Something Besides Latte-Making ~ Chris L. Terry’s View From the Keyboard

Each year, The Chicago Reader publishes a fiction issue of its weekly newspaper. The editors get hundreds of fiction submissions, and have to choose a very small numbers of stories to publish. This year, Chris L. Terry’s evocative and tasty story, “Red Velvet,” is among those editors’ picks. Chris also happens to be another of Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department’s very fine graduate students. I’ve had the great privilege to hear him read a number of times, and to be invited to be part of his Chicago reading series, Neutron Bomb. And now I am pleased that he has invited us in to his work space for a View From the Keyboard.

Chris: This is the desk where I write when I’m not in my living room, where I’ve convinced myself that the WiFi doesn’t work. My girlfriend Sharon ( and I have lived in this Uptown apartment since we moved from Brooklyn in 2008. The realtor told us that this third bedroom was an office because it was “too small to count as a bedroom.” Only in Chicago, man. She edits her videos in the second bedroom. We brag on GChat about which cat is in our respective laps. I try to bang out at least an hour of writing every morning, the time of day when I’m sharpest.

On the left, the orangey photo leaning against the records is of a church in Granada, Nicaragua, snapped by Sharon moments before a late afternoon thunderstorm. Nicaragua is one of the few places we’ve been where people recognized the Caravaggio  tattoo on Sharon’s back and asked, “Es ‘esu’, y Maria?” instead of, “That your baby?” At the bottom is a postcard of one of my favorite writers, James Baldwin, looking summer-fresh in a white polo shirt.

I got the lamp in 2004 when my old roommate Johnny Fink and I were moving out of the bottom floor of a farmhouse in Richmond, Virginia. I was going to Brooklyn to use my English degree for something besides latte-making and he was heading west to work in state parks. These days, he’s a park ranger at Yellowstone.

Speaking of making lattes, the red and pink painting on the top right is by my old friend Jonathan Vassar. I met him while working in a Richmond coffee shop. Below that is a print called “Arrival” by Neil Burke. It’s the first piece of visual art that I’ve paid for, unless you count tattoos. Both Jonathan and Neil are talented musicians. I’m a huge music fan and spent my teens and twenties touring as a punk singer. I dig people whose creativity is multidisciplinary, bleeding over and making their entire life an act of creation. Painting guitarists, writing chefs…

I’m working on a fictional young adult novel about a 7th grade boy whose father figure is in the process of coming out of the closet, and a series of nonfiction stories about my own half black/half white biracial identity. The excerpt below is from an in-progress nonfiction piece, about the difficulties of finding a hairstyle when you’re nappyheaded, and everyone around you has straight hair.

For more info about the punk-themed reading series Neutron Bomb that I co-host with two other Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing grad students, please visit


When Mom cut off the mullet, I got her to leave a rat tail. It shot out from the back of my head like six inches of cinnamon jet exhaust.

When braided, the rat tail curled in like a pig’s tail on a barbecue sign. So, I slid on a wood bead and twisted a rubber band onto the bottom. My hair finally hung down and I was a rocker. To the sounds of “Night Train” by Guns ’n’ Roses, I’d turn my head fast to feel the rat tail lift with centrifugal force, like an amusement park ride. The lyrics, “Take the credit card to the liquor store,” intended as a sign of seedy decadence, seemed quotidian to suburban me. I’d seen Dad take the credit card to the liquor store before. No biggie.

If I turned my head, the rat tail would snake around my neck and rest on my shoulder. In my quest for coolness, I ignored the fact that having your mother show you how to braid your rat tail, or beading it with leftovers from your arts ‘n’ crafts box was inherently uncool. But, I knew something was awry when the other black kids at my school frowned in confusion at my styles.

→For more of Chris L. Terry’s words, check out Columbia College Chicago’s Marginalia, a graduate student blog. Thanks, Chris. And thanks for reading. Oh, and if you feel so inclined, vote for this blog (All Things Writerly) for a Best Writing Blog Award. Link to the right! -PMc←