If you need to buy gifts this holiday season, but aren’t sure where to turn in a pandemic, may I suggest you look to my many talented friends? There are all different kinds of art to choose from here — books, comics, prints, albums. I left this post a bit late, my apologies, so keep in mind that Christmas shipping cut-off dates might have passed for some of these, but don’t let that deter you; I’m sure whatever you’re buying will be a great New Year’s gift. Shop local, shop small business, support your artists!
“The Lice” by Miranda Featherstone, in A World Out of Reach
Look, you may think reading more about the pandemic is the last thing you want to do, but what if the writing was really good? Miranda has been developing a clear, drily funny, and insistently honest style since at least the creative writing class we took together in high school. She’s written an essay about the worry and care we have for our children and the sickening fear and awareness of the frustrating limits of our own efforts that a novel coronavirus (or lice infestation) can induce.
The other essays in this book, selected by poet and memoirist Meghan O’Rourke, are sure to be as thoughtful and interesting.
Horned Warrior Friends and photos by Jez Kemp
Jez’s mind is a wonder, coming up with wonderfully smart and silly ideas at an astonishing speed. He writes and performs his own music, he’s perfecting the sunset timelapse photo, and he’s got a whole universe of characters that he draws and writes about. You can check out Horned Warrior Friends on their dedicated site, and if you go to the Redbubble site you can put the comics on just about anything (phone case, t-shirt, greeting card). You can also buy his photography and other artwork there (I am really partial to the sunset ones, but there are a lot of great pieces).
Quantum Leopard comedy by James Ross and many others
One of my favorite nights out in London, back when we had nights out, was the Quantum Leopard comedy night, run by the mustachioed Victorian waistcoat himself, James Ross. It’s a pay-what-you-can night with an explicit “no kicking down” policy, which means I can split myself laughing for three straight hours, without worrying that someone on stage is suddenly going to throw in something transphobic or go on a rant about fat people. And the quality of comedy is just top-notch. James was able to record one of the few shows he was able to put on in the midst of the ever-changing government rules this year, and you can buy it on the Patreon page.
Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West
Cathy and I worked together when I lived in Chicago. She helped train me, and we bonded over being from the same part of the southside. She’s written steadily for years, and I’m thrilled to see her debut novel — about faith, friendship, and family — make as big a splash as it has. It’s been featured in USA Today, it’s won the #SheReads Best book of the Year award, it’s been given 5 stars by Terry McMillan! Seriously, it’s one of the big books of the year, and for good reason — it’s powerful and impossible to put down. And lucky for us, Cathy’s got new books coming out in 2021 and 2022!
Now I Understand by Mikael Järvelin
I’ve spent many happy hours singing along with Mikke, and listening to him at open mics and my salons. He plays with delicate precision and writes introspective lyrics to match the mood. Think Elliott Smith via The Beatles, but Finnish. He’s released his first solo full-length as a digital album, and I highly recommend it (and I’m not just saying that because I appear on the track “Space”!).
Kit: A Bar Supply Store in Chicago by Lindsey Miller and Rachel Miller
Opening a brick-and-mortar specialty store in 2020? In this economy? Yes! Lindsey and Rachel, twins and Chicago natives, have jumped into this project, and I’m so proud and inspired by them. Rachel is an expert bartender (she literally gives classes on making cocktails — online! you can join!) and Lindsey is the project manager of your dreams. They’ve opened a store in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago, where pros and amateurs alike can pick up beautiful, useful bar kit. If you’re in the greater Chicago area, stop by to say hi!
Can We Talk About Consent? by Justin Hancock
Justin is an extremely knowledgeable and approachable sex educator. He runs BISH, a place for young people especially (but anyone, really) to get accurate, judgment-free sex advice (it’s like the UK’s version of Scarleteen). With Dr. Meg-John Barker, he runs a podcast and has co-authored a book. And now he’s got more! Can We Talk About Consent? is for anyone 14 and up, so if you’ve got teens in your life, I highly recommend you get this guide to talking about how we can build healthy relationships for life — that includes sex but also everything from how we make choices to how we can make respect for ourselves and others a foundation for everything we do. Pre-order so you have it by its early January release.
Mother of Orphans by Dedria Humphries Barker
Dedria has dug deep into her own family history to uncover the, as she puts it, “true and curious story of Irish Alice,” a white woman who married a black man in 19th century Ohio. When he died, Alice had to make the agonizing decision to put her children in an orphanage because she couldn’t afford to raise them. Dedria shares the voices of five women in her family, from Alice on down to herself, and the result is poignant and moving.
Anchorless Prints by Alithea O’Dell
Alithea’s studied the craft of letterpress and she uses a Chandler and Price machine, powered by foot treadle, to painstakingly make each item by hand (and foot, I guess!). She’s got stationery, greeting cards, stickers, and more. You can even request a bespoke commission via her contact page (not for Christmas this year, it is too late for that, but for the future). I think each print is just gorgeous.