Friday, 23 March 2012

Chicago, Illinois

In early February, I went to Chicago for the Association of Writers and Writing Program's (AWP) annual conference.  This was free to me as an MFA student; in fact my graduate school reimbursed me the full cost of airfare, hotel and food. Who can argue with that?

View of the Windy City's downtown from the Shedd Aquarium.

If you're a writer and have never been to an AWP conference, I can't recommend it highly enough.  I heard that there were over 10,000 writers in attendance. There were also an enormous book fair in the basement of the Chicago Hilton.  

But the highlight of each day were the panels.  The conference was three days, and there were six sessions per day.  During each session, there were twenty-five panels to choose from.  The panels were diverse, running the gamut from slam poetry to literary journalism to teaching writing in prison to balancing writing as a stay-at-home parent.      

Free glass of champagne I received at a panel hosted by Fourth Genre, a nonfiction, Midwest-based literary journal. 

Between attending writing panels and eating Chicago deep-dish pizza, I was able to do a bit of sightseeing.  The first thing I did was walk to Millennium Park.  It's a 24.5 acre park in the northwest corner of Grant Park that was opened in 2004 (four years behind schedule) to celebrate the millennium.  One of the defining features of the park is Cloud Gate.  Nicknamed "The Bean" because of it's shape, its Indian-born British creator - Anish Kapoor - said he drew his inspiration from liquid mercury.  The sculpture is a giant mirror; you can see your reflection it in from every angle, even the underside.

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park.

There are many other great things to see at Millennium Park, including the McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink.  The ice rink hosts about 100,000 skaters during the four months it's open per year.  The rest of the time, it functions as Chicago's largest outdoor dining facility.  

Ice rink photo in black and white.

I also spent an afternoon walking along Lake Michigan.  I passed the Field Museum of Natural History (has 21 million specimens including Sue, the world's largest and most complete T-rex), the Shedd Aquarium (contains 1,500 species and five million gallons of water), the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum and meandered onto Northerly Island (a man-made peninsula along Chicago's waterfront built in 1925).

View of downtown Chicago from the edge of Lake Michigan. 

There were a lot of ladders along the lake. 

The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum.

Northerly Island Park (near the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum).

A cool marina I stumbled upon between Northerly Island and downtown.

I also snapped a lot of pictures of downtown:

Post-sunset in downtown.

Aren't these train tracks fabulous?

View of Michigan Avenue.

The last tourist thing I did was to go to Navy Pier, Chicago's #1 tourist attraction.  

Two friends on the walk from Millennium Park to Navy Pier.  Note downtown Chicago in the background.

As we approached Navy Pier, I was in awe of the turquoise water in Lake Michigan.

Navy Pier from a distance.  See the ferris wheel?

The 1,010 meter pier on the shore of Lake Michigan was opened to the public in 1916.  It houses a ferris wheel, an IMAX theatre, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Chicago Children's Museum, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and dozens of shops and restaurants.  Here are a few shots I took from the pier:

 Posing near the ferris wheel.

Close-up of the Navy Pier ferris wheel.

Friends' reflection in a carnival mirror.

View of downtown from the pier.

Thought this view was kind of cool.

These pigeons were in a tizzy because some kid was throwing bird seed in the air.

Some shots from the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows:

All in all, the conference left me inspired and rejuvenated and reaffirmed my commitment to writing.  And Chicago was an amazing venue.  I'd love to go back in the summer when it's maybe not so windy.