Updated Aug 31, 2023 - Things to Do

Richard Wright's "Native Son" crowned best Chicago fiction book

Bracket: Axios Visuals

Hundreds of readers voted in a tournament this week to determine Chicago's best fiction book of all time.

What's happening: We have a winner! "Native Son" by Richard Wright beat out 15 other books in this month's bracket tournament.

Why it matters: Wright's story of a young Black man living on the South Side in the '30s opened the eyes of our segregated city. Moreover, "Native Son" became an international story about inequities in America.

Methodology: We asked readers to submit recommendations, and received so many that we decided to split the challenge into two tournaments, starting with fiction. Next up: Nonfiction!

  • Of note: Some books are set here, some are written by Chicago authors. Some are technically not novels, while some might be better known for their movie or television adaptations.

Catch up on the rounds below:

The championship

The final face-off was between Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright — two Black writers who created profound works that still resonate with audiences today.

We told you above about the legacy of "Native Son," but Hansberry used playwriting as her format to tell a story about generational poverty.

  • "A Raisin in the Sun" is still considered one of the best plays in American history.

Yes, but: As we said earlier, "A Raisin in the Sun" is not a novel.

  • We included it because it's a tremendous piece of fiction created by a Chicago author.

Final Four

After Tuesday's round, we were down to four solid classics.

Biggest win: Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" (83%) easily defeated Aleksander Hemon's "The Lazarus Project."

Closest margin: Sandra Cisneros' "The House on Mango Street" squeaked past Scott Turow's "Presumed Innocent" by just 25 votes.

Surprise: "The Jungle" was an odds-on favorite, but it also represents a hybrid piece of historical fiction, which may have led to its early defeat at the hands of Sara Paretsky's "V.I. Warshawski."

Elite Eight

The first round is in the books in our quest to choose the best Chicago novel of all time. What happened:

Biggest win: "A Raisin in the Sun" dispatched "Letting Go" with 81% of the vote.

Closest matchup: "The House on Mango Street" slipped past "The Time Traveler's Wife." (54%)

Most surprising: You love your legal thrillers. Scott Turow's "Presumed Innocent" upset Rebecca Makkai's "The Great Believers."

What's next: We move on to the next round, with some intriguing matchups, including Nelson Algren vs. Richard Wright and Upton Sinclair vs. Sara Paretsky.

Sweet Sixteen

We asked readers for recommendations and you returned so many that we're doing two tournaments — fiction and nonfiction. So Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Erik Larson and others will have to wait.

  • Like all of our monthly tournaments, the rules are simple: Use your judgment on what qualifies (or disqualifies) an entry when it comes to its Chicago credentials.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add the latest rounds and final winner.


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