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Sun-Drenched Sentences: The Season for Outdoor Writing

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McKinlock-Court at the Art Institute

McKinlock-Court at the Art Institute

I’ve heard Hemingway wrote in bars and that Twain wrote in bed. Dickinson sometimes wrote in the cool, dark confines of the pantry inside her home, and Kerouac claims that he wrote “at the desk in the room, near my bed, with a good light, midnight ‘til dawn, a drink when you get tired, preferably at home, but if you have no home, make a home….”

When it’s summer in Chicago, I want to do everything outside, including my writing. Fortunately, this city is filled with numerous patios, cafes and parks that are perfect for doing just that, and if I’m lucky, getting a sun tan, too.

With two luscious courtyards and comfortable outdoor seating, Sip Café in West Town, at 1223 West Grand Avenue, is a great place to enjoy some well-tended greenery and some quiet.  The enclosed courtyards are great for putting some distance between yourself and the city. Sip Café also offers complimentary Wi-Fi, which explains why I never seem to get much done here…

Every June, when the Art Institute sends me an email about renewing my membership, one of the many reasons I don’t regret the hit to my bank account is McKinlock Court, the outdoor patio space outside of the Member Lounge.  There is certainly something inspiring about writing in such close proximity to some of the most beautiful works of art in the world. Of course, it helps that the beverages are free, there are plush cushions on the benches and chairs, and there’s a replica of Carl Milles’ “Fountain of the Tritons” in Copenhagen that casts a fine shadow.

When I moved to Chicago the summer of 2007 to attend Columbia College, I lived in student housing on South State Street. In those first few weeks before I settled into my classes and part-time job, I spent every afternoon on a bench in Grant Park near Buckingham Fountain. I still try to go there every summer for an afternoon or two to write, watch tourists, feel the spit of the fountain on my skin, and remember what it was like to be eighteen and living in a city that felt foreign and beautiful.

Kopi Cafe

Kopi Cafe

Kopi Travelers Café at 5317 North Clark has everything going for it: it’s located in the middle of the beautiful neighborhood of Andersonville, there’s a gift shop inside with an eclectic selection of jewelry, books and textiles from around the world, and its patio, while limited to only a few small round tables and wicker chairs, makes me feel like I’m sitting outside a café in Paris. (I just have to ignore the Einstein Bros. franchise across the street.) Staying true to its hippie vibe, Kopi doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, so this is where you’ll find me the night before a deadline, with a double-shot latte on the table.

During the three summers I lived in a studio in East Lakeview, I spent quite a few nights writing on the cement stairs at Montrose Beach, just north of The Dock restaurant. I’d pack a canvas bag with my cigarettes, my notebook, my pen and a blanket—all the essentials for spending the next few hours listening to Lake Michigan throw itself at the shoreline, measuring the minutes, keeping the pace for my pen and my thoughts. (Naomi Huffman)

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