When people think of the Reader, a few things might come to mind: dogged journalism, meaty features and critiques that spark conversations, and a unique history that, much like Chicago itself, is rooted in tenacity and resilience.
Through changes in the media landscape (and ownership), the Reader has survived and, as was established in its first anniversary issue back in 1972, has continued to build on the foundation that “we find street sellers more interesting than politicians, and musicians more interesting than the Cubs. They are closer to home.”
Fast-forward a few decades, and the sentiment still rings true.
When I think of the Reader, one of the first things that pops into my mind is the People Issue. Launched in 2011 as a love letter to singular, under-the-radar Chicagoans, the special issue caused a ripple effect felt across the alt-weekly industry. With its innovative approach and format-busting online presentation, it picked up a few national awards early on, and signaled a new beginning as to how alternative publications could approach and present real, impactful stories. Stories that in that first iteration included Dr. Titus Chiu, a skateboarder turned healer who believed “love is the most powerful medicine there is,” and Kimberly Wasserman, a Little Village environmental justice advocate who after being featured went on to shut down two of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants and transformed them into cherished community spaces.
A string of changes in Reader structure and leadership followed, and the People Issue was set on pause after its 2016 incarnation, leaving many—myself included—hungry for a comeback.
Refreshed and revisited, the People Issue’s class of 2022 showcases folks from many walks of life and includes a self-described “little, queer, Indigenous child of God” who grew up to be a force in underground space-funk parties, a former Maxwell Street vendor who developed into a vintage wares and estate sale powerhouse, and a workplace stress educator by day/kink performer by night who has quickly become the rubber-clad darling of the local puppy play scene.
As subjects, their common thread is an incessant need to create welcoming spaces for other individuals like them, enact change, further their craft, do good, and in one instance, amplify the representation of stoner lesbians in graphic novels.
In a People Issue first, there’s also a posthumous entry honoring the memory of the one and only “Mama” Gloria Allen who passed away earlier this year, leaving a legacy that impacted many, and that should be celebrated in perpetuity.
On the topic of standout people, I’d be remiss not to mention the dedicated staff who put this oh-so-very-special issue together. Your talent and energy is also embedded in the fiber of what makes Chicago a prime place to thrive in.
Curious to find out what item currently sitting in your fridge is considered “a picture of culture” by some? Read on.
—Enrique Limón, editor in chief@EnriqueLimon