UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Like most journalists, music writer Jessica Hopper tends to focus on subjects outside herself, telling stories of how albums came to be, teaching girls how to start a band and analyzing how modern rock and roll writing perpetuates music industry misogyny. But in her latest release, “Night Moves,” Hopper takes readers on a truly personal journey – through her longtime Chicago neighborhood.
“Night Moves” is a collection of diary entries, fan zine writing and blog posts chronicling late night bike rides, concerts and parties with the artistic community she built over more than two decades in Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. The book is commonly referred to as a love letter to Chicago, but as she writes, “To love this city, I attest, you must also hate it dispassionately.”
Block Club chatted with Hopper before she sets out on a national book tour that includes events at the Empty Bottle, Women & Children First and the Chicago Humanities Festival.
BCC: Was it a challenge going through so many years of writing to put together “Night Moves?”
JH: It wasn’t a challenge. It was a joy to go through in many ways. It was a gift to become reacquainted with the enthusiasm and dogmatic sensibilities of my 28-year-old self. It was interesting to see the parts that are still recognizable in myself today. Those are my selfish things.
Also, in giving early copies to some of my close friends, they had different perspectives on the same events. I feel grateful for these things. The editorial criteria I had going through it was just “Does this feel true? Does it represent a place and time that is maybe gone? Does it capture something particular about that moment?” and that moment being when not everybody had cell phones. It pre-dawned the ubiquity of social media everything. I knew it was mostly a book about going out at night. So that took care of it. While the book doesn’t have an arc, you see glimpses of what the early days of my writing career looked like.
How did Chicago shape you as a writer?
Chicago is a city where you can indulge whatever curiosity you have, whether it’s about art, activism, organizing, cultures that you’re deeply unfamiliar with. It’s such a rich place that no matter what you’re interested in, it’s a city that provides an education and enriches everything you’re doing because you have so many chances to interact with things that are different from who you are or how you orient yourself within the world.
Part of the reason I’ve always loved being here and returned here even after stints in other places is Chicago is there’s always so many people making things, making something of themselves. You can make art. You can make community. It feels like there are fewer and fewer cities where you can do that. That level of engagement is in the fabric of Chicago. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of people who are disenfranchised. But I think there’s space within the city and there are opportunities to organize in service of something and/or to connect with people who are interested in doing what you’re doing.
What excites you currently in Chicago?
Some of the things that inspire me are what is coming out of the poetry scene and Young Chicago Authors. YCA and similar programs have made poetry something cool and something that young people can find a way to express themselves through. Because Chicago has so much of a poetry culture and it’s competitive but not in a bad way, it pushes people to a higher level. There are so many different avenues to get feedback and support and be turned on to the possibilities of poetry.
With poetry, this city offers so many uniquely different experiences, from Jose Olivarez’s “Citizen Illegal” to Nate Marshall’s “Wild Hundreds” to Fatimah Asghar’s “If They Come For Us” to Jamila Woods to Eve Ewing to Carl Sandberg, who was writing a 100 years ago. There are elements, moods and modes of Chicago that you can read in current work or little threads that I pull into my writing. There’s this sort of indelibility even as Chicago changes so very much. I hope my book connects in those ways and places.
What audience do you have in mind for “Night Moves?”
I think this book is for people who love or hate Chicago. There’s something for everybody. It’s also for folks who are finding their footing as young artists or for people who are entrepreneurs or just starting off their lives with a hope and a dream in a new city. It’s also from that place of having one foot in the adult world and the other in the part of your twenties that isn’t laden with the adult responsibilities that can encroach on the time you spend with your friends or the freedom to do all the things that help you figure out who you are.
My other hope is it’s evangelizing for people to stay in the Midwest or to come back here. You can find spaces here that are affordable and allow you to have a life that isn’t just a total grind.