By Jeff McMahon

I joined True/Slant, the news network pioneered by Lewis Dvorkin and company, in April 2009, a couple of months before its beta launch. I covered environmental news and politics for them until Forbes purchased the site and closed it down in August 2010. While Forbes is remade in True/Slant’s image, a beautiful experiment in independent media has fallen silent.
You can read my thoughts on…
On a frozen morning this November past, I was tacking through alleys on the South Side of Chicago, angling toward a friend’s apartment for breakfast, when I locked eyes with a man who was digging through a garbage bin, a shopping cart waiting beside him.
Nelson Algren wrote that you never truly love Chicago until you love its alleys, “where the bright and morning faces of old familiar…
By Jeff McMahon
This is the story of the broken heart of a man, the rusty heart of a city, and how they got all tangled up as one. Like a lot of us, he learned hope and heartbreak first from a baseball team, then from bruising bouts with love, then from the city in which he lived, but unlike a lot of us, he never learned to play along, never stopped seeing the way things are contrasted against the…
By Jeff McMahon
Less than three years after the U.S. Cavalry massacred the Sioux at Wounded Knee, Chicagoans could safely observe Sioux encampments at the World's Columbian Exposition, and the science of ethnography was born. So goes the story, and so it will go with socialists.
As soon as the last socialist dies – which might happen soon in Cuba – we will study them as curiosities, celebrate them…
It sounds like science fiction: a previously unknown insect with an appetite for electrical circuitry appears at a Houston-area chemical plant and marches toward the Johnson Space Center, defying human attempts to stop it with conventional weapons.
“I think we ought to be in panic mode,” said Tom Rasberry, the Pearland-Texas exterminator who was the first to battle the unidentified species that…
By Jeff McMahon
Coffee rings on the cover testify that my 1935 copy of Heywood Broun’s It Seems to Me served for some of its life as a coaster. But when I found this collection a decade ago in a second-hand bookshop in California, the genie was still alive in its tawny pages, and he rolled up his sleeves and coached me to better writing. Now I use his writing to coach others. After a class last…
I discovered them in a bookshop on one of those pensive Sunday afternoons — you know the type —when every hour droops under the weight of the work looming on Monday. The place smelled of that sweet must familiar to grandmother’s attics, mummies’ tombs, second-hand bookshops: places excused from time. I was studying all the colorful spines on the pine shelves, seeking escape from the death throes…
By Jeff McMahon
For a thousand years the rains rinsed the blood from the sod, the sea-winds swept the smoke from the ruins, and the Irish transformed hardship into poetry and song. But there’s a strange new stain too stubborn for the rains, a change in the air unmoved by the winds, and the poets scribbling all the long Irish night in cottages and pubs have little yet to show…. Read this…
By Jeff McMahon
The shop window promised antique furniture and vintage prints, the sign said “open,” but the doorknob would not turn. The locked door should have clued me in — open shop, locked door — and someone was eyeballing me from the shadows inside. In a moment the lock clacked and buzzed, the door snapped open, I was admitted.
A clerk welcomed me, then shadowed me. I studied chairs and…
By Jeff McMahon
There has been much dying lately — writers of novels, princes of nations, captains of industry — but to my eyes the world seems most crippled by the loss of one perpetually penniless, marginally homeless, progressively toothless, absolutely irreplaceable San Luis Obispo philosopher.
Cayucos Creek was his cup of hemlock.
Even in dying Chris Gibson poses a question, for how are we…
By Jeff McMahon
I have a tiny radio that magically describes events as I come upon them.
It started two summers ago. I had just returned to Chicago after some lost decades in the sunkissed West. I was walking on North Clark Street with the earphones in, sampling the local frequencies between blasts of static: salsa, sports talk, weather reports, when I chanced upon a resonant voice:
"It's a high fly…
by Jeff McMahon
When a rising young novelist named Nelson Algren turned his pen to his own city in 1951, he seemed to plunge his fist into Chicago's chest and show the big-shouldered burg its own bloody beating heart. In "Chicago: City on the Make," he crosses the boulevard but lingers in the alley, notices the shining tower but dwells on the seething slum, nods to the self-made billionaire but…
New Times, 1999
“We should build a memorial to our disappeared women.”
• Winner of the 2000 Golden Quill, International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors
New Times, 1998
“Who among us has crossed paths with the attacker?”
• Winner of the 1999 Golden Quill, International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, and first place, column writing, from the…
A Lady’s Grisly Collection of Pressed Fairies
by Jeff McMahon
Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book by Terry Jones and Brian Froud, Turner Publishing, Inc., 64 pp., 1994.
In 1907, the British magazine The Regular published a photograph that shocked the world. The photograph portrayed an English girl surrounded by fairies. Some insisted this photograph had proven at last the existence of fairies….
• Golden Quill Award for best commentary in an English-language weekly newspaper, International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, 2000
• Golden Quill Award for best commentary in an English-language weekly newspaper, International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, 1999
• First Place, National Society of Newspaper Columnists Competition, 1996
• First Place, column writing, California Newspaper…
These days, I write about the environment and green technology for Forbes. I edit Contrary, a quarterly literary journal, and I teach journalism and other forms of non-fiction at the University of Chicago.
First-Place Awards

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