Guild Literary Complex



The Guild Literary Complex is a 30-year-old grassroots literary arts organization creating performance-based events in and around the Chicagoland area. We partner and collaborate with other community groups on social and restorative justice issues, providing arts and advocacy programming for marginalized voices.

For the last 30 years, the Guild Literary Complex has been a Chicagobased literary organization presenting and supporting diverse, divergent, and emerging voices through programming that is as dynamic as Chicago itself. Actively working with individuals and organizations from all of Chicago’s many neighborhoods, the Guild seeks to connect seemingly disparate groups and geographies through literature—bringing unexpected writers, programs, and audiences together.

The Guild works in collaboration with the City of Chicago and organizations like the Poetry Foundation, The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, The Southeast Asian Center, Brooks Permissions, Third World Press, Sones de Mexico,  Studio Gang Architects, American Writers Museum, International Cities of Refuge Network, About Face Theatre, Rebuild Foundation, University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life, Women & Children First Bookstore, and many others. The missions and visions of these partner organizations contribute significantly to the breadth, depth, and resonance of the Guild Literary Complex, each helping to create dynamic programming highlighting our varied and robust literary community, speaking from and giving voice to the margins.

Guild Programming

Applied Words: A multidisciplinary platform that includes readings, exhibitions, theatre, dance, and musical performances alongside panel discussions that bring together artists and experts from different disciplines and fields of study to explore and reflect on topics of current import.

Palabra Pura: A bilingual reading series curated by and spotlighting the diversity of Chicano and Latinx artists writing in English, Spanish, or both in Chicago, and usually featuring an open mic.

Voices of Protest: Writers from around the globe, including those born here who have inherited diasporic legacies, share work and experiences that shed light on the threats to free expression and well being for artists everywhere. Voices of Protest is also the home of programs the Guild co-organizes as part of the Chicago City of Refuge Initiative, which supports Chicago becoming an ICORN City of Refuge.

Brooks Legacy Programming: The Guild’s annual and ongoing programs that celebrate the legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks as a friend of the Guild, as a vital member of the Chicago literary community, and as one of the most important American poets of the 20th Century:

BrooksDay: The Guild’s annual celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks, held every year on June 7th, the anniversary of her birth.  Each year’s celebration commemorates Brooks’ artistic achievements and influential legacy through public performances of her work.

The Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards (GBOMA): Annual poetry competition initiated and endowed by Gwendolyn Brooks.

Gwendolyn Brooks Specialty Programming: Additional programming that brings out further dimensions of Brooks’ work and her legacy.

The Leon Forrest Prose Awards: Annual fiction and non-fiction competition in honor of novelist, essayist, and educator Leon Forrest (1937-1997).

Partner & Special Events: Unique one-time programs, often created in partnership with one or more other organization.


In 1989, a local, community-based bookstore, Guild Books (once located on Lincoln Avenue) began regularly hosting progressive, stimulating, and eclectic literary events. Soon after, the Guild Complex established itself as an official non-profit organization with poet Michael Warr as its first executive director. For the last 30 years, the Guild Literary Complex has been a pioneer on Chicago’s literary landscape, consistently hosting innovative and diverse events, featuring leading literary names, and welcoming new, emerging voices. The Guild Literary Complex has been acknowledged as “Chicago’s premier literary center” by the Illinois Arts Council and twice selected as a model literary center by the National Endowment for the Arts. Chicago writer Studs Terkel, activist Meridel Le Sueur, and blues legend Willie Dixon were among many famous faces who passed through the doors of Guild Books, and past writers have included some of history’s most influential contemporary authors, including:

Gwendolyn Brooks  | Ana Castillo | Lucille Clifton | Kent Foreman

Eduardo Galeano | Jack Hirschman | Ricardo Gamboa | Angela Jackson

Alex Kotlowitz | Li-Young Lee | Sharon Olds | Michael Ondaatje | Grace Paley

Octavio Paz | Sterling Plumpp | Adrienne Rich | Carolyn Rodgers | Luis Rodriguez

Salman Rushdie | Patricia Smith | Quincy Troupe

and many more.