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.

Q&A with Tom Salonek, author of The 100

Award-winning tech entrepreneur Tom Salonek shares his secrets to business success in his new book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership. Salonek offers practical advice based on his experiences as the founder and CEO of Intertech, which Fortune recently named the #7 Best Workplace for Flexibility and the #5 Best Small Workplace in Tech.

For anyone who owns a business, is thinking of starting one, or simply wants to be a more effective leader at work, The 100 will help establish clear visions and compelling values. To celebrate the book's publication earlier this month, we are sharing this Q&A with the author.

Why did you decide to write The 100?

The 100 started as a guide for my employees to share how we do things at Intertech. As I started writing, I realized the concepts applied to many organizations and not just my firm. When I read a book, attend a conference, or read an article, I find myself earmarking the ideas that I want to implement. In The 100, my goal was to give readers something practical and actionable in each of the 100 sections. Hopefully, if the book hits home with reader, their copies will all have 100 earmarks.

What was your own experience starting up Intertech? What lessons did you learn?

In the beginning, it was controlled chaos. I worked insane hours, I took on any project regardless of whether or not it was in my wheelhouse, and I was so focused working “in the business” that I didn’t work “on the business.” I learned a lot of lessons starting the firm.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was that great people make a great organization. When hiring, take time, be stringent, and be consistent. When I was starting out, I was so focused on not missing out on work or opportunities that I was too quick to hire—I’d hire someone over a coffee. Today, we have eight separate steps in our interview process and hire only one out of every 20 applicants. The process is thorough, and the right employees appreciate that we set a high bar. The wrong employees are weeded out or opt out themselves.

I also learned that life is short. For clients and employees, if it’s not a positive relationship, cut bait and move on. When starting out, I would tolerate the employee who was technically gifted but who acted like a prima donna. I would tolerate the client who used berating as a tool to get more “value” out of the work provided by our team. Today, we have a thorough hiring process, but when we make a mistake in a new hire, we’re quick to fire. It’s a similar story for clients. While it doesn’t happen much, if there’s a client who sees us as a “bar of steel” and not a partner—or thinks raising his voice is a motivational tool—we’ll finish up the project professionally and pass on future opportunities.

 Tom Salonek, CEO of Intertech

Tom Salonek, CEO of Intertech


What inspired you to write “the shortest book” on this subject?

When I attend a workshop or read a book or periodical, I’m the type of person who’s looking for the answer or core idea. Theory, while good to know, isn’t as useful to my business as practical, actionable, and proven ideas and tools are. My goal was to create a book where there were a lot of implementable ideas to grow and improve a business.

What advice would you give to someone just thinking about starting a business?

There never will be a perfect time to start a business. I started Intertech in a recession. To limit risk, ask yourself if there’s a way to dip your toe in the water without quitting your day job. Also, set it up to succeed or fail quickly. It’s not about money or significant investment. From co-location workspaces to all the resources available through cloudbased services to the sharing economy, there are a lot of ways to start with minimal expense. The amount of resources available for an entrepreneur is staggering. From books to workshops to online resources, the challenge isn’t to find resources—it’s to sift out what is practical and useful. My hope is that The 100 provides a quick read with plenty of actionable ideas for the aspiring entrepreneur.

What’s your advice for entrepreneurs whose businesses are on the decline?

Action cures fear. When you’re actively focused on the solution and working the problem, you feel more empowered. For a business in decline, remember that you’re not the first to experience this problem. Who do you know within or outside your organization that could help generate ideas to turn things around? Start with “green light” brainstorming session around the core problems causing the decline. Ask, “In what ways can we increase sales?” or “In what ways can we reduce expenses to improve profitability?” After all the ideas are on the table, sort from first to worst, and then act.

What are you working on next?

For Intertech, we’re investing in and growing our Internet of Things (IoT) consulting practice. IoT is projected to grow five-fold (from about 5 billion devices currently connected to the Internet to the 25 billion projected to be connected in 2020). The future is a world where everything has a sensor connected to the Internet. IoT consulting is the type of work our consultants love, so that makes it a win all around: our consultants get work that gets them up early and keeps them engaged; our customers get a great solution because engaged folks produce solid work; and our firm wins because happy customers and employees results in great retention and profits.

On the writing front, a couple of years ago, I wrote a children’s book. It was mainly a way to teach my then three- and five-year-olds manners. I'm toying around with another book to help with my next parenting challenge.


Q&A with Patty Pinner, author of Sweet Mornings

Acclaimed cookbook author Patty Pinner's newest release, Sweet Mornings, compiles 125 of Pinner's favorite sweet and savory breakfast and brunch recipes. These authentic, generations-old recipes hark back to the wholesome basics, helping new bakers build their repertoire and reminding more experienced of the heritage dishes they've made with loved ones. Years of wisdom and kitchen experience are amassed in Sweet Mornings, making it a perfect addition for any home cook in need of reliable morning recipes.


Add a little sugar to your mornings with your own copy of Sweet Mornings. A Q&A with Pinner is below.


Your family has southern roots, but you grew up in Michigan. How do these recipes combine southern comfort with your midwestern lifestyle?

My family does have southern roots—Mississippi, Tennessee, and New Orleans, to be exact. On the weekends, when time was less structured, the women in my family prepared breakfast and brunch meals that were reminiscent of the morning meals that they grew up eating in the South. 

As I recall, the first "southern" breakfast that I ate was my aunt Frances's. It was large and resembled a full-course dinner more than it did a breakfast. I had never had a breakfast like Aunt Frances's—it included eggs, bacon strips, smothered potatoes with onions, fried chicken, smoked ham, buttermilk biscuits, gravy, fried apples, a berry cobbler, and various home-canned fruit preserves. Before that, I had only heard about the magnitude and diversity of a country breakfast—how they were prepared big and hearty to sustain farmers and their workers while they plowed through their daily farm chores. Now, I was actually living, eating, and enjoying the wonders of one. When I'm cooking breakfast or brunch for company, I often use that meal as my guide. 

My cooking and entertaining rituals are also influenced by my mother and her southern roots. I like to cook savory dishes that are seasoned with chopped onions, garlic, and bell peppers; my mother used to call it the "Trinity" of southern cooking. No good cook prepared a meat dish without her vegetable Trinity. I like to add lots of sugar and butter to my desserts. It was what I was used to, what I have always seen the women in my family do. My mother would call me into the kitchen to see her adding secret seasonings and performing her secret methods to her cooking. This is how I learned to cook, watching the techniques of other cooking women.

When I bake, I like foods that are quick and easy to prepare, recipes that require ingredients that I already have. I actually find comfort in foods that take me back to the security of my childhood. Savoring comfort in everyday life, and in food, is the hallmark of midwestern living.

 Patty Pinner, author of Sweet Mornings

Patty Pinner, author of Sweet Mornings


Why do you particularly love sweet treats for morning meals?

I grew up in a family that considered breakfast the most important meal of the day. My father was famous in our family for saying things like, "A waking body benefits greatly from the nourishment that a morning meal provides." My mother expressed similar thoughts and so did my extended family. I was surrounded by people who preached the value of good morning nourishment. The pleasure and necessity of a good breakfast are rooted in me.

Growing up, our meals included the usual savory fare—smoked bacon or homemade sausage, eggs, pan-fried potatoes—and a slice of something sweet was almost always included. Those meals were plush, warm, cozy, and welcoming. The coffee cake, bread pudding, sweet loaf, or drizzle of pancake syrup really put a Sunday hat on breakfast or brunch.

A sweet treat displayed on a morning table gives everything a bright, special air. I love the way a sweet addition jazzes up a breakfast. We're all used to the typical breakfast of bacon and eggs, but the addition of sweet pie or cake redefines it.

 Cherry Granola

Cherry Granola


Have the women in your family impacted your baking?

Even though Sweet Mornings includes a huge selection of recipes and culinary techniques that I've picked up here and there, I am always drawn to the classic recipes and old-fashioned cooking tactics of the women in my family. My mother created moods with food. My grandmother said that good cooking was a woman's glory, and my mother's eldest sister, Marjell, told wonderful food stories. 

I love to make mornings special, just like the women in my family have. I cherish the recipes that were passed down to me. Most of my maternal relatives are wonderful cooks, and when we're together, we talk about food and recipes. We talk about flaky pie crusts, moist cakes, heirloom cookies, and how food was gathered and prepared back in the day. Sometimes that's all we do—on the phone and in person—exchange recipes and talk about food. I don't think anyone would admit it, but we all have a competitive cooking spirit.

 Aunt Bulah's Brown Sugar-Hazelnut Biscuits

Aunt Bulah's Brown Sugar-Hazelnut Biscuits


Many home cooks are intimidated by making breakfast and brunch. How do you keep it quick and easy in the morning?

I know that many people are rushed in the mornings; there's work, school, and other vital appointments. There are four things that I do when time is of the essence. First, I try to maintain a supply of baggies and storage containers. I use these to store prepped foods for easy access. Second, anything that I can prepare the night before—cutting up fruits or vegetables, for example—I do. Third, when I know that I'll be short on time in the morning, I set out the utensils that I'll need the night before. Last, there are some morning treats that require effort and time no matter what you do. These recipes are better left for mornings when you aren't so rushed. When I want to give my family a quick and easy breakfast with some spark, I serve cereals—hot or cold—in nice dishes, topped with chopped nuts, fresh fruit, or a dollop of whipped cream. It's nothing short of magic, how nice china can add a lilt to a mundane meal.


What's next for you as an author?

I am working on a book featuring chocolate desserts: cakes, candies, cookies, pies, and puddings. I've seen many chocolate cookbooks but never one from a black chocoholic's perspective. The proposed manuscript features some of the same people as my previous cookbooks. It is similarly nostalgic, but it highlights stories of chocolate cravings.



Meet Lisa Lucas, new executive director of the National Book Foundation

Congratulations to Lisa Lucas, who was named last month as the new executive director of the National Book Foundation. We've enjoyed reading several recently published interviews with Ms. Lucas, such as this one with Claire Kirch at Publishers Weekly and this one with Lauren Cerand from PEN America. But in particular, we enjoyed this quote from her interview with Ms. Kirch:

"Young people know what writers, filmmakers, painters, dancers, and musicians do, but they aren’t thinking about becoming publicists or editors or dramaturgs or non-profit arts administrators. I hope that my being here helps to encourage some of them to think about doing this kind of work."

Ms. Lucas, who previously worked nearby at Chicago's iconic Steppenwolf Theater, has spoken about bringing a fresh take to the National Book Awards, and the publishing world, that incorporates presses outside the "New York bubble" and looks for diverse stories and perspectives. That sounds good to us, and we wish the best of luck to Ms. Lucas in her new role.



Jocelyn Delk Adams on TODAY making Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake

In case you missed seeing author, blogger, and baker extraordinaire Jocelyn Delk Adams on the TODAY Show, fear not! You can watch the full segment here, in which Jocelyn shows Matt Lauer how to add a modern twist to a Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake recipe inspired by Jocelyn's grandmother, a.k.a. Big Mama.

 Jocelyn Delk Adams with her grandmother, affectionately known as Big Mama, who inspired her blog and cookbook,  Grandbaby Cakes .

Jocelyn Delk Adams with her grandmother, affectionately known as Big Mama, who inspired her blog and cookbook, Grandbaby Cakes.

If you haven't had a chance to read Jocelyn's new book, GRANDBABY CAKES, we've got you covered! You can find out more about it on our website, where it's on sale for only $20, or pick up a copy at your favorite bookseller:

 Find your local indie bookseller

Find your local indie bookseller

 Learn how to make this delicious Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake by clicking the image above!

Learn how to make this delicious Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake by clicking the image above!



Q&A with Raymond Lambert, author of All Jokes Aside

Raymond Lambert's new book, All Jokes Aside: Standup Comedy is a Phunny Business, follows up on his critically acclaimed 2012 Showtime documentary about America's one-time preeminent black comedy showcase where stars like Jamie Foxx, Mo'Nique, Chris Rock, Steve Harvey, and Dave Chappelle began their careers. It is an uproarious, insightful memoir that provides a deep look into Lambert's successes, failures, and lessons learned from running All Jokes Aside.

To see when Raymond will be in your city, see our events page. Below is a Q&A with the author.

 Raymond Lambert

Raymond Lambert

Why did you decide to write this book after already having produced a successful documentary about All Jokes Aside?

It is virtually impossible to compress 10 years of history into an 85-minute documentary.  You simply have to leave a lot of the good stuff literally on the cutting room floor. I would get questions at every stop while screening the film about my background: What else happened during the heyday? What did you do after All Jokes Aside? What are you doing now? So I felt that a book offered the opportunity to dig deeper, share more details of my journey before, during, and after All Jokes Aside. And there is a lot more to share, but I needed the right collaborator(s). Then I met Chris Bournea, and later Agate’s Doug Seibold. Here we go.


You spent the beginning of your career as an investment banker on Wall Street. How did your experience in the financial sector inform the decisions you made as a comedy club owner?

I worked in sales and trading, which is charged with providing liquidity in the capital markets, the marketplace where stocks or bonds are bought and sold. This liquidity allows a company to raise the capital needed to launch and grow its businesses. But before I sold or bought anything, I had to study the company—its business, management, financial data, annual reports, etc. I became very good at analyzing data. So from the beginning when my business partner and I were evaluating the opportunity to launch a comedy business, I used the same analytical skills that I had learned in business school and on Wall Street to determine if the idea appeared legit. Just as important, if not more so, is that fact that this training also gave me the framework for monitoring our progress and keeping things under control as we jumped in, grew, and expanded.


When you opened All Jokes Aside, you had no direct experience running a comedy club. How long did it take you to feel comfortable in this new career?

I have a history of starting things for which I have no direct experience, so it was not unusual for me to open a comedy club with no prior experience. In fact, I have had little to no experience in practically every job that I have ever had. Youth and inexperience are bliss. But humbly speaking, I have always felt that if it has been done before, I can do it also. A wise man once said, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” I believe that. 


Chris Gardner mentored you. Which of the lessons he taught you proved most beneficial as you navigated your way through this uncharted territory?

Chris was not very happy with me when I decided to leave his firm. He had big plans for me, and like a recalcitrant kid, I decided to throw it all away and join the circus. He didn’t speak to me for several years. But one thing that he and I have always agreed on is the idea that you must claim ownership of your dreams and relentlessly pursue them.  You may disappoint others along the way in that pursuit, but you must be unreasonably willing to pursue them. Flash forward twenty years, our visions once again align, and now we are business partners on a slate of new exciting projects.


What advice do you have for young MBA-holders who are unsure of what sort of career path to follow?

I joke that I have never had a career: I’ve had a series of jobs. All jokes aside, George Bernard Shaw said that nothing great is ever accomplished by a reasonable man. Be unreasonable. Find what you are not only passionate about, but obsessed with, and find a way to make a living from it. And whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to your classmates. It’s not an easy thing to do, but comparison is lethal to contentment. 


Do you have a favorite act that performed at All Jokes Aside? What was it?

I am asked this question all the time, and it’s like asking a parent who’s your favorite child. I have had the good fortune to work with some of the greatest stand up comedians in history. It is impossible to choose. That said, if it were my last meal of jokes, and I could only see one act that I have worked with . . . I am forever indebted to Steve Harvey. He saved our lives and taught me the comedy business. Then there is George Willborn, who was the heart and soul of All Jokes Aside. But before I met Steve and George, I witnessed Bernie Mac. After seeing him perform for the first time, I had all the confidence I needed to jump into the stand up comedy game. I recall thinking that if I had cats like that in my own backyard, then there must be dozens of cats around the country at least half as good. And that’s pretty damn good.


 What’s next for you?

My primary interests are in social entrepreneurship, entertainment, strategic consulting, and fatherhood. With respect to social entrepreneurship, I want to use my entrepreneurial skills and apply them to solving social problems that plague our society. Hunger. Homelessness. Disease. Pay Day Lenders. In entertainment, my motivation is essentially the same: how can we collectively use our talents as artist, comedians, musicians, and filmmakers to address these same social ills? And I want to work closely with result-driven organizations by consulting with them on affecting social change. Last but not least, my most important job is to be the best father that I am capable of being. For now, that’s enough to keep me busy.


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How to submit a project to Agate

Agate is considering submissions in the general areas of fiction and nonfiction (including works for young readers) by African American writers, for its Bolden imprint; food, cooking, and nutrition-related nonfiction, for its Surrey imprint; business-interest nonfiction, for its B2 imprint; and nonfiction books on Midwestern topics or by Midwestern authors, for its Midway imprint. Submissions in other content areas will not be considered. Email inquiries are welcome. Do not make telephone inquiries regarding submissions, and do not attempt to send any hard-copy submissions unless you have first made an email inquiry.

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Introducing Denene Millner Books


Introducing Denene Millner Books

Today we are happy to announce that Agate has partnered with noted author, editor, and parenting authority Denene Millner to launch Denene Millner Books, a new line that Agate will publish in its Bolden Books imprint, which is devoted to the work of African American writers. Our plan is to launch the line by publishing four titles per year in the categories of children’s books and fiction and nonfiction for young readers of different ages. The first offering from Denene Millner Books, Early Sunday Morning, will appear in February 2017. In her new contributing editor role at Agate, Millner will lead the acquisitions and editorial effort for her imprint, and also play a prominent role in the marketing and promotion effort.

Over the past two years or so, as Denene and I began discussing the idea that evolved into this new imprint, I’ve gotten to know her well as both a person and a professional, and I am immensely proud to be partnering with her this way. Denene is a writer, editor, and journalist with an uncommon range of experience in children’s and parenting-related material, as well as many other topic areas. She’s a wonderful collaborator—we’ve developed a unique business relationship that is largely the result of her very warm, open-handed approach.

 Denene Millner

Denene Millner

Denene is co-author of the three-book teen series, Hotlanta, published by Scholastic (which has been optioned by Warner Brothers) and three children’s books, including My Brother Charlie, written with Holly Robinson Peete, and Miss You, Mina, the first in the popular Scholastic Candy Apple book series for tweens to feature an African American lead character. She is also the founder and editor of, a critically acclaimed blog that chronicles the intersection of parenting and race, which has become one of the largest websites followed by and dedicated to African American mothers online. Millner also worked as an editor for Parenting, for which she wrote a column on the ethics and etiquette of parenting, called “Ask Denene.”

Beyond the worlds of children and parenting, Denene has written or co-written 25 books in total, including four New York Times bestsellers, the best known of which is Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, co-written with Steve Harvey, which became the bestselling nonfiction book of 2009. In 2016, she will publish the latest two books she has co-authored— a Taraji P. Henson memoir and Cookie Johnson’s Believing In MagicHer book-writing career began in 1997 with her bestselling advice book, The Sistahs' Rules. Her novels, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, In Love & War, and A Love Story, were co-written with her Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist husband Nick Chiles--the co-author of the 2014 Agate Bolden title Justice While Black. Her novel The Vow, co-authored with Angela Burt-Murray and Mitzi Miller, debuted in 2015 as the Lifetime Television movie, With This Ring, starring Regina P. Hall, Jill Scott, and Gabrielle Union. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two daughters.

Questions? For more information, contact Jacqueline Jarik at


Q&A with Maureen Schulman, coauthor of The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook


Q&A with Maureen Schulman, coauthor of The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook

Today is the publication date for The Eli's Cheesecake Cookbook, a title that is 35 years in the making. This book celebrates the anniversary of a signature Chicago dessert and the restaurant where it all began. Opened by Eli Schulman in the late 1970s, Eli's The Place for Steak quickly became a pillar of Chicago's culinary community, a noted celebrity watering hole, and much beloved for its rich and creamy Chicago-style cheesecakes.

The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook celebrates the 35th anniversary of Eli’s Cheesecake. Why do you think Eli’s Cheesecake has stood the test of time?

Eli’s has stood the test of time because, plain and simple, Eli’s Cheesecake is a great dessert. We have always put quality first and maintained the standard of excellence put forth by Eli himself. Whether it was at Eli’s The Place For Steak, purchasing the best cuts of meat, or testing sour cream as it went through the culturing process every hour for 18 hours—great quality, excellent ingredients, talented pastry chefs, and dedication to detail always stands the test of time.

Also, Eli’s Cheesecake is different than most cheesecakes in terms of taste and texture. If you like it, you’re a fan for life because nothing else tastes quite like Eli’s. It’s like a souffléed custard on the inside, a little firmer and golden on the top and sides, and not too sweet. My father-in-law is credited with creating Chicago-style cheesecake, and that’s what Eli’s is: richer and creamier than its New York counterpart and baked on an all butter-cookie crust instead of graham. 


In the book, you share stories as well as recipes. Which is your favorite anecdote?

When President Clinton came to Eli’s The Place For Steak for dinner and the Secret Service told us we couldn’t tell anyone about his arrival, even the staff. I suggested telling Hal Roach, our great piano bar entertainer, so that he wouldn’t react. The SS said that they would have the President at his table so fast, Hal wouldn’t even notice. The President wasn’t in the doorway for more than a second, when we all heard “Hail to the Chief” being played on the piano!

I also really like the Shrimp Marc story, when my husband was being interviewed for a job at a law firm. After looking at a fairly impressive resume, the interviewer asked him if he was Shrimp Marc.


Beyond the obvious differences you describe above (texture, crust), what sets Eli’s Cheesecake apart from other cheesecakes?

I guess you could say we’re control freaks. We do everything ourselves, from having ingredients made to our specifications and selecting certain fruits from specific groves at specific farms to making all our caramels, ganaches, and fruit compotes in house. So basically, nothing goes into or on top of an Eli’s Cheesecake unless we’ve made it, tested it, and tasted it. 

We still do a lot of things the old-fashioned way. There is handwork on almost every cheesecake and dessert we make. We have a decorating line that looks a lot like the candy scene from I Love Lucy. If a cheesecake has a swirl, decorators literally stand there with the skewer and make sure every swirl is beautiful. They dust the cocoa, smooth the tops, pour the caramel—real pastry artists are working on every cake.


Why did you include some savory favorites in addition to the many cheesecake recipes?

Eli’s The Place For Steak was a very popular restaurant and had a loyal following. It closed ten years ago, when the building was torn down to make room for Lurie’s Children’s Hospital. People ask us all the time if we will reopen Eli’s because they miss certain dishes. Since the book has a timeline theme to it and the cheesecake was created in Eli’s kitchen as the signature dessert for the restaurant, we thought it would be fun to include the most requested recipes. By far, Liver Eli is the most beloved.   


The book discusses how Eli’s took a scientific approach to cheesecake. What’s the secret to creating perfect cheesecakes at home?

Baking is a science, so we felt the best way to approach the recipes was to address the issues that affect the outcome of baking a perfect cheesecake. In the “Demystifying the Cheesecake” chapter, we call out the “Must do’s”: tempering ingredients, adding one ingredient at a time, scraping the mixing bowl after each ingredient addition, mixing slow and long, baking hot and fast, and letting the cheesecake rest at room temperature for an hour before releasing it from the pan. Once you understand those elements, you’ll be able to troubleshoot if your cheesecake turns out to be less-than-perfect and adjust your process for next time.


What do you hope readers gain from The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook?

Confidence. Cheesecake is traditionally considered an intimidating dessert to make at home. If you do everything outlined in these recipes, the cheesecake will turn out perfectly. And if, for example, the cake cracks, the reader is now armed with the scientific knowledge to address the problem. I think our approach empowers the home cook to not only make a great cheesecake, but to understand the principles behind successful baking. The book provides a jumping-off point to be creative. 


What’s next for Eli’s Cheesecake?

Continuing the year-long 35th anniversary celebration and, of course, the sequel to this cookbook. We’re also planning to expand the bakery to meet demand and create new desserts. 



Q&A with Freda Love Smith, author of Red Velvet Underground



In Freda Love Smith's new book, Red Velvet Underground, the former Blake Babies drummer and indie-rock musician tells the story of how her rock-and-roll past grew into her family- and food-centric present. Loosely framed around cooking lessons she gave her eldest son, Jonah, before he left for college, Smith recalls behind-the-music stories with the likes of Juliana Hatfield, Evan Dando (Lemonheads), Henry Rollins, and more.

Over the course of the book, which includes 45 flexitarian recipes, Smith reveals how food has evolved into an important means for creativity and improvisation in her life. This memoir is an engaging exploration of the ways food and music have informed identity through every stage of one woman’s life.

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

When did you decide to write this book?  

It was an incremental decision, kind of a string of decisive moments. The first moment closely followed my decision to do a year of cooking lessons with my oldest son, Jonah. I was a few months out of finishing my creative writing MA, trying to figure out what to do as a writer. While Jonah and I planned our lessons and made our list of recipes, I thought, hey, I should write about this. The book began as a straightforward document of the lessons, but it quickly began to push against that constraint. I was writing about Jonah’s lifelong love of food and connecting it to his early childhood—when he spent a substantial amount of time on tour with me and my husband, Jake, in our band The Mysteries of Life—and I recalled a time that I observed Jonah, three years old, in preschool. He picked up the toy phone and started talking about strawberries and scrambled eggs—he wanted room service! I felt the book expand out of its framework with that image of my son, who’d moved between worlds, from backstage and sound checks and hotels to a normal domestic life in a small college town, and how I’d moved between those worlds myself, often struggling to reconcile and balance them. As the year of lessons and writing progressed, I couldn’t keep my own stories out of the book. When I’d been Jonah’s age, I had moved to Boston, started the Blake Babies, become vegetarian, and eaten my way across the country. All those stories wanted to interact with my experience as a mother. Once I had the title, the project finally crystallized, and I could clearly see the book I was writing.

Were your experiences with the Blake Babies after your reunion in 1999 (and after the birth of your sons) very different from your initial experiences with the band?

The Blake Babies reunion was mostly a breeze, with none of the intensity, pressure, or struggle that we felt in our earlier years. Not that those early years were all bad. There were plenty of high points, and I’m proud of how hard we worked back then. But the stakes were low for the reunion and we had all significantly mellowed. Recording was fun and easy, and every stop on our brief tour was an opportunity to reconnect with fans and friends. I suspect that I enjoyed it the most. It was a treat for me to play with Juliana and John again, to be able to appreciate them fully for the great musicians that they are, and to revisit my pre-motherhood identity. But I suspect it was also hardest for me. For the first out-of-town show, which was only a weekend-long trip away, I left the still- nursing Henry home with a weary Jake and Jonah and some bottles of milk. Henry was fine. But I was very uncomfortable, pumping every few hours, and when I couldn’t find a place to pump, I had to just do it in the van—modesty was not my primary concern. Poor John and Juliana. I’m not sure I’ve had a more surreal rock moment.

What are your sons’ favorite recipes to cook? What are your own?

Jonah is a senior in college now; he lives in a house in Chicago with three other guys, and most of them can cook, which makes my heart glad. Last year they prepared an entire Thanksgiving feast: turkey, stuffing, pie, everything. Jonah tells me that his specialty in the house is a kind of open-ended variation on the Pasta Fagioli recipe that I gave him when he was in high school, and that I once asked him to cook for me and Henry when I was solo-parenting and exhausted. Jonah calls his current version simply “Greens/Beans/Pasta/Sauce.” I hope he writes a cookbook of his own someday, one for broke 20-year-old college students.

Henry is sixteen and ferociously independent. Recently, Jake and I were going to be out for the evening, and I asked him what he wanted for dinner. I thought maybe we’d leave him money to order pizza. He asked me to buy him a whole chicken and a couple of potatoes, and he cooked himself a full chicken dinner from scratch, using the same recipe that I’d developed when I taught Jonah years ago.

Baking is my original and abiding pleasure in the kitchen. For me, baking is never about sustenance; I don’t bake because I have to, only because I want to. I’ve baked cookies at a couple of different bakeries over the years, and whipping up a batch is easy, almost automatic for me, and I love how excited it makes everybody. Pie is more of a project, but it is my favorite thing to make. There’s a big margin of error, and I’ve raged over my fair share of failures, but when pie is successful it’s absolutely magical. My favorite baking recipe in the book is the blueberry pie, an adaptation of a recipe from the legendary Grit restaurant in Athens, Georgia. I tell the story in the book about how it brought me to tears when I ate a slice on a Blake Babies tour.

What sorts of things did you learn as a touring musician that you were able to apply to motherhood? Has there been anything you learned from being a mom that you were able to apply to your music?

Touring taught me to function on little sleep, to be adaptable to a constantly shifting reality, and to stretch a measly ten-dollar per diem over two meals. These skills proved valuable in parenting. Motherhood softened my heart, taught me that I’m not the most important person in the world, and made me more attentive and empathic, all beneficial attributes for a musician, I think. Motherhood also got me playing quiet and with brushes so as not to wake the baby!

What are you working on next?

I want to keep exploring my interest in the connections between music and food. I interview musicians about food for Paste, and I plan to develop this into a rockers’ cookbook, with musicians contributing their favorite dishes. My working title is Pasta Makes You Play Intense, which is something that bass player Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE), used to say often and with conviction in reference to his preferred pre-gig meal.



The historic significance of Carol Moseley Braun

 Jeannie Morris

Jeannie Morris

One of the most frustrating aspects of how Behind the Smile, Jeannie Morris's behind-the-scenes story of the victorious 1992 U.S. Senate campaign waged by Carol Moseley Braun, has been received by reviewers is what I'd call the head-scratching element. By this I mean some reviewers' stated curiosity about why this book is being published, now, in 2015, telling as it does a story more than 20 years old now. 


Here are three immediately apparent reasons why Behind the Smile struck us here at Agate as an important book. One: Last time we looked, Braun was still the only African American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. Her story is of indisputable historic significance. Two: President Barack Obama has stated that Braun's 1992 campaign was an important precursor to his own underdog victory for the same Illinois seat in 2004, when he first became a national figure. How and why Braun won in 1992 has much to do with why Obama ultimately bested two favored opponents twelve years later. And three: when the early favorite for the 2016 presidential election is another woman who's been exhaustively criticized for her relationship decisions, Braun's story is an important cautionary tale about the fraught ways Americans feel about the romantic lives of women in power.

Fortunately, this terrific piece by the Chicago Tribune's  Rick Kogan gives Behind the Smile and its author their due. His essay is a great place to start if you want to learn more about this fascinating and important new book.



Pizza Party! ...and a nominee for an essential pizza cookbook

Our friends at Paste magazine recently shared a list of 6 essential pizza cookbooks.

While there are some great selections there (Tony Gemignani's The Pizza Bible being an office favorite), we wanted to nominate one of our own for the honor:

PASSION FOR PIZZA by the American-Norwegian team of Craig Whitson, Tore Gjesteland, Mats Widen, and Kenneth Hansen.

Not only is this a handsome hardcover with wonderful photography and 50 pizza recipes, but it is also a travel guide containing profiles of 60 pizzerias and pizza-makers from across Rome, Naples, New York, Chicago, L.A., and more.

And if you're lucky enough to live in author Craig Whitson's home state of Oklahoma, you are in for a cheesy treat! Craig will be appearing on Thursday, Oct. 22 at Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City for a homecoming pizza party.


Q&A with Leonard Pitts, Jr., author of GRANT PARK


Q&A with Leonard Pitts, Jr., author of GRANT PARK

Leonard Pitts, Jr. is a nationally syndicated and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald, as well as an accomplished and critically acclaimed novelist. Following the breakout success of his previous novel, Freeman, Mr. Pitts returns with a taut, thrilling page-turner in Grant Park.

His newest book takes on the past 45 years of US race relations through the stories of two veteran journalists, a superstar black columnist and his unsung white editor. The novel moves between two eras: Martin Luther King Jr.'s final days in Memphis during the 1968 sanitation workers' strike, and Barack Obama's 2008 election-night rally in Chicago's Grant Park.

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

What was the genesis of Grant Park? Where did the idea first come from?

My books usually start with themes, and then characters and plotlines flow out of them.  So this particular book began with a frustration not unlike what motivates Malcolm when he reads the racist email from Joe MacPherson. I was less interested, though, in exploring the racial aspect of communiqués like that than the sheer illogic and incoherence of them. In my experience, as in Malcolm’s, that sort of facts-optional absurdity has become pretty ubiquitous in discussions of race—and other contentious social issues—in the last half-century or so, whether on cable news, online, or in the local paper. If you’re emotionally invested in resolving such issues, it’s a deeply frustrating thing.

So I decided to write about one man’s response to that frustration and, through him, to talk about how our approach to the things that divide us has changed in the last 40 years. That was the nugget of it. From there, of course, the book sprawled to include themes of fathers and sons, the splintering of the civil rights coalition, and the loss and reclamation of hope.


Your book explores themes that have everything to do with the civil unrest that has affected Baltimore, Ferguson, and other parts of the country. Does a fiction writer have any advantages over a journalist when it comes to shedding light on these issues?

Oh, yes. Reality is seldom neat, for as much as pundits like myself like to try to impose social and ideological order upon it.

In dealing with serious real-life issues in a fictional venue, however, you can order the world according to your own specifications to show whatever it is you’re trying to show and to say whatever it is you’re trying to say. The world is what you say it is, subject, obviously, to the constraints of internal logic. But within those constraints, you can manipulate the “facts” in hopes of finding the truth.


As a journalist, was it challenging to fictionalize well-known political figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Barack Obama?

Writing Obama was not challenging at all. In the first place, he doesn’t have a whole lot to say in the book and second, he is in our ears almost every day, so I’m very familiar with his speech patterns. For instance, the whole “Hi, everybody,” with which he enters the room in the book is pretty well known to us after six-years-and-change of his presidency. My biggest challenge in writing him was to get the behavior of the Secret Service correct.

King was just the opposite. The only scene of him not taken directly from the historical record, of course, was the long dialogue with Malcolm out back of the hotel. I rewrote that scene several times. I think I was intimidated by the idea of putting words into the mouth of a man who is so revered and well remembered. I wanted to present an off-duty King, shorn of the marble in which he has so long been entombed, but on my first pass at that scene, I had him speaking essentially in bursts of rhetoric, all of which could be sourced to his speeches and books.

Problem is, even great speakers, when they are off duty, do not speak in rhetoric.  They speak like people. So I really had to struggle with giving myself permission to write him just as a man. Much of what he said and does (the drinking and smoking) are still traceable to the historical record, but I also consciously pushed myself to go beyond that and speculate about what he would have said in this particular circumstance.

It was really kind of a scary, but exciting, thing.


Your rendering of King plays a very active role in the story. How do you think your King compares to other popular depictions, such as the King depicted in Selma?

Well, as already noted, I wanted to present him in a less formal and structured way than we are used to seeing, and I think that’s what the depiction in Selma was about. At the end of the day, I think my novel and that movie are both doing the same thing—trying to free him from the amber of our reverence.

It’s interesting. Over the years, we’ve seen warts-and-all cinematic portrayals of other revered figures—John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson—but only now are we beginning to see that of Dr. King. He was a great and noble man. He was also a drinker, smoker, and philanderer who suffered from depression in his last days. Only now are we getting around to presenting this truer, fuller portrait of who and what he was.


This novel unfolds primarily through two distinct points of view: that of celebrated black journalist Malcolm Toussaint and that of his white editor Bob Carson. Which character’s story was more difficult to tell?

Neither character was particularly difficult, though I did have to take a few passes at the chapters of young Malcolm to get the tone right. For some reason, the scenes of him in Memphis as a teenager interacting with his father were difficult to get a handle on.

Otherwise, the characters were pretty easy. I particularly enjoyed playing with each man’s late-life disillusionment and how each reflected the other.


What are you working on next?

It’s called The Thing You Last Surrender. It’s about George Simon, a Marine during World War II. He experiences a kind of racial coming-of-age when his life is saved by a black Navy messman at Pearl Harbor. He forges an unlikely friendship with Thelma, the sister of the man who saved him. 

As the war grinds on, George finds himself in a very real sense struggling to hold onto his humanity while fighting under brutal conditions in the South Pacific. Meanwhile, Thelma is in their shared hometown of Mobile, Alabama, facing a very different racial coming-of-age of her own.