HYDE PARK — A newly created independent publishing house based on the South Side will soon debut a collection of flash fiction pieces written by one of Chicago’s literary giants.
“This Is Life,” a compilation of 133 rediscovered stories written by the late Frank London Brown for the Chicago Defender, will hit online shelves June 20. You can preorder the paperback book for $10.99 here.
Frank London Brown, a musician, Civil Rights activist, journalist and Chicago Literary Hall of Fame member, was the famed pen behind “Trumbull Park,” a story about the first Black families to move to the South Side public housing development in the ’50s. Brown died in 1962 at 34.
“This Is Life” will be the second book by From Beyond Press, a Hyde Park publishing house launched by Michael Phillips, founder of South Side Projections and an events coordinator at the University of Chicago’s Film Study Center. The first book, “This World Belongs to Us,” an anthology of horror stories about bugs, is available now.
Phillips established From Beyond Press this year to chase a passion for publishing after success with his online shop, It Came from Beyond Pulp. The latter, launched in the heart of the pandemic, published three chapbooks written by the likes of Chicago’s Cynthia Pelayo and musician Lloyd Brodnax King.
A series of fortunate events led to Phillips discovering Brown’s storied work. He spent hours combing through the Defender’s archives, searching for the initials “F.L.B.,” Phillips said.
What Phillips found were complex, rich stories written by someone unpacking life as a Black man on the South Side during one of the city’s most tumultuous times, Phillips said.
“Brown was this unheralded genius tragically taken from the world way too young,” Phillips said. “But what he wrote back then is just as relevant today.”
Rebecca Zorach, Phillips’ wife, first saw the initials “F.L.B.” when conducting research for her text, “Art for People’s Sake: Artists and Community in Black Chicago, 1965-1975,” Phillips said.
Zorach was interviewing Robert Abbott “Bobby” Sengstacke Jr., the acclaimed photojournalist and grand-nephew of the founder of the Defender, Phillips said.
Sengstacke’s work led to Gerald Williams, a co-founder of AFRICOBRA, a revolutionary Black artists collective founded in Chicago in the late ’60s, Phillips said.
Williams explained that the font used in many of AFRICOBRA’s pieces was inspired by the graffito used to spell “Bird Lives” on a wall Williams passed on his frequent train rides, Phillips said.
“Rebecca wanted to find out anything she could about this piece of graffiti,” Phillips said. “So she went to the Defender, which is what you do if you want to find out something about Black Chicago.”
Zorach found a short story about a “frustrated musician who paints ‘Bird Lives’ on the wall” in the Defender archives,” Phillips said.
“It was signed F.L.B.,” Phillips said. “There was no other information.”
Zorach brought the initials back to Sengstacke, “the person you’d go to if you wanted to find out anything about anybody,” Phillips said.
It didn’t take long before Sengstacke had an answer, Phillips said. The writer was Frank London Brown.
Phillips, fascinated by the unknown, poured through the Defender’s archives to search for more pieces by the late author, he said.
Phillips searched for every variation of “F.L.B.,” he said. In total, he found 133 flash fiction pieces published between 1959 and 1960 with the name, Phillps said.
“Then they just stop,” Phillips said.
Most stories were under the series name “This Is Life” — the title Philips used for his collection, he said.
Brown’s pieces — though short — drip in a rich sadness, Phillips said. There are tales of tumultuous relationships intermingled with police brutality and race relations.
“But a lot of the stories are about not being able to say things that, if you could say them, would make life a lot easier,” Phillips said.
Royalties for “This Is Life” will be split between Phillips and Brown’s surviving family, he said. Brown’s oldest daughter, Debra E. Brown-Thompson, wrote a foreword for the book, bridging the gap between the lauded author and the beloved father.
“This Is Life” includes an afterword from poet Nile Lansana and an introduction from award-winning author Sandra Jackson-Opoku, whose mother “went to her grave convinced that Frank London Brown wrote [“Trumbull Park”] about me,” she said.
The book’s cover, a black and white frame of a girl balanced on her father’s shoulders, was one of many photos taken by Sengstacke at Bud Billiken parades, Phillips said.
“Sengstacke’s images are gorgeous and timeless,” Phillips said. “It felt like it captured something about the stories and why Brown was writing them.”
“This Is Life” is one of a few new ways readers can explore Brown’s life.
“You Remember Frank London Brown,” the exhibit, will debut 6 p.m. June 9 at the Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd. You can get tickets for the free event here.
Copies of “This Is Life,” a book of “timeless stories,” will also be available at the celebration, Phillips said.
“I hope that when people read these stories, they can see a bit of themselves,” Phillips said. “Older readers might see their parents or grandparents in these stories. Most of them could take place today and you wouldn’t be able to tell it was set in 1959.”
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