In assessing the Magic Obama phenomena,'' said Bennett, who was born in 1928, “I think we've got to remember the [other] times history turned on a dime and racism was solved forever. This is not the first time. Can we make that clear to people? This is not the first time the race problem has `ended' in America.''

He's right, of course. As Bennett reminded me, it first ended in 1865 when the slaves were set free. It ended in 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, and in 1870 when the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified.  It ended in 1954, when the Supreme Court shot down “separate but equal” schools. It ended in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. It ended again the next year with the Voting Rights Act.

And it ended on that Tuesday in November of 2008 when the son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan became the president-elect of the United States.

Except, obviously, that it did not.

If that was a painfully self-evident truth when Grant Park was released in 2015 after years of racially-charged invective aimed at Obama and his family, it is even more so as the nation prepares for Obama’s successor.

The new president brings to office a record you would think only a Klansman could love: he’s been sued twice by the federal government for housing discrimination; he once objected to the hiring of a black accountant, saying he wanted only “short guys that wear yarmulkes” counting his money; he has called laziness “a trait in blacks;” he continues to insist upon the guilt of five black and brown men wrongly convicted in the Central Park jogger rape case even after DNA testing long ago proved their innocence; he spent years seeking to delegitimize President Obama by questioning whether he was born in this country; he described undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers; he declared a U.S.-born judge unfit to preside over a case because of his Mexican heritage; he re-tweeted racist and anti-Semitic graphics from white supremacist organizations.

And yet, 62,979,879 American voters saw no reason any of that should bar him from the White House. Some percentage of that total doubtless represents people like the white meth-head who is one of my villains, people whose futures have always been circumscribed by their own poverty and ignorance, but who now find themselves having to live with the added indignity of seeing their perceived inferiors—like Obama—climb to unprecedented new heights. But what is more troubling are the millions of Americans who don’t fit that easy caricature, those with some education, some money in the bank, some hope for the future, who nevertheless voted for this guy, self-defined “good” people who saw his bigoted behaviors, yet were not offended enough to deny him their support.

Taken together, it all represents a repudiation of racial amity to a degree and with a force that would have seemed unthinkable that night when Barack Obama stood before a rainbow coalition in Grant Park and declared that, “Change has come to America.” One is reminded once again to be wary of moments when racism “ends” in a sudden thunderclap of progress.

And I keep thinking of my poor character, banged up both physically and emotionally by all the tortures I have put him through, yet still leaning toward the belief that this time, finally, we have gotten it right. The reader, knowing the things that came afterward—“You lie!” and “subhuman mongrel” and the birther movement—is supposed to find that character’s certainty bittersweet.

But this week, the nation's first African-American president will be succeeded by a white supremacist. And it strikes me that this moment in my novel was more bittersweet than even I could have known.

Agate Round-Up: News, Reviews, and More About Titles New and Old


It's All in the Timing and its author, Gail Monaghan, were featured in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Two recipes were included, as well as some extra-helpful tips for making a perfectly timed meal.




1,001 Best Hot and Spicy Recipes by Dave DeWitt was reviewed in the Wisconsin Bookwatch, a monthly book review magazine published by the Midwest Book Review for librarians, booksellers, and the reading public. The piece gives some background on DeWitt, aka "the Pope of Peppers," and called the book “the most comprehensive and exhaustive culinary resource for planning memorable meals of hot and spicy dishes.”


Anupy Singla was part of an article in Natural Awakenings Chicago about plant-based dishes for holiday meals. The featured recipes included vegetable-based dishes from her cookbooks Indian for Everyone and Vegan Indian Cooking .




TalkMediaNews wrote an article about Leonard Pitts Jr.’s discussion of the 2016 presidential election. It included quotes from a column he’d written on the topic, as well as mentioning his novel, Grant Park, which was recently chosen as the One Book, One Community selection for Richland County, South Carolina. Free Times, a daily newspaper serving the Columbia, SC, community said in a feature  "Grant Park is a great selection. . . . Pitts is a familiar name who has a reputation for writing thoughtfully in a plainspoken style, making his writing widely accessible even as he tackles fraught topics with complexity and imagination”



Yvonne Maffei and her cookbook My Halal Kitchen were mentioned in an interesting essay published by Epicurious that discussed the ways in which food can be political. The writer also linked to an earlier interview she had done with Maffei on the site 



How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, by Kiese Laymon was included in a list of books that authors are thankful for on Bookish. It was chosen by Elizabeth Crane, the author of The History of Great Things

Opportunity Knocking and Trump

In the weeks since Donald Trump's surprise victory in the presidential election, the world has questioned what is to come. Americans, regardless of political leaning, wonder what sort of leader the new president elect will be. Considering that he has no political experience, has provided little transparency for how he conducts his business, and has flip-flopped on many issues after the election and during his campaign, no one seems to know the answer. Perhaps looking back at some of the philosophies that shaped the PEOTUS's approach to business will shed some light on the issue. Mr. Trump called Opportunity Knocking: Lessons from Business Leaders by Lori Ann LaRocco, published by Agate B2 Books in 2014, “a must-read filled with big ideas from some of the best in business.” He went on to say “LaRocco breaks down the steps to achieving success with a unique and actionable strategy. Compelling.” Can the business strategies housed within LaRocco's book give us a primer for what to expect starting January 20, 2017? Anything is possible.

Cyber Monday

Yesterday—which was, of course, Cyber Monday—I learned that the first item ever sold on Amazon, and one of the first ever items ever sold on the Internet, was a book! This really shouldn’t have been surprised me as much as it did, considering that around 806 million books were sold online in 2015, and that Amazon largely built its diverse online retail business on the foundation of bookselling. The Atlantic has a fascinating look at the actual copy of the book, a hardback edition of Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter. The man who purchased it, John Wainwright, even kept the original packing slip! Agate sells a fair amount of books online, of course, either through sites like Amazon, or through our own website. One important feature of our online business is that we produce eBook editions of all of our titles and release them at the same time as their print edition counterparts. We have a list of all of our eBook titles on our website, if you are interested in checking them out! 

Fall Recipe from the Fly Creek Cider Mill Cookbook

We focus a lot on Chicago and the Midwest here at Agate, especially via our Midway imprint but we thought that on this perfect autumn day we should look east and feature a delicious seasonal recipe from another part of the country. The Official New York State Apple Muffin recipe was created to honor the apple, the official state fruit of New York, and make for either a great breakfast or a dessert. Here is a spin on it taken from The Fly Creek Cider Mill Cookbook, out now from Agate Surrey.

Makes 24 muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped apples
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Topping:

  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

    1.     Preheat oven to 375 degrees

    2.     Line 2 12-cup, large muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside

    3.     Combine the flour with the brown and granulated sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Stir to blend completely. Set aside

    4.     Combine the apples with the raisins and walnuts in another medium mixing bowl. Stir in the eggs, cream cheese, melted butter, and vanilla. When blending, begin adding the dry ingredients, a little at a time, stirring until just combined. Do not overmix.

    5.     Prepare the topping. Combine the brown sugar with the flour and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl, stirring to blend. Stir in the walnuts and orange zest and, when blended, stir in the melted butter.

    6.     Spoon and equal portion of the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle an equal portion of the topping over each filled cup. Place in the over and bake for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a couple of the muffins comes out clean.

    7.     Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

    8.     When cool, store, tightly covered, at room temperature for up to 2 days. 

Agate Round-Up: News, Reviews, and More About Titles New and Old

Yvonne Maffei was featured on Eat. Drink. Pure., a blog about healthy Islamic living, where they mentioned her recent “What’s Really in Our Food?” Facebook Live chat series and gave a review of her cookbook My Halal Kitchen


 My Halal Kitchen was also reviewed by Dawn, an English-language daily newspaper in Pakistan. The review included some nice photos and excerpts from the book.



Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round by Ron Faiola was mentioned in “16 Things Every Wisconsinite Needs to Know,” an article in the most recent Milwaukee magazine.




 The Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest has begun! The newspaper will be featuring recipes from past winners that have been published in their cookbook Holiday Cookies throughout the contest. “Grandma Grump's peanut butter drizzles,” a winner from 2006, is the first cookie in the spotlight.



A recipe for tarte au citron from Provence Food and Wine by Francois Millo and Viktorija Todorovska was adapted on Perfectly Provence, a blog celebrating Provence culture.




 Paula Haney’s recipe for her signature all-butter pie dough was shared on Epicurious, an internet food magazine. More recipes, including more types of dough, can be found in her cookbook The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie.




 Vodka Distilled by Tony Abu-Ganim was warmly reviewed by Drink of the Week, a blog dedicated to spirits and cocktails. The review also mentioned his previous cocktail book, The Modern Mixologist.


Chris Arnold, the award-winning Chicago-based artist and author of Agate’s first foray into adult coloring books, The Chicago Coloring Book, was recently interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times. He spoke about his creative process when making something so unique, and the adult coloring book phenomenon as a whole. The article went on to interview others who use the books, whether for therapeutic and meditative purposes, or just to have some fun. One of the most interesting things that we at Agate have noticed about these adult coloring books is the warm online community that users have created by posting their finished drawings online and sharing tips about new materials and coloring techniques. We would love to see the drawings that people create with their copies of The Chicago Coloring Book and urge anyone who wants to share their work online to tag it with #ChicagoColoringBook so that it’s easy to find! 

Kill Claudio: An Excerpt from Much Ado

Recently the Chicago Reader published a piece about Much Ado, Michael Lenehan’s new book about a 2014 production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing mounted by the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The article highlighted one section of the book in particular, which addresses how Beatrice delivers her famous “Kill Claudio” line. We thought we should excerpt the whole section for you now, as a preview of the book. 


The scene continues:

Benedick: I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?

Beatrice: As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you, but believe me not, and yet I lie not. I confess nothing nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin.

Benedick: By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me.

Beatrice: Do not swear and eat it.

Benedick: I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.

Beatrice: Will you not eat your word?

Benedick: With no sauce that can be devised to it. I protest I love thee.

Beatrice: Why, then, God forgive me.

Benedick: What offence, sweet Beatrice?

Beatrice: You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you.

Benedick: And do it with all thy heart.

Beatrice: I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.

Benedick: Come, bid me do any thing for thee.

Beatrice: Kill Claudio.

We can’t know for sure, because we have almost nothing in Shakespeare’s own hand, but he seems to have written very little in the way of stage directions. He had no use for them: he was writing for performance, not posterity, and as the plays were developed he was there to tell the actors whatever he wanted them to know.  The Folio texts, which were assembled by Shakespeare’s colleagues after his death, are marred by errors and inconsistencies and give only the most rudimentary directions—exits and entrances, mostly, and not nearly all the exits and entrances that the lines imply. In many cases (as we saw back in the act 2 dance), scholars and editors have had to interpolate the comings and goings, as well as such directions as “aside” or “To Hero.” Even then it’s sometimes impossible to know which character or characters are supposed to be hearing a line. Or, to put it another way, it’s up to directors and actors to decide which character a line is addressed to—and how and when and whether to walk upstage, stand or sit down, pick up a prop, fall silent, shout, kiss, or crash to the floor.  This is one reason for Shakespeare’s enduring appeal: so much is amenable to interpretation and renewal.

“Kill Claudio” is a case in point. All Shakespeare gives us is these two words—one of the most important lines in the play. Four hundred years later, the question is not so much how should it be played? as how do you want to play it?

David Frank and the actors wanted to play it serious. And yet they knew the audience would probably find it hilarious. Colleen Madden, who had done the play twice before in smaller roles, said she never understood it as a laugh line. But David Daniel, who had done it at least three times, said the audience never fails to laugh. Frank admitted he laughed himself whenever he heard it, though mostly from surprise, and he never found the reaction very satisfying. At one point he asked hopefully, “We will—yes?—kill the most famous laugh line in the play?” It was wishful thinking, but a goal worth working toward. Much Ado always was and always would be full of laughs, Frank knew, but he saw more to it than that, and he wanted to play it all.

Modern audiences don’t readily grasp the implications of the line the way Shakespeare’s contemporaries would have. Claudio, Benedick’s best buddy, has slandered Beatrice’s blood relative. Hero must be avenged. It’s Sicily, after all. To exact the vengeance is not a woman’s choice, and this enrages Beatrice: “O God that I were a man!” she cries. “I would eat his heart in the market place.” But where’s the man to do it for her? Her uncle Leonato is no help; a few minutes ago he was threatening to thrash his own daughter. If only Beatrice had a brother to fight for her. Or a husband. Or a fiancé.

Or a man who professes to love her.

She grills Benedick to assess the depth of his commitment. “Will you not eat your word?” And when he swears he won’t, she says “Why, then, God forgive me.” Why does she say that? And what does she mean by, “You have stayed me in a happy hour?” These questions were discussed in the rehearsal room, but I never had the sense that they were answered conclusively. My reading is that Beatrice is deliberately luring Benedick into a commitment whose implications are not yet clear to him. It’s not that professing his love has made the hour happy for her; it’s that the profession has come at just the right hour: just when she needs it. She needs someone to kill Claudio. Really.

Benedick, who has just invited her to “bid me do anything for thee,” didn’t really mean it. He recoils immediately, and the couple have their first argument. Like many arguing couples, they talk about two different things: Beatrice rails against the injustice done to her cousin, while Benedick keeps insisting that he loves her—what could be more important than that? Finally, even as she tries to pull herself away from this disappointing oaf, Beatrice makes her point:

Benedick: Tarry, good Beatrice. By this hand, I love thee.

Beatrice: Use it for my love some other way than swearing by it.

Benedick: Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?

Beatrice: Yea, as sure as I have a thought or a soul.

Benedick: Enough, I am engaged, I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me.

In other words, remember me fondly, I might not be back. In 21st-century America we can easily underestimate the gravity of this challenge, but Beatrice and Benedick both know the drill: Benedick must either kill his best friend or be killed himself. He is as engaged as he can be (and in two senses of the word).

Madden and I talked about “Kill Claudio” in her kitchen one Friday morning during the run. She was multitasking: while her husband, James Ridge, talked with a designer in the front room—he was set to direct a play in Madison in a few months—she was making a cake for a sick friend, submitting to an interview, and fielding multiple mom calls from one of her two sons. “We never meant it to be a laugh line,” she said. Of course she had seen productions and films of the play in addition to doing it herself, but the audience reaction to the line had never made much of an impression on her. “I guess I never saw it. Never tuned into it. And David Daniel and I have been asking, do we resist that? I’m going to try something tomorrow, I think. Or I may wait till a non-Saturday to do it. Where I say ‘Kill Claudio’ a little earlier. Just to see if—but I don’t know, maybe it’s supposed to be a laugh line.”

Maybe Shakespeare did want a big laugh. Maybe he was happy to have it both ways. He’s allowed, he’s Shakespeare. In any case, over the course of the season I saw Madden try a few different things. In rehearsals she held the line off, preceding it with three deep breaths, as though steeling herself for what she was about to ask. By the time the first preview was over she knew that wasn’t working, so then she tried speeding it up. But whatever she did the line produced a big laugh. It was surefire.

For more information about the American Players Theatre, visit their website at

The Chicago Reader article can be found at

If you're interested in purchasing Much Ado, please visit


Q&A with Suk Lee and Bob Song, editors of Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words

Jack Ma is not your average business leader. He started his first Internet company with no knowledge of computer coding. Now, he runs a multi-billion dollar business that in 2014 conducted more online transactions than Amazon and eBay combined. Despite his substantial influence in China, and a net worth estimated to be north of $21 billion, Ma’s remarkable story is generally unknown to the American public.

In Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words, Suk Lee and Bob Song have collected Ma’s thoughts on business, leadership, innovation, and much more. To celebrate the book’s publication, we are sharing a Q&A with the editors.


What business insight will readers learn from Jack Ma that they won’t hear from any other business leader?

Jack is a successful Chinese entrepreneur and he changed the e-commerce world in China. Before Alibaba, Chinese small- and medium-business owners were limited in their ability to connect and sell to other businesses and consumers. Jack has enabled millions of people worldwide to conduct e-commerce with each other, whether it’s business-to-business or business-to-customer transactions. Also, Chinese culture and values gave Jack Ma a different perspective and insight on business. For example, the following quote tells the readers about Jack’s tai chi philosophy:

“I love tai chi. Tai chi is a philosophy. [It’s] about yin and yang. Tai chi is about how you balance . . . I use tai chi philosophy in business to calm down. There is always a way out and to keep yourself balanced. Competition is fun. Business is not like a battlefield where you die and I win. In business, even if you die, I may not win.”

—interview with Charlie Rose, World Economic Forum, January 23, 2015

We selected many great quotes that readers outside of China may have never heard or read. In fact, the business philosophy of Jack is a great combination of Chinese culture, Japanese theory, and American science. We hope to share with readers the wisdom of the East, which has thousands of years of history. Jack Ma exemplifies this wisdom through his thinking and his quotes.

Did you learn anything surprising about Jack Ma while researching this book?

Bob visited Jack’s personal club, Tai Chi Zen Institute, and met with Jack’s assistant, Mr. James Chen, on the afternoon of September 1, 2015 in Hangzhou. When Bob entered the room he saw thousands of Jack Ma’s Chinese books on the table. Bob found out that 20,000 copies were sold out in only one hour at, which is the biggest B2C e-commerce platform in the world. That’s when Bob realized just how influential Jack Ma was to Chinese citizens.

In researching for this book, Suk saw many videos of interviews with Jack Ma. During one interview, Jack Ma was dressed up as a drag queen, and he performed in front of his employees at one of the big Alibaba anniversaries. The performance showed that Jack Ma can make fun of himself, and she knew right away that he is not your typical CEO.


What can current and future business entrepreneurs learn from Jack Ma?

It is Jack Ma’s integral belief that clients come first, employees second, and shareholders third. In the West, it is usually the other way around. Jack says this belief should become a universal value. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange could not accept this belief. Alibaba decided to pass on the HKSE and instead listed on New York Stock Exchange in 2014. Current and future business entrepreneurs can learn about company priority from Jack Ma: clients first, employees second and shareholders last.


In 2014, Alibaba’s online transactions totaled more than those of Amazon and eBay combined. Why do you think Jack Ma’s story is relatively unknown in the United States?

In the Chinese market, we can find about 600 titles on Jack Ma. In America, we can find about 10 titles on Jack Ma. Our book, Never Give Up, is a comprehensive history of Jack Ma’s quotes from the founding of the company to now. We hope our book will give readers a better understanding of Jack Ma’s philosophy. Jack is helping millions of small-and medium-sized enterprises—including American businesses—develop business with China. In the next 20 years, China will have 300 million to 500 million middle-class citizens, which means Chinese consumers will become more important even outside China since this middle class will generate demand in every area. In the past, Alibaba has not directly impacted the lives of many American citizens. People in the United States may hear business stories about how much revenue Alibaba Group generates or how wealthy Jack Ma is, but because Alibaba is not, for example, competing directly with Amazon, Google, or eBay in the United States, they don’t think about it much. If and when Alibaba’s plans to help more and more American small businesses sell to Chinese customers start to take effect, the United States will start to better understand the power of Alibaba.

What will be readers’ greatest takeaway from Never Give Up?

The title says it all. “Never give up” is one of Jack Ma’s most famous quotes. Throughout his life, he experienced many failures and learned from them. We leave the reader with this quote:


Five years ago, my colleagues and I wanted to create the world’s greatest company. Many thought such talk was mad. But no matter what was said, my dream to create such a company didn’t change.

In the Internet recession of 2001–02 we talked only about ‘surviving.’ Even if all the other Internet companies died, we had to survive. And we did so only by refusing to give up, by believing in our dream. This incessant effort and constant ability to learn from our mistakes led to success. While today is tough, tomorrow can be even tougher. However the day after tomorrow may be beautiful. But too many will give up after tough times on the eve of tomorrow night. Therefore, never give up today!”

—receiving Economic Person of the Year in China Award, CCTV-2, December 28, 2004

Q&A with Ron Faiola, author of Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round

Author and award-winning filmmaker Ron Faiola's new book, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round, is the highly anticipated follow up to his first book, Wisconsin Supper Clubs (Agate Midway, 2013).

Featuring interviews with club proprietors and loyal customers, funny anecdotes, as well as beautiful full-color photography, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round is a second helping of everything that made the first Wisconsin Supper Clubs such a hit. To celebrate the book's publication, we are sharing this Q&A with the author below.

Your first book, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience, is a runaway hit. In what ways was it different to travel and research the clubs after the success of the first book? Did you approach anything differently? Did you have any encounters with fans?

Obviously the supper clubs I went to for the new book were happy to be in the second book, with some owners giving me some good-natured ribbing about not being in the first book. There were two things I did differently this time around. The first was to only visit one supper club per night. For the first book, I was on a tight deadline and would have to do two or, on the rare occasion, three supper clubs per day. This time, doing one per night meant I was there when the kitchen was active and customers were there. The second thing was that I asked the owners to invite customers, friends, and family to be at the club while I was doing the profile so they could socialize and enjoy the food. It worked out great in that I was able to get plenty of food photos and try a bit a food myself while the people that were invited got to enjoy some great meals.


Why did you decide to go back for “another round”?

I had originally wanted to visit 100 Wisconsin supper clubs for the first book, but I just didn’t have the time, so I ended up visiting 50 clubs. Once the book was released, the reaction was so terrific that I realized I needed to update my master list and visit 50 more.


Let’s say that Ron Faiola is going to open his own supper club. Where would you open it and what items would be must-haves for your menu?

I’d reopen an old supper club, maybe the former Pyramid Supper Club in Beaver Dam.

Who could resist an Egyptian-themed supper club housed in a pyramid in the middle of a cornfield? The menu would have the classic supper club dishes like prime rib, fish fry, and a relish tray with cheese and liver spreads, homemade salads, raw veggies, and ripe green olives. The olives are hard to find, but they are very tasty and unique (and available in Italian grocery stores under the Cento brand).


What is the mark of a good supper club?

A full parking lot and a two-hour wait for a table.


Why is the cocktail so synonymous with supper clubs? Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that so many clubs seemed to have been friendly with bootleggers during Prohibition?

Supper clubs as we know them today didn’t exist during Prohibition, especially in Wisconsin. They were dance halls or resorts or former taverns that served whatever was available from the bootleggers. After Prohibition ended, the food as well as the cocktails got more sophisticated, especially at supper clubs. Cocktails were a more upscale choice than the usual shot and a beer that was served at a tavern. Of course, in Wisconsin, the supper club cocktail of choice was and still is the brandy old-fashioned, which is enjoyed by both men and women.


As in your first book, this book is full of anecdotes about the history of each supper club. What is your favorite story from this round of clubs?

I love the ghost stories because I’m sort of on the fence about ghosts. I’ve never seen one, and I’ve never had a spooky encounter—yet there are lots of people that have these very detailed and very similar experiences at the supper clubs. So I’m like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz . . . I’m all bravado until I meet up with a ghost.


This book includes a few reader polls related to traditional supper club offerings, such as relish trays (though we won’t give the results away here). What’s your favorite element of a supper club dining experience?

I enjoy walking in, sitting at the bar, relaxing with a drink, reading the menu, and deciding what to order.


You’ve now produced and directed a documentary and published two books—all about Wisconsin supper clubs. How did it all begin?

It started with the economic collapse in late 2008 and 2009. All my corporate video production work disappeared in 2009 and instead of panicking, I decided to shoot a documentary on the Wisconsin Friday night fish fry tradition. No one had done that before, and the film, Fish Fry Night Milwaukee, was immediately licensed by both Milwaukee Public Television and Wisconsin Public Television for broadcast in 2010 and beyond. During production of the fish fry movie, I was looking for a supper club fish fry to feature in the film and realized that no one had documented Wisconsin supper clubs either. That topic became my second film, which was licensed to PBS nationwide. Rick Kogan who is on WGN Radio and writes for the Chicago Tribune wrote a glowing review of the film, which led to a book deal from Doug Seibold at Agate Publishing in Evanston. I agreed to write the book, and the result was huge—both for the book and supper clubs.

Agate at Printers Row 2016

This Saturday and Sunday, June 11-12, Agate will be returning to Printers Row Lit Fest, the Chicago Tribune's annual book festival, which happens to be the largest of its kind in the Midwest. Come visit the Agate staff and many of our fantastic authors in Tent BB, located on Dearborn Avenue just north of Polk Street. There will be deeply discounted prices on both new books and back-listed titles. 

If you're interested in meeting any of our authors, check out the schedule of demos, talks, and book signings below.



Marilynne Robinson in conversation with Mary Schmich

Sat., 10-10:45am, Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

More Info Here


Raymond Lambert, ALL JOKES ASIDE

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 11am-12:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent



Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 12-1:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent


Diana Moles, Jolene Worthington, and Maureen Schulman, THE ELI'S CHEESECAKE COOKBOOK

Sat., 1:45-2:15pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 2:30-3:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here



Sat., 2:30-3:15pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 3:30-4:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here


Jocelyn Delk Adams, GRANDBABY CAKES

Sat., 3:30-4:00pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 4:15-5:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here



Coffee with Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn

Sun., 10-11:00am, Center Stage

More Info Here

Chefs from the Green City Market, THE GREEN CITY MARKET COOKBOOK

Sun., 11-11:30am, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 12-12:30pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here


Jeannie Morris, BEHIND THE SMILE

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 11:30am-12pm, Agate Publishing Tent


JeanMarie Brownson, DINNER AT HOME

Sun., 12:45-1:30pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 1:45-2:15pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here



Sun., 3:30-4:15pm, Hotel Blake, Dearborn Room

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 4:45-5:15pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

Q&A with Joan Barnes, author of Play It Forward

Entrepreneur Joan Barnes details her journey of professional success and personal struggle in her memoir, Play it Forward: From Gymboree to the Yoga Mat and Beyond. Barnes is the founder of Gymboree, an innovative, billion-dollar household brand, and her book offers a refreshing perspective on the ongoing national conversation about work-life balance, from a woman who built her business with balance at its heart.

Play It Forward offers wisdom and inspiration, and reminds us that our most difficult stories, when bravely and transparently told, can have a lasting impact on others. To celebrate the book's publication on June 1, we are sharing this Q & A with the author below.

Why did you decide to write Play It Forward? Why now?

After I sold the yoga business and took a pause, many—including publishing people—encouraged me to write my business memoir. While I knew my two entrepreneurial turns became home runs and held valuable lessons, and that the story had some punch, I resisted. Why? Partly due to humility, and to be honest, partly due to wanting to feel passionate about that sort of project, which, I can now vouch, is a significant undertaking! 

I was, however, up for speaking engagements, particularly at women’s entrepreneurial conferences. That seemed like something I could do. As I started speaking publicly and saw the raw, heartfelt, tearful, and enthusiastic reactions of audiences to my unvarnished story, as well as repeated requests for a copy of my “book,” I experienced a shift. As time passed, I knew deep inside that my story held significance and meaning for others, especially women, and that a book could make a genuine contribution to a variety of audiences. When my partner enthusiastically agreed to coauthor, I was all in.


You write frequently about the improvisational character of your leadership at Gymboree. What’s your sense of both the strengths and challenges of that approach?

Ah, yes, improvisation in leadership! In my early entrepreneurial days, the cliché “on-the-job training” had robust application. I had neither business training nor role models to guide or inspire me. When lady luck dropped opportunities at my doorstep, I threw caution to the winds, believing I could make it all happen. Acting with a passion-driven vision thrilled me.

The consistent challenges of having a strong and persistent “can do” perspective are staying faithful to what you believe in and who you are and being careful not to line up to satisfy others’ expectations. Essentially, you are running two businesses: one outside and one inside you. Both need vigilance to maintain integrity and achieve ultimate success.


What do you see as most different for women entrepreneurs today, compared to when you started your company?

Business culture has changed significantly and more favorably for women. When I was building Gymboree, I was a little out of step with the times, as most women, if they worked at all, were limited to a narrow list of traditionally female employment and business opportunities. The climate was tricky for launching women-owned businesses. Now, we are blessed with so many innovative, dynamic, and bright women entrepreneurs putting their mark on any number of industries. While there is much work to do, women are steadily redefining the business world.

A major byproduct of these changes is that women have increased access to capital, as more investors are willing to finance entrepreneurial women and share in the success of their leadership. And, importantly, women have developed a powerful network of mentors, role models, and support systems. It is a great time to be a woman entrepreneur.


What’s your advice for women seeking to become entrepreneurs?

Never, ever, stop believing in yourself. Surround yourself with the best colleagues possible and give them room to create. Identify mentors and role models. Leave pride at the door and seek out people who inspire you. Their advice and support is invaluable. Experienced and successful women are gracious about giving back. After all, that kind of sisterhood is second nature to most women! Dream big, take risks for what you believe in, and doggedly pursue your vision and goals. Treat setbacks (or, if you must, “failures”), as springboards for the next success.


What are some of your personal beliefs about the best way to achieve work-life balance?

The best way to begin is to acknowledge that work-life balance is elusive. As is said in yoga poses, “balance, she comes, she goes.”Accepting that there is no consistent moment-to-moment balance makes things easier.

Personally, I access and assess my personal value system as a yardstick for how to live and make decisions, both in and out of business. Work-life balance, then, is seen in the rear view mirror to get the long view of whether and how I have dedicated myself to the all-important practice of checking in with myself, my inner board room and what is truly important to me. My slippage comes from not catching my shadow where the ever-present danger of prioritizing the expectations of others over mine can hijack me. This kind of unconscious habitual environment can lead to temporary overload, imbalance, and ever-dreaded stress.

I urge working hard to establish and honor boundaries in order to ward off tendencies to feel guilty or too self-involved about making private time for you and your loved ones. As I honor myself, I gain both my own respect and the respect of others. We are all in this together!


What’s next for you?

Other than writing a sequel to Play It Forward with my coauthor, I have no grand plans. It might sound trite, but my focus is on continuing to do whatever keeps me in personal harmony. And yes, I am always on the lookout for creative expressions that grab me!

A Grilling Giveaway for Memorial Day

If you're like us, then you have been eagerly anticipating the official kickoff to grilling season. An adventurous subset of you may have been stoking the coals since April, and maybe some of you have even had to refill your gas grill tank already. But as the weather gets downright balmy in Chicago, all of us are looking forward to a Memorial Day weekend with plenty of barbecue.

To celebrate the warm weather and national holiday, we will be giving away a copy of the brand new, beautifully redesigned title 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes, 2nd edition, by Rick Browne.

Author Rick Browne is known as one of the country's foremost authorities on grilling. The creator and host of the PBS TV series Barbecue America, Browne is also the author of 12 cookbooks. In this volume, he's created an encyclopedic collection of recipes drawn from cuisines around the world, with a particular focus on North American and Asian traditions.

To enter our contest, comment on or share our posts on Facebook and Twitter. We'll be selecting a winner this week and sending you a free copy! If you just can't wait that long, see a bonus recipe below from 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes.

Thai Beer-Can Chicken Satay

Yield: 4–6 servings

This is beer-butt chicken using Thai spices and marinades and a satay (peanut) dip- ping sauce. If you can’t find Thai beer, substitute any American brand. The chicken won’t know the difference.


1 (4–5 pound [1.8–2.3 g]) chicken

2 (14-ounce [392-g]) cans unsweetened coconut milk

½ cup  (118 mL) loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro

3½ tablespoons (52.5 mL) turbinado sugar

3 tablespoons (45 mL) yellow curry paste (or 1 tablespoon [15 mL] curry powder)

3 tablespoons (45 mL) Thai fish sauce

8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1½ teaspoons (7.5 mL) ground white pepper

1 (12-ounce [354-mL]) can Singha (or other Thai beer), to taste

Dipping Sauce

3 tablespoons (45 mL) vegetable oil

2 tablespoons (30 mL) red curry paste

½ cup  (118 mL) finely diced shallots

2 teaspoons (10 mL) chili powder

½ cup  (118 mL) finely ground roasted peanuts

¼ cup  (60 mL) smooth peanut butter

¼ cup  (60 mL) packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon (15 mL) tamarind juice

1½ teaspoons (7.5 mL) salt (or to taste)

4 cups  (0.95 L) unsweetened coconut milk

1. With a sharp barbecue fork, poke the chicken multiple times in the breasts and thighs to help with the marinade process. Place the chicken in a 1- to 2-gallon (3.8- to 7.6-L) resealable plastic bag and set aside.

2. In a food processor combine the 2 cans coconut milk, cilantro, turbinado sugar, yellow curry paste, fish sauce, garlic, and white pepper and process until smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

3. Preheat the barbecue to medium high (350°F [180°C] to 400°F [200°C]) for indirect heating, putting a water pan under the unheated side of the grill.

4. Drain the chicken well and discard the marinade. Open the beer can and pour off half of the beer.  Slide the chicken tail-side down over the can, using the legs to form a stabilizing tripod.

5. Place the vertical chicken on the unheated side of your grill and cook for 1½ to 2 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 160°F (71°C)°.  Carefully remove the chicken from the beer can and place it on a cutting board. Cut it into quarters or serving pieces.

6. In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium high heat until a drop of water sizzles when dropped into the pan. Add the shallots, red curry paste, and chili powder and heat until fragrant, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the peanuts, peanut butter, brown sugar, tamarind juice, salt, and the 4 cups (0.95 L) coconut milk. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the oil rises to the surface. Remove the pan from the heat and spoon the satay sauce into small serving bowls, one per person. Keep warm.

7. Arrange the chicken on a heated platter and serve with the dipping sauce.

Reprinted with permission from 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes, 2nd ed., by Rick Browne, Agate Surrey, 2016.

The Human City rave review in Wall Street Journal

In this past weekend's Wall Street Journal books section, Shlomo Angel reviewed Joel Kotkin's new book, THE HUMAN CITY: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. The headline in the print edition reads, "In Praise of Urban Sprawl: Suburbs provide not only the majority of American residences but also of jobs." For those of you who wish to read it, you can follow the link here

Should you not have a subscription to the Journal, here are a few select excerpts from Angel's piece that describe Mr. Kotkin's views:

Joel Kotkin in ‘The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us,’ presents the most cogent, evidence-based and clear-headed exposition of the pro-suburban argument. In Mr. Kotkin’s view, there is a war against suburbia, an unjust war launched by intellectuals, environmentalists and central-city enthusiasts. In pithy, readable sections, each addressing a single issue, he debunks one attack on the suburbs after another.
[Mr. Kotkin] weaves an impressive array of original observations about cities into his arguments, enriching our understanding of what cities are about and what they can and must become, with sections reflecting on such topics as ‘housing inflation,’ ‘the rise of the home-based economy,’ ‘the organic expansion of cities’ and ‘forces undermining the middle class in global cities.’
[Mr. Kotkin] argues that central-city living is largely unaffordable by the middle class, let alone the poor; that central cities are becoming the abodes of the global rich, encouraging glamorous consumption rather than providing middle-class jobs; and that dense urban living in small, expensive quarters discourages child rearing, a critical concern for policy makers in many industrialized countries today. (There are 80,000 more dogs than children in San Francisco.)
Mr. Kotkin, in his unabashed defense of the essential role that suburbs play in cities the world over, is clearly on the offensive. . . . All the same, and much to my delight, the book does not read as a diatribe or an anti-urban manifesto. Mr. Kotkin comes across as a relaxed, confident and experienced litigator standing in front of a jury of readers and making his case; and ‘The Human City’ does provide a vision for a legitimate and pragmatic urbanism that could and should become mainstream.
Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us

Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us



Chicago Bears book draft-day discount and first draft pick in team history

Chicago Bears book draft-day discount and first draft pick in team history


In honor of the NFL Draft Day celebrations that are overtaking Chicago, we're offering a Bear-sized discount on our newly published book, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE BOOK OF THE CHICAGO BEARS: A Decade-By-Decade History. The hardcover edition, normally $35, is now only $16 (plus shipping & tax) and the ebook edition is only $12.99.

The Bears have the 11th pick of the first round in tonight's draft, but who will they select? How will the pick match up against previous first-round picks? Who was the team’s very first draft pick?

While no one know who the Bears will pick tonight, we can answer that last question. The Bears' first official draft pick was lineman "Jumbo" Joe Stydahar, selected seventh overall in 1936. He went on to play for the Bears for nine seasons, make four straight NFL All-Pro teams, and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame. He also chose his college by getting in the wrong car and hiding in a fraternity house. See the excerpt on Joe Stydahar from the book below.

Joe Stydahar

Part man, part mountain

Joe Stydahar's football career was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Joe Stydahar's football career was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The Bears had not yet become the fabled “Monsters of the Midway” in 1936. But they took a giant step in that direction when they selected “Jumbo” Joe Stydahar in the NFL’s first-ever college draft that year.

Stydahar was considered a bit of a reach at the seventh overall pick. His college team at the University of West Virginia was hardly a powerhouse, but George Halas—relying partly on a tip from a Bears end (and West Virginia alumnus) named Bill Karr—grabbed the 6-4, 260-pound tackle. Halas never regretted it.

“Joe was something special for me,” Halas said upon Stydahar’s death in 1977. “Football fans know him as the first lineman drafted in the first round in 1936, as a true All-Pro, as a great football player, as one of the Bears all-time greats and a Hall of Famer. But more important . . . Joe Stydahar was a man of outstanding character and loyalty.”

Stydahar was born March 17, 1912, in Kaylor, Pa. and grew up in Shinnston, West Virginia. He began his football career at the University of Pittsburgh, but left the school under unusual circumstances. An alumnus steered him to Pitt for a week of freshman workouts, after which Stydahar returned home to Shinnston. He was waiting on a street corner for a car from Pitt to pick him up when a car from West Virginia showed up instead. Stydahar was driven to the Mountaineers’ campus in Morgantown, where coach Earle “Greasy” Neale hid him at a fraternity house until Pitt gave up on looking for him.

During 1933–35, under Neale and Charles Tallman and with Stydahar as captain during his senior year, West Virginia’s record was 12-13-5. He played in the East-West Shrine Game and College All-Star Game in 1936 before becoming the first draft pick in Bears history.

Stydahar starred for the Bears during the 1936–42 seasons, making the NFL All-Pro team for four straight years from 1937 to 1940. He spent 1943–44 as a Navy lieutenant, a gunnery officer aboard the U.S.S. Monterey, then rejoined the Bears for the 1945 and ’46 seasons.

Joe Stydahar (13) practices a running play with halfback Bronko Nagurski (3).

Joe Stydahar (13) practices a running play with halfback Bronko Nagurski (3).


From there, he went to Los Angeles as an assistant coach for the Rams and in 1950 he took over as the club’s head coach. That year the Rams lost the title game 30-28 when Cleveland’s Lou “the Toe” Groza kicked a last-minute field goal.

“I’ve found out one thing already,” Stydahar said of his early experience as a head coach. “Coaches aren’t supermen. As I see it, there are three basic factors for success. First, you must have the horses, or players. Second, you must keep abreast of the times in the game’s ever-changing strategy. Third, you must have players who want to play for you.”

The next year, the Rams rebounded and beat the Browns 24-17 in the championship game thanks to Norm Van Brocklin’s 73-yard touchdown pass to Tom Fears. It was the Rams’ first title since 1945—when they were based in Cleveland—and the only one the franchise would win in Los Angeles before moving to St. Louis in 1995.

Stydahar and Rams owner Dan Reeves had a falling out and Stydahar quit after the first game of the 1952 season.

“I used my pride instead of my mind,” Stydahar said years later. “I thought I was so big I couldn’t be replaced. Nobody’s that big—not in football, not in anything.”

Late in the 1952 season he hooked on as an assistant coach at Green Bay, then suffered through the 1953–54 seasons as head coach of the Chicago Cardinals, when they posted records of 1-10-1 and 2-10.

Stydahar entered private business in 1955, returned to the Bears as defensive line coach in 1963–64, then retired from the NFL for good,

Once asked what his biggest thrill in football was, he replied:

“Easy. Bears 73, Redskins 0. Nobody who ever played that game (the 1940 NFL championship) will ever forget it.”

In addition to playing tackle, his usual position, Stydahar also doubled as a placekicker and booted an extra point in the 73-0 game. Over the course of his career he attempted 31 extra points in the regular season and converted 28 of them.


Stydahar, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, was not one of those old-timers who insisted the good old days were the best old days. He recognized how much the game had changed—for the better—in the modern era.

“I don’t care what the old guys say, I was there,” Stydahar said late in life. “I know, and it’s better now.”

While appearing calm on the outside, Stydahar was a bundle of nerves on the inside, according to Halas.

“He could never eat breakfast on the morning of a game,” Halas said. “In fact, Joe couldn’t even stay in the locker room with the players because he always suffered a series of stomach eruptions starting about one hour before kickoff. The players called Joe’s stomach ‘Old Faithful.’ You could set your watch by it. If some last-minute detail came up, one of the assistant coaches would have to run down to the lavatory to tell Joe about it.

“What Joe needed to quiet his stomach was a couple of good hard tackles—and he always got plenty once the game started.”


Jumbo Joe

Born March 17, 1912 in Kaylor, Pa.

Starred at West Virginia University 1933–35

First draft choice in Bears history

Played tackle and occasionally kicked extra points

Member of three Bears championship teams (1940, ’41 and ‘46)

Served in the Navy in 1943–44

Was an NFL head coach with Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Cardinals

Elected into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967

Died March 23, 1977 in Beckley, W.Va., at age 65

Q&A with Matt Thorne, author of Prince, and Agate publisher Doug Seibold

From Doug Seibold: Today's shocking news about Prince arrived just as I was preparing to post this lengthy Q&A I did with Matt Thorne, the British novelist and culture critic whose Prince: The Man and His Music we've just published in its first (and updated) US edition. I am reaching out to Matt now for more of his thoughts about Prince and his career. Still in shock here as we're processing this terrible news. Look to this space for more updates.

Doug Seibold: While I am not remotely the kind of Prince fan you are, I have loved his music since the early ’80s, when I was a college student. The first of his records I heard was Controversy, and at the time I remember that the Stones had asked Prince to open for them on tour, and that many of their concert fans had expressed more than usual displeasure with their opening act. For a lot of teenaged white listeners, like me, Prince was mostly known at that time for being a highly sexed provocateur. 1999 was a huge record for me, and then of course Purple Rain became a huge record for the entire world. I’ve seen him numerous times, most recently in 2013. You, however—you’ve achieved an entirely new level of devotion to his work.

Matt Thorne: I first became aware of Prince at the age of ten, when Purple Rain hit the mainstream, and followed his career from then on, but it wasn't really until the release of Sign O'The Times, when I was a teenager, that I became properly fascinated and went back to get all the early albums, and then started buying vinyl bootlegs. I think the real starting point for the interest that eventually led to the book so many years later was learning the secret reference points in the lyrics on the Sign O'The Times album. For example, discovering that the reference to a Crystal Ball on the song “Hot Thing” was actually referring to the unreleased song “Crystal Ball.” Hearing some of those early bootlegs, and realizing just how many incredible unreleased songs Prince had created, hooked me for life. Around the same time, I was also fascinated by the stories of his nocturnal life and the fact that he would stay up all night writing, playing, and recording songs. To a young aspiring author, his round-the-clock creativity was incredibly inspiring. Because Prince often records songs and then leaves them in the vault for a while, I was also fascinated by the differences and similarities in production sound between albums. My desire to make sense of this by looking at it as closely as I could was possibly the biggest inspiration for writing the book. Most musicians produce records that sound quite similiar, but the extraordinary development between, say, Purple Rain and Lovesexy has always fascinated me.

            The actual impetus for beginning writing the book, however, came when I was at a conference on the future of the short story with my editor Lee Brackstone from Faber, and I had to leave the conference early because I was going back to London to watch Prince play a few shows on the 2002 One Nite Alone... tour. I discovered Lee was also a lifelong Prince fan, and when he realized how much I was interested in Prince, he suggested I write the book. It took me seven years, but it only deepened my appreciation for Prince's music. 

Doug: Why is Prince so important? My own personal feeling is that he is the colossus of contemporary pop music, whose influence is so great as to be almost imperceptible (unless you’re listening to the latest D’Angelo record—that guy should really be paying Prince royalties).

Matt: The D’Angelo connection is interesting. He’s managed by Alan Leeds, who managed Prince in various capacities (road manager, etc.) during the ’80s. I actually interviewed Alan while he was over in the UK with D’Angelo and I think the way he has handled D’Angelo’s comeback was incredibly impressive.

            Getting back to Prince, I would argue his influence is greater than that of any other popular musician, especially if you take into account the breadth of said influence, which extends from every form of dance music to rock. He has also had an important impact on the way the music business is run, on helping musicians get their independence. And the influence goes way up. Aside from the political dimension to some of his songs, he is beloved by many politicians, from President Obama to the UK’s Nick Clegg.

            But for me, more significant than any of that is the singularity of his body of work. Aside from a handful of duds, almost every song he has recorded has something of interest, either musically or lyrically, and he has sustained a near daily output of songs for coming up to forty years. It must be a lot easier to record an album when you know that Warner Brothers is going to promote it to the best of its ability than it would be when, to choose an example at random, you’ve already released hours of music that year and there’s no guarantee that anyone beyond the hardcore is going to care. Prince’s body of work is an artistic achievement that will maintain its relevance and value for generations to come.

Matt Thorne

Matt Thorne

Doug: How did being a novelist shape your approach to this book?

Matt: I really hate those biographies (and there is at least one like this about Prince) that “fictionalize” the subject—e.g. “Prince walked into the studio. His argument with the Warner Brothers executives had left him feeling raw and determined to record a hit”. But equally I didn’t want to write the sort of dry biography in which the author just summarizes what the critics said at the time and the chart position of various albums. My favorite music books present the life via the work—Paul Williams in his various books on Dylan, for example, or Will Friedwald on Sinatra—but also show the artist in the round as it were. As a novelist, I’m focused on language and how to present the contemporary world in the most “realistic” way (obviously what constitutes “realism” in the twenty-first century is a complex issue and one I continue to explore in my fiction and review work), with a particular interest in pop culture. Prince is the perfect subject to explore changes in popular culture over the past fifty years or so, as he’s usually at the forefront of any new developments. At the same time, the hardest thing for me in writing this book (and the reason, aside from the time it took to set up interviews and absorb Prince’s work in toto, why it took me seven years to write it) was coming up with the right voice.

            I’ve been a published novelist for eighteen years, and writing fiction since I was a child. I’ve reviewed fiction for most British newspapers for the same amount of time, and regularly review film and TV for the radio. I’m not a musician, though I am an avid consumer of music and go on average to three gigs a week. I am a fan of a wide range of music. And I’ve always loved music journalism as much as I love music; I love reading along with an album, testing my own thoughts about it with the perceptions of critics and other listeners. My intention with this book was to start out by trying to find anyone who was involved with the music on the actual albums or shows and getting their first-hand perspectives. Then I talked to the people who were working for or with Prince around the time of these shows or recordings to see if there was any more context they could add. For some records (e.g. Emancipation) Prince would do quite detailed interviews about the process of recording the songs, so he was the next source. After that, I generally moved into my own critical reading of the records, taken in relation to his work as a whole. Before I started the book I was a fairly hardcore fan, but there’s a difference between listening for pleasure and the kind of intent, focused listening you need to do to make any wider points about an artists’ work. And the more I sought out the nooks and crannies of Prince’s enormous body of music, the more impressed I became.

            One of the things that makes Prince unique is that he seems to truly live in the moment as an artist; he’s likely to produce a moment of true magic at 4.30 a.m in front of an audience of fifty people, or squirrel away a song better than most musicians’ entire careers as a bonus track on his least regarded album. This is the sort of thing that’s been missed in a lot of the previous books on Prince, which focus on the hits. But at the same time it’s just as important to me to look at the biggest successes as well as the obscurities—and to finally answer your question, maybe that’s where being a novelist comes in most useful, as there are so many narratives running through Prince’s career, and as a novelist, it’s these stories that most interest me.,

Doug: What do you see as the highlights of Prince’s career? The lowlights? My own favorite is Sign O’ the Times, and now I’m happy to have the image in my mind of that record connecting with teenaged Matt Thorne. Lowlight might be that whole name-symbol thing, or possibly sitting through Graffiti Bridge.

Matt: The movie or the album? If the latter, I understand. For me, and I think the majority of music fans, the absolute highlight is the run of albums he recorded from ‘78’s For You to ’88 Lovesexy. That stretch of albums represents an achievement you could put against any run of albums by anyone ever. But part of the reason I wrote this book is that I think there is just as much of interest in the records he’s released since then, even if it’s not as consistent when you take it album by album. On the albums from For You to Lovesexy, that first decade of his career, we now know that what he left off those records was as significant as what he included. After ’88, the albums become less consistent (with some exceptions), but some of the highlights are better than anything in the earlier part of his career. As for lowlights, it’s always tricky to say with certainty that any one era of Prince’s music is substandard as it frequently emerges that he was recording great songs at that time, but putting them in the Vault instead of releasing them.

            To give you an example: as much as I enjoyed it when it was released, for me Diamonds and Pearls has dated. But when you hear some of the demos of what he was working on around that time, and see the direction he might have gone in, you realize it wasn’t a question of his talents deserting him, but simply that his intention or need at the time (to record a really successful popular album) led him away from the more interesting corners of the sound he was pursuing. For me, that’s the value of writing a critical study of his work: a more conventional biography might focus on the numbers, or merely rehash what the reviewers said at the time. In a critical study of this length, there’s space to look at these records diachronically as well as synchronically.

            Sometimes the media campaigns or press attention can detract from the quality of the work as well. The only time I’ve stopped listening to Prince was between 1993–95, and that was mainly because of the way Prince changing his name to a symbol was presented in the press. In ’95, when I became interested in his music again, I went back and listened to that era and realized most of the music was great. This was one of the periods I most enjoyed writing about in the book, but at the time it seemed like a lowlight. Observing how his reputation has risen and fallen over the years is another part of the narrative. Largely because it’s interesting to see how this has impacted on Prince’s creative process.

            Perhaps another bleak period was before the millennium, round about the Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic album, when nothing seemed good, not even the shows. But that’s me really forcing myself to be critical. It’s also worth mentioning, I think, that because most musicians usually have a rise followed by a long fall, sometimes it has seemed as if Prince’s career is tailing off.. But he’s among the select few recording artists who have produced significant albums throughout their career. Everyone will have their favorite “underrated” Prince album from later in his career, but for me, the four big ones are Emancipation, The Rainbow Children, 3121 and Art Official Age.  

Doug: What are your top-three personal favorite Prince albums? Prince songs?

Matt: Album-wise, I can never quite decide whether Sign o’ the Times or Lovesexy is my absolute favorite. Sign o’ the Times is such an extraordinary achievement, but I find it distracting to know about all the songs that got left off the album, and the alternative albums it might have been. If we ever get a proper Sign o’ the Times box-set including all of the songs from that era, then I think that won’t just be Prince’s finest album, but one of the greatest artistic achievements by anyone in any medium. But to stick to what we do have, Lovesexy might just surpass it for me. I love the depth of that album, the way it still doesn’t completely give up its secrets to this day. For me, lyrically, it’s the perfect midpoint between Prince’s clearer, more narrative-driven songs and his more cryptic lyrics. And musically, it has a density that makes it a true headphones album, with more to discover no matter how often you listen to it. The third position changes all the time, but today I’d say Dirty Mind.

            For my top three favourite songs, though, I’d like to be greedy and pick a top three well-known Prince songs, and then top three more obscure ones, as this will maybe give readers a sense of my book’s true breadth. My top three well-known songs would be “Thieves in the Temple,” “Anna Stesia,” and “Crystal Ball.” Top three obscure-ish songs would be “Wasted Kisses,” “Beautiful Strange,” and “Electric Intercourse.” And then there are my favorite covers he’s done, or songs that aren’t so good on record that work better live. And so on and so on. Sorting this out has a lot to do with why I wrote the book.

Doug: Do you have a favorite Prince band, or favorite particular sidemen or collaborators?

Matt: Obviously like everyone I like the Revolution, but I am equally fond of the line-up he had from 2002–2012. This was a line-up that went through several changes over the years of course, but I thought that the One Nite Alone tour was one of the best tours he ever did, second only to the Lovesexy tour (and that’s another great band there). After the One Nite Alone tour, I was less keen on the Musicology run, but I loved the one-off shows and aftershows the band did, and then I loved all the aftershows in the mid-aughts, especially the many aftershows I saw during his 21 Nights stint at the O2 in London, which I write about in the book.

            My general musical tastes are pretty broad, from free jazz and noise to the most mainstream pop, and what I loved about the band in this era was that it was such a diverse group of musicians, from Mike Philips to Renato Neto, and you never knew what you were going to get. Shows could be ninety minutes or four and a half hours. They might jam or reinvent a song for twenty minutes, then follow up with a straight rendition of a hit. You could have a whole night of Sly Stone covers, or unreleased songs, or forgotten tracks from Prince’s most obscure albums. It wasn’t just the diversity, though, but also the unique sound. It’s a shame that the only official documentation we have of the later part of this era is the Indigo Nights album, which isn’t really a good reflection of that band’s strengths.

Doug. How do you think Prince compares to other pop stars of the past forty years, or the past sixty years?

Matt: Well, the only artist I make an explicit comparison to in regard to their entire career is Madonna, and I think Prince easily comes out on top, even though there have been times in the past when her star has appeared to burn more brightly. During the ’80s, there were lots of comparisons between the three main pop figures—Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince. I’ve never been much of a Jackson fan. It’s not that I don’t like his music, it’s just that he was the opposite of artists I like (e.g. seemingly uninterested in improvisation, not very prolific, concentrating on producing a very polished product).

            For critics more interested in rock music, the obvious comparisons are to the big guys: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, etc. In terms of interest in image and fashion, there’s a comparison to be made with David Bowie (and it’s interesting that Prince covered “Heroes” recently). In terms of jazz and funk, there’s also a comparison to be made with Miles Davis and James Brown. You could also compare him in his popularity and ability to create pop hits to McCartney, Brian Wilson, the Rolling Stones, etc. In terms of the occasional eccentricity of his output and singled-minded pursuit of his vision, you could compare him to cult artists like Todd Rundgren, Aphex Twin, Kook Keith, The Fall or even (if you were feeling a bit perverse) Jandek. Some people have made comparisons to classical musicians—the obvious one being Mozart, even if Mahler is the one Prince himself makes reference to.

            But, ultimately, I’m not sure any of these comparisons get us anywhere. What I find more compelling is looking at Prince’s core influences, which have remained static since he first started recording home demos (Rufus and Chaka Khan, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, to name just a few), and then the records and artists that capture his attention when they hit the charts. Like David Bowie and many other great musicians, Prince alternates between trying to compete with the charts and writing less accessible records, and it’s this back and forth that interests me. Some fans don’t like it when he moves away from his core sound to songs that are more likely to date, but those are some of the eras that most interest me. I like it when he gets into a certain drum or keyboard sound that only stays around for a while. It’s seeing what his talent does with these restrictions that really interests me.



Q&A with Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City

Internationally recognized urbanist and demographer Joel Kotkin challenges conventional urban-planning ideologies in his new book, The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. Kotkin has been described as "America's uber-geographer" by David Brooks of the New York Times, and in his eighth book he examines the good, the bad, and the ugly of high-density environments and the possible alternatives.

Trends show that modern megacities and "pack-and-stack" living do not consider the needs of the general population. Trends also show that these living methods may be detrimental to future generations. Kotkin calls for dispersed neighborhoods centered on human values, and more diverse options for every stage of life. The Human City reminds us that in order to be sustainable, we must help shape our future and not become the products of demographic and economic forces.

To celebrate the book's publication, we are sharing a Q&A with the author.

This book is somewhat controversial, as it challenges the dominant view held by most city planners and urban developers. Was there a specific moment in your career when you realized that the almost exclusive focus on high-density development might not be the best option for the global population?

Much of this realization came from spending time in places like Mumbai, Mexico City, Hanoi, and other cities in developing countries. I also learned a great deal about the downsides of over-urbanization in East Asia. In East Asia, conditions are better than they are in developing countries, but there are other negative factors, such as low rate of family formation and childbearing. Here in North America and in Europe, high-density urbanism has some of the same effects, but the option of moving to less dense (and usually less expensive) cities and suburbs remains a viable option as people enter their 30s. The key is to give people, and families, choices.

History provides us with some pretty colorful anti-suburban sentiments. You write that the International Congress of Modern Architecture once called the burbs “a kind of scum churning against the walls of the city.” Why is there still so much antipathy for the suburbs when the data suggest more people prefer to live there than in the city core?

This trend is really about the concentration of media in big cities. Media, as well as finance and fashion, are intrinsically urban-oriented. The writers, pundits, and academics who write about cities tend to live in great cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, and London—or wish they did. The suburbanites and residents of small towns are largely outside of the discussion, as if they really didn’t exist except as a bunch of losers.

I also wonder how someone can study cities without looking at the vast majority of people, who now live in suburbs or suburban-like neighborhoods. In my old neighborhood in LA—an older part of the San Fernando Valley—very few neighbors shared the enthusiasm for densification expressed by the media, political leadership, architects, developers, and planners.

Much of the book draws on your deep historical knowledge of cities—from industrial-era London to your grandfather’s Brooklyn to modern-day Singapore. If you could live in any city at any point in history, where and when would it be?

My favorite city to visit was Hong Kong under the British—entrepreneurial and culturally diverse, but under the firm grip of common law. Historically, my favorite place to visit and even live would have been Amsterdam in the 17th century, which had many of the same characteristics as late-20th century Hong Kong. I also was very lucky to have lived in the New York area at the height of its powers in the early 1960s, and to have lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s, when it was a great place with surprising urban pockets and lots of livable neighborhoods.

The economic, environmental, and social consequences of unfettered, exclusively dense development seem dire, to say the least. Is it too late to curb the trend? Is there anything ordinary citizens can do to advocate for more human cities?

The key battlegrounds are cultural and political for people who live in suburbs, as well as those who live in mid-density urban areas (including many parts of San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, New York, Tokyo, and Singapore). The book is an attempt to challenge the assumptions of the planning, academic, and urban development establishment. People do not have to fear change per se, but they should have some say in how things change. I know few New Yorkers, outside developers and planners, who would like to see another one or two million people there. This is true in Singapore as well.

The cultural and political deficit is greatest among suburbanites, particularly those further on the periphery, who tend to be occupied with family and work and don’t tend to get engaged in big urban-planning issues. Even suburban business owners and home-builders—particularly in places like California—are too intimidated by the planners and their allies to even make a case for themselves. They have allowed a vacuum to be created where a debate should be taking place.

What are you working on next?

My next big project will be as the co-editor of a new book—Infinite Suburbia—that is being put together by MIT. The book will include over 40 essays from various commentators.

At the same time, I am working on major studies on housing, demographics, and the changing urban form for both Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy, as well as for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.