Placemaking: Timothy Cresswell & Dani Shapiro

October 5th, 2019


A place like the Seminary Co-op is in some sense made of writing, but what can writing make? That question finds its way in conversations with Timothy Cresswell, Dani Shapiro and others on the first episode of the third season of Open Stacks.

"For decades, Maxwell Street was a place where people from all corners of the city mingled to buy and sell goods, play and listen to the blues, and encounter new foods and cultures. Now, redeveloped and renamed University Village, it could hardly be more different." From "Exploring Chicago's Maxwell Street with Tim Cresswell" on The Chicago Blog, published by the University of Chicago Press

Go in the stacks and overseas with Timothy Creswell, the Ogilvie Chair in Geography in the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, poet and author of many books, including Place: An Introduction and Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Place, published by the University of Chicago Press. Chicago’s historic, iconic Maxwell Street Market area at the intersection of South Halsted Street and West Maxwell Street is now a thing of the past; a place where people from all corners of Chicago and the world came to buy, sell, and be. But you don’t have to know where or what Maxwell Street was to re-encounter it in Creswell’s new, “emergent” exercise in writing about place. Inspired by poets like Claudia Rankine and Maggie Nelson, as well as the classical Greek term, "topos," an ancestral form to modern modes of commonplacing, Cresswell approaches writing about place as an "assemblage," not unlike words in a sentence or pages in a book. Speaking of which, see below for a list of books mentioned in the course of our conversation.

"By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. In fact, it is as difficult to appropriate the thoughts of others as it is to invent." Ralph Waldo Emerson

For a modern example of commplacing, you can turn to Sweet Theft: A Poet's Commplace Book by J.D. McClatchy, from which the above quote from Emerson is drawn. From the same introduction, McClatchy quotes G.K. Chesterton, who wrote that imagery affords internal landscapes one might “wish to wander.” We wander to the Co-op’s Front Table with Assistant Manager Alena Jones for a deeper look at Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, a kind of commonplace book about the color blue, along with other works that help mythologize, reflect, and wheel around the secret lives of color.


Acclaimed journalist, essayist, novelist, and memoirist Dani Shapiro (above, right, with the American Writers Museum's Linda Dunlavy) spoke at the Co-op in June on Inheritance, a memoir of genealogy and the traumatic experience of finding out her true biological parentage through a commercial DNA test. Unlike Creswell’s efforts to “exhaust” his subject, à la Georges Perec, “writing memoir,” says Shapiro, is the act of transcending one’s life into story.