• Prairie School
    Toby Altman

Toby Altman, from “World: a Problem,” 2020. Scanned photographs of Chicago with a handwritten note, 11 x 8 1/2 in. Courtesy the poet

Prairie School combines poetry, architectural history, post-colonial studies, and ecology in a study of Chicago’s Monadnock Building. Responding to the structure of the building, the project is built around two long poems, one for each of the building’s halves. The work is personal—the poet goes to the building to grieve, to reflect on the power of architecture in the face of suffering. It is also political. He interrogates the way that the building’s design celebrates Chicago’s pre-colonial ecology, even as it contributes to the erasure of the place’s characteristic habitats. Finally, it serves as the culmination of a series of three books of poetry, each engaging with a different architect, each exploring the political complications and contradictions that attend that architect’s work. On its own and as part of this larger series, Prairie School renegotiates the relationship between architecture and colonialism—and expands the disciplinary borders of architectural studies.

Toby Altman is the author of two previous books, Discipline Park (Wendy’s Subway, 2023) and Arcadia, Indiana (Plays Inverse, 2017). He holds a PhD in English literature from Northwestern University and an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His scholarly and creative work has been widely published, including in such journals as Contemporary Literature, English Literary History, Gulf Coast, jacket2, jubilat, and Lana Turner. He has held fellowships and residencies from MacDowell, where he was the 2020 Stephanie and Robert Olmstead Fellow, Millay Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center. In 2021, he received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is currently visiting assistant professor of English at Beloit College. He is in the process of completing a three book investigation of American architecture, comprising Discipline Park (Wendy’s Subway, 2023), Jewel Box (submitted), and Prairie School.