Audrey Niffenegger’s Chicago

A red-haired woman in a black shirt stands inside a dilapidated stone-walled greenhouse

Audrey Niffenegger at the Harley Clarke Mansion

Audrey Niffenegger at the Harley Clarke Mansion

by Micco Caporale (MA 2018)
Photo and video by Greg Stephen Reigh (BFA 2013)

In The Time Traveler’s Wife, the best-selling debut of Audrey Niffenegger (BFA 1985), Chicago plays a supporting character.

Drawing on her experiences growing up in the area, the Evanston native created a layered portrait of the city across time. But before becoming an internationally renowned writer, Niffenegger was a printmaker and book artist. This provided a creative foundation to her figurative approach to storytelling, and it’s also what’s led to her latest venture: restoring the Harley Clarke Mansion. What began as the Evanston Arts Center—a creative outpost just north of the city that’s long attracted School of the Art Institute of Chicago faculty and alums and inspired Niffenegger to pursue an education at the School—will soon become an artist book hub. This is Audrey Niffenegger’s Chicago.

Harley Clarke Mansion
2603 Sheridan Rd., Evanston

I first came to the Harley Clarke when I was 14, and it was the Evanston Art Center. I was given a scholarship to take a class, and you don’t think at the time, “That was life changing”—but it actually was! I really fell in love with the building. We were artists, so we did awful things to it: put nasty things down the drains, screwed things into walls, unscrewed things, moved walls around … I really fell in love with the building but also the idea that there would be this self-contained little world inside this elegant house that had fallen on hard times. It was like The Secret Garden. You felt free to make and think about stuff.

A large stone estate with a brown roof and a green front lawn

Schuba’s Tavern
3159 N. Southport Ave.

The thing is to always look up. Because often you can figure out things about the buildings if you aren’t just looking at the street—so for example, Schuba’s. There’s just a lot going on there if you start to look and know what to look for. It’s a bar and concert venue, and it’s gorgeous inside. There’s a small stage, so if you see a band there, it’s wonderful because even if you’re way in the back, you’re not very far away. But if you’re outside and you look up, you’ll see this little terracotta globe. It used to be what they called a tied tavern, meaning it was tied to a brewery.

A neon sign outside of a red brick building reading "SCHUBAS"

Newberry Library
60 W. Walton St.

It’s not a public library, but the public can come. Anyone can apply for a reader’s card, and they say, “Why do you want to use the collection?” It can be for anything from calligraphy to city research to Native American history. They have a fabulous collection on the history of the book, which is called the John M. Wing Collection. That’s where Henry works in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

A close-up of bookshelves at a library

The Green Mill
4802 N. Broadway Ave.

The Green Mill is wonderful for its own sake and to hear music there. It’s endured a lot of change around it but has managed to feel very unchanged. Uptown has tunnels underneath it, so there’s a not-so-secret thing about the Green Mill. If you go behind the bar, there’s a door that opens to stairs to the tunnels. The Green Mill was famously a gangster hangout, so Al Capone and people were storing things down in rooms off the tunnels. You can still see that if you can manage to finagle your way down. 

A white and green sign that reads The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge