Individual Author Record
Name: Joe MenoPen Name: None Genre: Born: 1974 Sites:
Illinois ConnectionMeno lives in Chicago. He graduated from and is a professor in the Department of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago.
Biographical and Professional InformationJoe Meno is a fiction writer, playwright, music journalist and editor. He is the winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, Society of Midland Author's Fiction Prize and a finalist for the Story Prize. He is the editor of Chicago Noir: The Classics and the author of two short story collections and multiple novels including the best sellers Hairstyles of the Damned, and The Boy Detective Fails. He’s currently working with producer Gil Netter (“Water for Elephants,” “The Blind Side”) on a screenplay of his novel, The Great Perhaps, and celebrating the Toronto premiere of a film based on his short story, The Architecture of the Moon.
- Tender as Hellfire , St. Maritn's Press, 1999
- How the Hula Girl Sings , HarperCollins, 2001
- Hairstyles of the Damned , Akashic Books, 2004
- How the Hula Girl Sings, Akashic Books, 2005
- The Boy Detective Fails , Akashic Books, 2006
- Tender As Hellfire , Akashic Books, 2007
- Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir: Stories, TriQuarterly, 2007
- The Great Perhaps, Norton & Co, 2009
- Demons in the Spring, Akashic Books, 2010
- Office Girl, Akashic Books, 2012
- Marvel and a Wonder, Akashic Books, 2015
Titles At Your Library
Hairstyles of the Damned (Punk Planet Books)
ISBN: 188845170X Akashic Books. 2004
Included in MTV.com's "These 17 Music-Themed YA Books Could Be Your Life"
A selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program.
"Meno gives his proverbial coming-of-age tale a punk-rock edge, as seventeen-year-old Chicagoan Brian Oswald tries to land his first girlfriend...Meno ably explores Brian's emotional uncertainty and his poignant youthful search for meaning...His gabby, heartfelt, and utterly believable take on adolescence strikes a winning chord."
"A funny, hard-rocking first-person tale of teenage angst and discovery."
"Captures the loose, fun, recklessness of midwestern punk."
"Captures both the sweetness and sting of adolescence with unflinching honesty."
"Joe Meno writes with the energy, honesty, and emotional impact of the best punk rock. From the opening sentence to the very last word, Hairstyles of the Damned held me in his grip."
--Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic, Chicago Sun-Times
"The most authentic young voice since J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield...A darn good book."
"Sensitive, well-observed, often laugh-out-loud funny...You won't regret a moment of the journey."
"Meno is a romantic at heart. Not the greeting card kind, or the Harlequin paperback version, but the type who thinks, deep down, that things matter, that art can change lives."
--Elgin Courier News
"Funny and charming and sad and real. The adults are sparingly yet poignantly drawn, especially the fathers, who slip through without saying much but make a profound impression."
"Underneath his angst, Brian, the narrator of Hairstyles of the Damned, possesses a disarming sense of compassion which allows him to worm his way into the reader's heart. It is this simple contradiction that makes Meno's portrait of adolescence so convincing: He has dug up and displayed for us the secret paradox of the teenage years, the desire to belong pitted against the need for individuality--a constant clash of hate and love."
"Joe Meno knows Chicago's south side the way Jane Goodall knew chimps and apes--which is to say, he really knows it. He also knows about the early '90s, punk rock, and awkward adolescence. Best of all, he knows the value of entertainment. Hairstyles of the Damned is proof positive."
--John McNally, author of The Book of Ralph
"Filled with references to dozens of bands and mix-tape set lists, the book's heart and soul is driven by a teenager's life-changing discovery of punk's social and political message...Meno's alter ego, Brian Oswald, is a modern-day Holden Caulfield...It's a funny, sweet, and, at times, hard-hitting story with a punk vibe."
--Mary Houlihan, Chicago Sun-Times
"Meno's language is rhythmic and honest, expressing things proper English never could. And you've got to hand it to the author, who pulled off a very good trick: The book is punk rock. It's not just punk rock. It's not just about punk rock it embodies the idea of punk rock it embodies the idea of punk--it's pissed off at authority, it won't groom itself properly, and it irritates. Yet its rebellious spirit is inspiring and right on the mark."
Hairstyles of the Damned is the debut novel of our Punk Planet Books imprint, which originates from Punk Planet magazine.
Hairstyles of the Damned is an honest, true-life depiction of growing up punk on Chicago's south side: a study in the demons of racial intolerance, Catholic school conformism, and class repression. It is the story of the riotous exploits of Brian, a high school burnout, and his best friend, Gretchen, a punk rock girl fond of brawling. Based on the actual events surrounding a Chicago high school's segregated prom, this work of fiction unflinchingly pursues the truth in discovering what it means to be your own person.
How the Hula Girl Sings
ISBN: 1888451831 Akashic Books. 2005
A wonderful accomplishment. . . . The power is in the writing. Mr. Meno is a superb craftsman.”Hubert Selby Jr.
The author moves the story along at a surprisingly fast and easy pace. The evil eyes of small-town America seem to peer from every page of Meno’s claustrophobic noir, where the good and the bad are forced down the same violent paths.”Kirkus Reviews
Joe Meno writes with the energy, honesty, and emotional impact of the best punk rock.”Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic, Chicago Sun-Times
A likable winner that should bolster Meno’s reputation.” Publishers Weekly
Joe Meno writes with the energy, honesty, and emotional impact of the best punk rock.” Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun-Times
Fans of hard-boiled pulp fiction will particularly enjoy this novel.” Booklist
A young ex-con in a small Illinois town. A lonely giant with a haunted past. A beautiful girl with a troubled heart. Strange and darkly magical, How the Hula Girl Sings begins exactly where most pulp fiction usually ends, with the vivid episode of the terrible crime itself. Three years later, Luce Lemay, out on parole for the awful tragedy, does his best to finds hope: in a new job at the local Gas-N-Go in his companion and fellow ex-con, Junior Breen, who spells out puzzling messages to the unquiet ghosts of his past and finally, in the arms of the lovely but reckless Charlene. How the Hula Girl Sings is a suspenseful exploration of a country bright with the far-off stars of forgiveness and dark with the still-looming shadow of the death penalty.
The Boy Detective Fails (Punk Planet Books)
ISBN: 1933354100 Akashic Books. 2006
In the twilight of a mysterious childhood full of wonder, Billy Argo, boy detective, is brokenhearted to find that his younger sister and crime-solving partner, Caroline, has committed suicide. Ten years later, Billy, age thirty, returns from an extended stay at St. Vitus' Hospital for the Mentally Ill to discover the world full of unimagi-nable strangeness: office buildings vanish without reason, small animals turn up without their heads, and cruel villains ride city buses to complete their evil schemes.
Lost within this unwelcoming place, Billy finds the companionship of two lonely, extraordinary children, Effie and Gus Mumford--one a science fair genius, the other a charming, silent bully. With a nearly forgotten bravery, Billy treads from the unendurable boredom of a telemarketing job, stumbles into the awkward beauty of a desperate pickpocket named Penny Maple, and confronts the nearly impossible solution to the mystery of his sister's death. Along a path laden with hidden clues and codes that dare the reader to help Billy decipher the mysteries he encounters, the boy detective may learn the greatest secret of all: the necessity of the unknown.
Kirkus Reviews,June 15, 2006
"What happens when a Hardy Boy grows up?
Mood is everything here, and Meno tunes it like a master, even though such a task initially appears impossible. Billy Argo, resident boy detective of his small New Jersey burg, seems to have inherited the aura of brains, fearlessness and rigid moral compass that always served the likes of Encyclopedia Brown in such good stead. Billy solves crimes and foils villains without breaking a sweat, aided by younger sister Caroline and heavyset friend Fenton. Their successes are trumpeted in newspaper headlines straight out of kids' adventure books ('Boy Detective Solves Fatal Orphanage Arson'), prompting suspicions that what the author has in mind is a long and ironic riff on children's fiction. But the book takes a dark turn as the years pass. Billy continues solving crimes and generally being a prodigy ('College Now For Boy Detective'), but Caroline slips into depression and ultimately commits suicide. Her brother winds up in an asylum as a result, not re-entering the world until he's 30. This is the point at which Meno, a tricky postmodernist who likes to embed separate story capsules on blank pages and leave nonsense words in the margins, might be expected to throw the curtain back, showing that our hero was crazy all along, no crimes were solved and his whole life was a lie. Instead, the author gives Billy a gallery of rogues to combat and even sends him to investigate the Convocation of Evil at a local hotel ('Featured Panel: To Wear a Mask?'). Meno sets himself a complicated task, marooning his straight-arrow, pulp-fiction protagonist in a world uglier than the Bobbsey Twins ever faced but refusing to go for satire. Instead, the author takes his compulsive investigator at face value. A full-tilt collision of wish-fulfillment and unrequited desires that's thrilling, yet almost unbearably sad."
BOOKLIST, July 2006
Comedic, imaginative, empathic, and romantic, Meno, whose diverse works of fiction include Hairstyles of the Damned (2004) and Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir (2005), is particularly attuned to the intensity of childhood and its lifelong resonance. In this cartoony and dreamlike novel, Billy Argo of Gotham, New Jersey, receives a True-Life Junior Detective Kit for his tenth birthday, and in no time, the gifted boy detective becomes front-page news as he thwarts comic-book villains with the help of his younger sister, Caroline. But Caroline commits suicide,
Tender As Hellfire
ISBN: 1933354305 Akashic Books. 2007
Features some of the liveliest characters that one is apt to meet in a contemporary novel. Vividly described.”Publishers Weekly
Extremely vivid. . . . Any number of novels have been written about unhappy childhoods and bizarre families, but this one surpasses many.”Kirkus Reviews
Joe Meno limns a near-fantastical world of trailer park floozies, broken-down ’76 Impalas, lost glass eyes, and the daily experiences of two boys trying to make sense of their random, sharp lives.
Joe Meno is the author of the novels Hairstyles of the Damned, The Boy Detective Fails,and How the Hula Girl Sings. He was the winner of the 2003 Nelson Algren Award for short fiction and is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.
Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir: Stories
ISBN: 0810124246 Triquarterly. 2007
Winner of 2006 The Society of Midland Authors Adult Fiction Award
Children who anesthetize--and dress up--small wild animals in an ill-fated attempt to cheer their grieving mother childhood friends who ritually return every year to the site of their near-kidnapping an awkward teen trying to find his place among the cultural ruins of Greek Mythology Camp brothers brought together, if not by mutual understanding, by a strange need to steal airport baggage: these are some of the characters who inhabit--and invariably tell--the stories in Joe Meno's Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir. Oddballs and charmers and would-be lovers, they are souls not so much lost as wandering, looking for something better, almost getting laid, trying to explain or, if all else fails, to entertain--and this they unfailingly do. Rarely has fiction so understated produced such hilarity and heartbreak.
Novelist, music journalist, and playwright Meno writes squarely in the American tradition of wringing large effects from small change, revealing the subtlety in the broad stroke, and conveying complexity with seeming simplicity. Celebrated for its "unflinching honesty" (Entertainment Weekly) and for its "poetic and visceral style" (Booklist), his work resonates with the unmistakable magic and curious mystery of modern life.
The Great Perhaps: A Novel
ISBN: 0393067963 W. W. Norton & Company. 2009
A breakout new novel from the critically acclaimed novelist and playwright Joe Meno, author of Hairstyles of the Damned.The sky is falling for the Caspers, a family of cowards: for Jonathan, a paleontologist, searching in vain for a prehistoric giant squid for his wife, Madeline, an animal behaviorist with a failing experiment for their daughter, Amelia, a disappointed teenage revolutionary for her younger sister, Thisbe, on a frustrated search for God and for grandfather Henry, who wants to disappear, limiting himself to eleven words a day, then ten, then nine… Each fears uncertainty and the possibilities that accompany it. When Jonathan and Madeline suddenly decide to separate, this nuclear family is split, each member forced to confront his or her own cowardice, finally coming to appreciate the cloudiness of the modern age.
With wit and humor, The Great Perhaps presents a revealing look at anxiety, ambiguity, and the need for complicated answers to complex questions. 4 drawings
Demons in the Spring
ISBN: 193607009X Akashic Books. 2010
"An inspired collection of 20 stories, brilliant in its command of tone and narrative perspective...Creativity and empathy mark the collection . . . Illustrations enhance the already vivid storytelling."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Spanning worlds, generations, cultures and environments, each of Meno's short stories in this stellar collection explores depression, loneliness and insanity in the world . . ."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Eclectic, funny, constantly surprising—these are the things a short story collection should be allowed to be, and Joe Meno's Demons in the Spring absolutely is . . . a rich, unforgettable stew of a book."
The limited-edition hardcover of Demons in the Spring was a finalist for the 2009 Story Prize, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2008, a Time Out Chicago Best Book of 2008, and it drew starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. It is a collection of twenty short stories with illustrations by twenty artists from the fine art, graphic art, and comic book worlds.
Joe Meno is the best-selling author of five novels, including the smash hits Hairstyles of the Damned and The Boy Detective Fails (both published by Akashic Books), and two story collections. He was the winner of the 2003 Nelson Algren Award for short fiction and is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago.
ISBN: 1617750751 Akashic Books. 2012
"Meno's tender, hip, funny, and imaginative portrayal of two Chicago misfits...dramatizes that anguished and awkward passage between legal age and actual adulthood."
--Booklist, "Core Collection: New Adult Fiction"
Named "Best New Novel by a Chicagoan" and "Best Book for the Disillusioned Artist in All of Us" by the Chicago Reader
Selected by The Believer's readers as a favorite fiction work of 2012
One of DailyCandy's Best Books of 2012
"An off-kilter romance doubles as an art movement in Joe Meno's novel. The novel reads as a parody of art-school types...and as a tribute to their devil-may-care spirit. Meno impressively captures post-adolescent female angst and insecurity. Fresh and funny, the images also encapsulate the mortification, confusion and excitement that define so many 20-something existences."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Wonderful storytelling panache...Odile is a brash, moody, likable young woman navigating the obstacles of caddish boyfriends and lousy jobs, embarking on the sort of sentimental journey that literary heroines have been making since Fanny Burney's Evelina in the 1770s. Tenderhearted Jack is the awkward, quiet sort that the women in Jane Austen's novels overlook until book's end. He is obsessed with tape-recording Chicago's ambient noises so that he can simulate the city in the safety of his bedroom, 'a single town he has invented made of nothing but sound.' Mr. Meno excels at capturing the way that budding love can make two people feel brave and freshly alive to their surroundings...the story of the relationship has a sweet simplicity."
--The Wall Street Journal
"In Joe Meno's new novel, set in the last year of the 20th century, art school dropout Odile Neff and amateur sound artist Jack Blevins work deadening office jobs gush about indie rock, French film, and obscure comic book artists and gradually start a relationship that doubles as an art movement. They are, in other words, the 20-something doyens of pop culture and their tale of promiscuous roommates, on-again/off-again exes, and awkward sex is punctuated on the page by cute little doodles, black and white photographs (of, say, a topless woman in a Stormtrooper mask), and monologues that could easily pass for Belle & Sebastian lyrics ("It doesn’t pay to be a dreamer because all they really want you to do is answer the phone")."
--Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)
"Meno has constructed a snowflake-delicate inquiry into alienation and longing. Illustrated with drawings and photographs and shaped by tender empathy, buoyant imagination, and bittersweet wit, this wistful, provocative, off-kilter love story affirms the bonds forged by art and story."
--Booklist (starred review)
No one dies in Office Girl. Nobody talks about the international political situation. There is no mention of any economic collapse. Nothing takes place during a World War.
Instead, this novel is about young people doing interesting things in the final moments of the last century. Odile is a lovely twenty-three-year-old art-school dropout, a minor vandal, and a hopeless dreamer. Jack is a twenty-five-year-old shirker who's most happy capturing the endless noises of the city on his out-of-date tape recorder. Together they decide to start their own art movement in defiance of a contemporary culture made dull by both the tedious and the obvious. Set in February 1999just before the end of one world and the beginning of anotherOffice Girl is the story of two people caught between the uncertainty of their futures and the all-too-brief moments of modern life.
Joe Meno's latest novel also features black-and-white illustrations by renowned artist Cody Hudson and photographs by visionary photographer Todd Baxter.
Marvel and a Wonder
ISBN: 1617753947 Akashic Books. 2015
Winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for the Region's Best Books of 2015 (Adult Fiction)
Named a Booklist Editors' Choice for 2015
Longlisted for the American Library Association's 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
"Compelling and necessary....[Meno] has a knack for giving small happenings emotional weight....Meno knows how to make you love his characters, want what they want. But don't think he's going to let things turn out well for them. Marvels and wonders aren't worth the trouble. Fortunately, this book is."
--New York Times Book Review
"[A] rugged page-turner....There's a bit of the country noir of Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone in the stark atmosphere Mr. Meno evokes (A faded town, fading, harried with dusty light, midafternoon), and a bit of the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino in the story of the vigilante grandfather. But the writing is propulsive enough to make you forget its influences. And at moments the book's consuming darkness is lifted by potent, if inscrutable visions of the talismanic horse--a flash of lightning curving along the horizon."
--Wall Street Journal
"But in two new books--a big novel, Marvel and a Wonder, and the anthology Chicago Noir: The Classics, published simultaneously in early September by Akashic in hardcover and paperback--we're reminded that Meno has a dark side that on occasion he lets out of jail, allowing it to cast a long and menacing shadow."
"Evoking William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, Meno's suspenseful, mordantly incisive, many-layered tale can also be read as an equine Moby-Dick. As he tracks the bewildering seismic shifts under way in America, Meno celebrates everyday marvels, including the hard-proven love between grandfather and grandson."
--Booklist, Starred review
"In this high-stakes, mordantly incisive, compassionate drama, Quentin, a mixed-race teen, is spending the summer with Jim, his white grandfather, when a magnificent white racehorse is inexplicably delivered to Jim’s Indiana farm."
--Booklist, Editors' Choice
"Talented Meno has penned a wise and touching novel of love, loyalty, courage an extraordinary book not to be missed."
--Library Journal, Starred review
Marvel and a Wonder . . . [is] a great contemporary Western that’s deliciously dark and full of unpleasant characters. I loved it, for whatever grim reason that lurks in my soul (and it’s got a fantastic cover), though I’d say it’s probably not for the faint of heart.”
-- Library Journal,"What We/re Reading" Section
Marvel and a Wonder is a darkly mesmerizing epic and literary page-turner set at the end of the twentieth century. In summer 1995, Jim Falls, a Korean War vet, struggles to raise his sixteen-year-old grandson, Quentin, on a farm in southern Indiana. In July, they receive a mysterious gift--a beautiful quarter horse--which upends the balance of their difficult lives. The horse's appearance catches the attention of a pair of troubled, meth-dealing brothers and, after a violent altercation, the horse is stolen and sold. Grandfather and grandson must travel the landscape of the bleak heartland to reclaim the animal and to confront the ruthless party that has taken possession of it. Along the way, both will be forced to face the misperceptions and tragedies of their past.
Evoking the writing of William Faulkner and Denis Johnson, this brilliant, deeply moving work explores the harrowing, often beautiful marvels of a nation challenged by its own beliefs. Ambitious, expansive, and laden with suspense, Marvel and a Wonder presents an unforgettable pair of protagonists at the beginning of one America and the end of another.