Calling itself "literary scum," Criminal Class Press makes no apology about the genre it seeks to create and resurrect: Gritty Realism, with writers such as Irvine Welsh and Jim Thompson as role models. Criminal Class Press (CCP) is an independent press, founded and developed in San Francisco in 2008 by Editor-in-Chief Kevin Whiteley (also the associate editor of Eleven Eleven journal) and associates. Its fourth issue to date focuses on the aesthetics of fiction noir, and launches in Chicago this month.
Relying initially on friends that helped him get the journal off the ground, the journal's published talents include Chicago writers Julia Borcherts and Brian Murphy, along with Anne Marino and David Corbett. I met Whiteley last spring in Chicago, at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (or AWP), when editors of hundreds of indie and university presses were on the hunt for fresh meat, I mean, new voices. With the help of Whiteley's enthusiasm and talented editing skills, I published my first short story, "How I Met Sugar Boy," in the third issue of Criminal Class Review (Vol 1, Issue 3) and helped CCP organize their first Chicago reading under the umbrella of the monthly Orange Alert reading series at Logan Square's Whistler in January. The reading coincided with Whiteley's return to Chicago, the city he prefers hands down over San Francisco.
Intrigued by the noir theme of the new issue of CCR, I sat down with Whiteley to discuss femme fatales, anti-heroes, the ills of utopian society and why Chicago is the perfect city for noir. The following is an excerpt of our conversation:
Marla Seidell (MS): You just returned to Chicago, and are in the process of getting Criminal Class Press more visibility here. How do you think CCP fits into the Chicago literary scene?
Kevin Whitely (KW): Chicago is a PERFECT place for a NOIR literary genre. This town should actually be the HUB for NOIR. Look at all crime and corruption that Chi-town was built upon. The only thing missing is fog but we have plenty of smoke stacks and pollution to make up for it. There’s a story going down at all hours of the day and night. I love it!
Although there are already great stories appropriate for the genre, it’s been a long time running since there has been a conduit and home for this type of writing. Criminal Class wants to be that base for those tales. After all, Grit and NOIR need appropriate representation and this team hits our readers’ senses with an iron fist. Hell, come to think, why not bring the PULP people in on it as well? As literary gangsters, we need to organize!”
MS: Which writers have inspired you?
KW: Hubert Selby Jr. – The man invented literary scum, God rest his soul.
Irvine Welsh – One of the Wall-Breakers.
Don DeGrazia – Had the balls to tell it like it was with the Skinheads of Chicago.
Jim Thompson – Inspired me to bring the NOIR scene to the journal.
Anne Marino – Just when I thought I had the story process down, she helped hone my tools and make for sharper scum.
Kevin Killian – Though a softy, he helped me make my characters more human and believable.
Michael Disend – Taught me to be a “Fighter/Writer.”
MS: Tell me about more about how Thompson inspired you to incorporate noir into Issue 4 (Vol. 3, Issue 1), which hits bookstores this week. What can readers expect?
KW: It was Anne Marino, my mentor, who introduced me to NOIR. I always knew of the genre but never really looked into it. Though I read more than just Thompson, it was The Grifters that possessed the grit, apathetic tone, and corruption with which I personally could identify. Though Thompson is no longer in this world, there are great NOIR writers like David Corbett. His work is featured in the upcoming issue.
As I mentioned before, this issue is all about growth for us as a journal. Bringing NOIR into the aesthetic just makes sense. As Criminal Class matures, we’re becoming a more polished form of scum while still remaining crude if that makes sense. We’re not pulling a Kansas City Shuffle or anything, just expanding to draw in literary kin.
Criminal Class Press hosts its second reading in Chicago on Sunday, February 28, 7:30pm-10pm, at Weegee's Lounge, 3659 W. Armitage. CCR contributors reading stories from past and forthcoming issues include: Julia Borcherts, Lorn McKay, Colleen McKee, Brian Murphy, and William J. Hillmann. The fourth issue (Vol. 3, Issue 1) will be available for purchase, along with other CCP merchandise.