Stuart Dybek was born in 1942 and raised in Chicago’s Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods in the 1950s and early 1960s. At the time, Poles, Czechs and Hispanics lived in the area. Today, the neighborhoods are mostly populated by Mexican Americans. Dybek’s father immigrated to the United States from Poland and worked as a foreman at International Harvester; his mother worked as a truck dispatcher.
Dybek earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa and holds a master of arts degree in literature from Loyola University in Chicago. He lives in Kalamazoo, Mich., and has taught at Western Michigan University since 1974. He participates in the PEN/Faulkner Foundation’s Writers in Schools program, which sends authors into inner-city high schools to talk about writing. Since 1996, he has traveled to the Czech Republic to lead creative writing workshops as part of WMU’s Prague Summer Program in which American and Eastern European authors teach literature, film and drama.
Critics consider Stuart Dybek a master of the short story with such writers as Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. The Coast of Chicago has been compared to Hemingway’s short story collection In Our Time because it also intersperses longer stories with shorter pieces that resemble poems. Unlike Hemingway, Dybek often links the two with the shorter piece as a prologue to the longer story. The Coast of Chicago has also been compared to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio in that it “explores a city through the eyes of young people.”
In a review of The Coast of Chicago, the Village Voice said, “Irresistible…Mr. Dreiser, Mr. Farrell, Mr. Bellow, Mr. Algren, please say hello to Stuart Dybek. He is one of yours.” Studs Terkel calls Dybek “the bard of the blue collar. The cream of the crop. He captures the vocabulary and the dreams of the outsider, the blue-collar guy.”
Dybek’s fiction departs from the Chicago tradition of realistic writing as it combines realism with the surreal and lyrical mysteries of memory, emotions and imagination. His tales mix the real and the fantastic with ethnic customs and the Roman Catholic rituals of his childhood. The Coast of Chicago, published in 1990, is Dybek’s second collection of short stories. In his review, Don Lee says “this is a book about trying to bridge polarities: the past and future, tradition and assimilation, hopelessness and joy, night and day.” Three of its stories received high praise by critics: “Hot Ice,” “Blight” and “Pet Milk.”
His first book was a collection of poetry called Brass Knuckles (1979). A collection of short stories, Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, was published in 1980. Many magazines such as The New Yorker, Harper’s, Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times have published his fiction, poetry and nonfiction. His most recent book, I Sailed with Magellan, published in 2003, portrays the Chicago escapades of Perry Katzek in 11 stories. A collection of poems titled Streets in Their Own Ink was published in 2004.
Dybek has received numerous writing awards including the 1995 PEN/Bernard Malamud Prize “for distinctive achievement in the short story;” an Academy Institute Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994; a Guggenheim Fellowship and two fellowships from the NEA. He also received four O. Henry Prizes, including a first prize award for “Hot Ice.” Another story from The Coast of Chicago, “Blight,” was awarded the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award. Childhood and Other Neighborhoods was nominated for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in 1980.
- Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2001.
- Huebner, Jeff. “Coming Home.” Chicago Reader, November 14, 2003.
- Levasseur, Jennifer and Kevin Rabalais, eds. Novel Voices. Writer’s Digest Books, 2003.
Content last updated: April 30, 2004