Guild Literary Complex

Writers to Watch


ABout Writers to Watch

In 2014, the Guild Complex named 25 Writers to Watch for our 25th Anniversary. That list included: Jamila Woods, Roger Reeves, Kathleen Rooney, Eric May, Parneshia Jones, Zayd Dohrn, Erika L. Sanchez, Coya Paz, Bill Hillman, Rey Andújar, Jac Jemc, Megan Stielstra, Kristiana Rae Colón, and many more who have gone on to wider recognition for work the Guild was championing first.

These writers are identified by our extended community and selected by the Guild as individuals whose careers represent the future of the literary arts in Chicago and beyond, and whose work reflects the spirit and values of the Guild Complex today.

Below are our current 30 Writers to Watch, a list curated on the occasion of the Guild’s 30th Anniversary. Stay tuned for our 35 Writers to Watch (2024), commemorating the Guild’s 35th anniversary!

30 Writers to Watch (2019):

Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit and Arc & Hue and the chapbooks 7 x 7: kwansabas and THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali. She is part of the MFA faculty at Chicago State University and Stonecoast-University of Southern Maine. When she’s not teaching, Tara works with dedicated teams at Another Chicago Magazine and The Langston Hughes Review as Poetry Editor. She also hosts author chats at the Seminary Co-Op bookstores in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Kimberly Dixon-Mays is a poet, playwright and performer. A Cave Canem, Callaloo and Ragdale fellow with two collections, her journal publications include Consequence magazine (finalist, Prize in Poetry, ’14) and Rhino magazine (finalist, Founder’s Prize, 2018). She is also a Chicago Dramatists Tutterow Fellow and has received various staged readings and productions including (Nine) – selected for Congo Square Theatre’s 2019 August Wilson New Play Initiative, and a semi-finalist for the 2019 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. She loves words alive.

Raul Dorantes been an active editorial board member of several literary magazines. Currently, he is a member of the editorial board of the digital magazine El Beisman. As a playwright, Dorantes has created numerous plays. He published the novel De zorros y erizos and a collection of short stories titled Noches de tablarroca. Dorantes works as a professor of Latin American literature at Northeastern Illinois University.

Emily Thornton Calvo is an artist, author, and poet. She performs in universities, bookstores, and the Art Institute through the Poetry Foundation. Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd, her first book of poems was released with a grant from the City of Chicago. A visual artist, Calvo includes poems in her paintings and collaborated with poet Nikki Giovanni. Calvo is currently writing a memoir about her gay father who recorded his life for 23 years and archived his tapes at the Kinsey Institute.

Michael Fischer is a Moth Chicago StorySlam winner, a Luminarts Cultural Foundation Fellow, and a mentor for incarcerated authors through the Pen City Writers program. His work appears in Salon, The Sun, Orion, Guernica, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He graduated earlier this month with an MA from the University of Chicago and is currently teaching writing workshops for chronically homeless veterans in Colorado as the Lighthouse Fort Lyon Writer-in-Residence. Twitter: @FischWriteToo

Kwabena Foli was born in Belgium and raised in the Southside of Chicago. He is the author of learning rhythm (Flowered Concrete) and winner of The Los Angeles Review Award for poetry (2018). Other publications include Mikrokosmos Journal, Meridian, Crab Orchard Review, Salt Hill Journal and elsewhere. His work is also anthologized in Revise the Psalm: Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks from Curbside Press. His next collection on god will be published by Candor Arts later this year.

Ricardo Gamboa is an artist, activist and academic. They are creator of the groundbreaking web series BRUJOS and underground news show The Hoodoisie. Gamboa is also a playwright and author of The Wizards and The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy de las Rosas. Gamboa is a member of Free Street Theater. He is currently a writer for The Chi on Showtime and is finishing his doctoral degree in American Studies at New York University.

Jan-Henry Gray is the author of Documents, chosen by D. A. Powell as the winner of BOA Editions’ A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. His chapbook, Selected Emails, is out from speCt! Books and his poems are published in many journals, including Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color. Born in the Philippines and raised in California, Jan has lived undocumented in the US for more than 32 years. In Chicago, he co-hosts Meanwhile, a live zine-making and storytelling show.

Ames Hawkins is a creative-critical scholar, educator, and art activist. Her book, These are Love(d) Letters, debuts September 9, 2019 with Wayne State University Press. Ames’ work appears across a range of academic and literary publications such as Pre/Text, Constellations, Palaver Journal, enculturation, Slag Glass City, The Feminist Wire, The Rumpus, and Water~Stone Review. A professor in the English and Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, her online portfolio can be found at

Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert is a nationally acclaimed playwright and writer (Alliance Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition; RhinoFest Award; Native Voices and Visions Award; New Works/New Vision Midwest Playwrights Project; Vermont Studio Center Voices Rising Fellowship; Something Marvelous; Down for the Count Festival; ADA25 Advancing Leadership Fellowship; Cultural DC/Source Festival Top 20 Finalist; Sundance Theatre Lab Top 25; Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, semi-finalist). She was one of 80 poets selected nationally to celebrate Gwendolyn Brooks’ 80th birthday. Committed to inclusivity, she centers disability, race, gender, economics, and geography in her plays, essays and poems.

Timothy J. Hillegonds is the author of the memoir The Distance Between (University of Nebraska Press, October 2019). His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Fourth Genre, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, The Rumpus, River Teeth, Baltimore Review, Brevity, and others. Tim earned a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing (MAWP) from DePaul University and currently serves as a contributing editor for Slag Glass City, a digital journal of the urban essay arts. | Twitter: @timhillegonds | IG: tim_hillegonds

Nate Marshall is from the South Side of Chicago. His first book, Wild Hundreds, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. He is coeditor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. He is a visiting assistant professor at Wabash College. He earned his MFA at the University of Michigan. He is a founding member of the poetry collective Dark Noise. A Cave Canem fellow, his work has appeared in Poetry, Indiana Review, The New Republic, and elsewhere. He was the star of the award-winning documentary Louder Than a Bomb and has been featured on the HBO series Brave New Voices. Marshall received the Hurston/Wright Founding Members Award for College Writers, the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.

John McCarthy is the author of Scared Violent like Horses (Milkweed Editions, 2019), which won the Jake Adam York Prize. He is also the author of Ghost County (Midwestern Gothic Press, 2016), which was named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by The Chicago Review of Books. John is the winner of The Pinch 2016 Literary Award in Poetry, and his work has appeared in American Literary Review, Best New Poets 2015, Copper Nickel, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Sycamore Review, TriQuarterly, and Zone 3. He received his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Patricia Ann McNair writes fiction and nonfiction. The Temple of Air (stories, Elephant Rock Books), won Southern Illinois University Devil’s Kitchen Readers Award, Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and was a finalist for Society of Midland Authors Adult Fiction Award. And These are The Good Times (essays, Side Street Press), was a Montaigne Medal finalist. McNair is director of undergraduate creative writing programs at Columbia College Chicago, and artistic director for Mining the Story, a writer’s retreat in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Facebook author page | Twitter: @PatriciaAMcNair

Ciara Darnise Miller holds both an MFA and MA in Poetry and African American/African Diaspora Studies from Indiana University where she founded the city’s popular Bloomington Poetry Slam Series. She also received her BA in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College. She has published poems and essays in such collections and periodicals as Black Girl Magic, The Whiskey of Our Discontent, Break Beat Poets, Mosaic, Fjords Review, African American Review, Callaloo, Muzzle, Alice Walker: Critical Insights, Chorus, and many more. She currently serves as an Afro-American Studies professor at Kennedy King College and the CEO of Miller’s Learning Center.

Faisal Mohyuddin is the author of The Displaced Children of Displaced Children, which won the 2017 Sexton Prize for Poetry, was selected as a Summer 2018 Recommendation of the Poetry Book Society, and was named a “highly commended” poetry collection of 2018 by the Forward Arts Foundation. Also the author of the chapbook The Riddle of Longing, Faisal is an educator adviser to the global not-for-profit Narrative 4 and teaches English at Highland Park High School in Illinois.

Cheswayo Mphanza was born in Lusaka, Zambia and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His work has been featured in The New England Reviews, Prairie Schooner, RHINO, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Callaloo, and Cave Canem. He earned an MFA in poetry at Rutgers-Newark.

Nikki Patin has been featured in the Guardian, Chicago Tribune, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and on international television and radio. She has performed at EXPO Chicago, the National Black Theater in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, Black Artists Retreat, Arie Crown Theater, UIC Pavilion and many other spaces in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. In 2014, she addressed the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on behalf of U.S. Black women survivors of sexual violence. Patin founded Surviving the Mic (, which creates brave space for survivors of trauma. She holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from the University of Southern Maine and is an Illinois state-certified crisis counselor. She is a recipient of a 3Arts Make a Wave award. Upcoming projects include a full-length album and a year-long multimedia, durational performance piece entitled The Vitruvian Woman. Her writing, performance and design work can be found at

Frances de Pontes Peebles is the author of The Seamstress and The Air You Breathe. Translated into ten languages, her books have won the Elle Grand Prix for fiction and the Friends of American Writers Award. The Air You Breathe was a Book of the Month Club pick. The Seamstress was adapted for film and mini-series on Brazil’s Globo Network. She serves on the Board of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and as Visiting Professor of Fiction at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Ruben Quesada is author of Next Extinct Mammal, and Exiled from the Throne of Night: Selected Translations of Luis Cernuda. His poems and translations have appeared in the Best American Poetry series, American Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, and other anthologies and journals. He has been awarded fellowships and grants from Vermont Studio Center, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and Santa Fe Art Institute. His chapbook, Revelations, is available from Sibling Rivalry Press. Dr. Quesada serves as the Executive Director of Arte Américas, one of the largest Latino-focused arts centers in California.

Christine Rice’s novel Swarm Theory received a Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award (Honorable Mention), an Independent Publisher Book Award (Silver for Best First Book), and a National Indie Excellence Award – Winner (Regional Fiction – Midwest). Swarm Theory also made PANK’s Best Books of 2016, and was included in Powell’s Books Midyear Roundup, the Best Books of 2016 So Far. Christine’s short stories and essays have been published widely. She is currently the managing editor of Hypertext Magazine and founder of the social justice writing nonprofit Hypertext Magazine & Studio (HMS). | | Twitter: @ChrisMaulRice | @HypertextMag

Jennifer Roche‘s work has appeared in Footnote: A Literary Journal of History; Oyez Review; The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society; Ghost Ocean and others. Her first chapbook of erasure poems, 20, culled from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is forthcoming from Alternating Current Press. She is the founder of the Ode to Fury Found Poetry Workshop, which she first held at the Chicago Public Library, has taught in the Chicago Public Schools, and offers for other organizations. | IG: @jrillinois | Twitter: @jenniferrocheus

Kenyatta Rogers is a Cave Canem Fellow and has been awarded multiple scholarships from the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. He has also been nominated multiple times for both Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes. His work has been previously published in or is forthcoming from Jubilat, Vinyl, Bat City Review, The Volta, PANK, MAKE Magazine among others. He is as a co-host of the Sunday Reading Series with Simone Muench, an Associate Editor with RHINO Poetry and currently serves on the Create Writing Faculty at the Chicago High School for the Arts.

J. Howard Rosier is the founder and editor of the journal Critic’s Union. His writing has appeared in The New Criterion, Kenyon Review, Bookforum, and elsewhere. He is currently working on a novel about the death of three athletes told from the perspective of their community: black residents of Chicago’s south suburbs. Rosier is the recipient of the James Nelson Raymond Fellowship from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an Alan Cheuse Emerging Critics Fellowship from the National Book Critics Circle. Twitter: @justlikebeirut | IG: @saville_ros

Natania Rosenfeld is a writer and independent scholar and Professor Emerita of English at Knox College. She has published a poetry collection, Wild Domestic (Sheep Meadow Press 2015), and a critical book, Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf (Princeton 2000). An e-chapbook, She and I, appeared in 2018 from Essay Press. Her essays, poems and fiction have been published in journals including The Yale Review, APR, Raritan, Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Southwest Review, and four essays have been listed as “Notable” in Best American Essays collections.

Mojdeh Stoakley is a writer, performer, and arts + public health educator. She performs internationally and has led slam teams to final stages! She was recently named the 2019 Artist-in-Residence for both Elastic Arts and One City One Poet. When she’s not being a creative savant and community leader, she is engaged in HIV prevention research. She founded Interfaith Poets, Lethal Poetry, and LUCID Art Lab, sits on the board of Surviving The Mic and has executive produced Lethal Poetry’s Nights of Sight & Sound, Art On Track (world’s largest mobile art show), and the 29th National Poetry Slam (US). She’s also designed and facilitated arts + public health programs for Chicago Poetry Center, Chicago Slam Works, After School Matters, High Jump, and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health.

Rachel Swearingen‘s fiction has appeared in VICE, The Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, Agni, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Her story collection, How to Walk on Water and Other Stories, winner of the 2018 New American Press Fiction Prize, will be published in 2020. She is the recipient of the 2015 Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize in Fiction, a 2012 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and the 2011 Mississippi Review Prize in Fiction.

Naomi Washer is the author of Phantoms (dancing girl press) and American Girl Doll (Ursus Americanus Press) and the translator of Sebastián Jiménez Galindo’s Experimental Gardening Manual (Toad Press). Her work has appeared in Court Green, Pithead Chapel, Asymptote, Passages North, Essay Daily, and other journals. She has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center, Studio Faire, Chateau d’Orquevaux, and Columbia College Chicago where she earned her MFA in Nonfiction. She is the editor of Ghost Proposal, a literary journal, chapbook press, and reading series.

Valerie Wallace‘s debut poetry collection House of McQueen was chosen by Vievee Francis for the Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly said that Wallace created “…a literary seance…serving as a scholar of and medium for the late iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen….” Her work has been chosen for many grants and awards, including by Margaret Atwood for the Atty Award, an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, and recently, the Mendocino Writers Conference Poetry Award.

Jeremy T. Wilson is the author of the short story collection Adult Teeth. He is a former winner of the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award for short fiction, and his stories have appeared in literary magazines such as The Carolina Quarterly, The Florida Review, The Masters Review, Sonora Review, Third Coast and other publications. He holds an MFA from Northwestern University and teaches creative writing at The Chicago High School for the Arts. He lives in Evanston, Illinois with his wife and daughter. | Twitter: @shiremy


Book Release & Reading @ Hopleaf featuring Tim J. Hillegonds and Kenyatta Rogers (3/31/20)