Cleveland's biggest name in fiction is an unassuming Irishman who loves Parnell's Pub on Lee Road and is psyched about the library he's built in his Cleveland Heights home.
"I wanted the builders to install a secret room behind one of the shelves, but they wouldn't go for it," says Chaon (pronounced Shawn). "But it was always my dream to have a library. It's one of these old Cleveland Heights homes with more space than I know what to do with."
Chaon moved to Cleveland in 1990 when his wife got a teaching gig at Cleveland State. For a while, he was bopping around doing odd jobs — catering, bartending — before his first short-story collection, Fitting Ends, was published in 1996.
Chaon now teaches at Oberlin, but he likes to have his work life and personal/writing life somewhat separate. Cleveland has and will continue to play a key role in Chaon's fiction.
"I really like the landscape, the Rust Belt sensibility," Chaon says, "the fact that parts of town are falling apart. There's a sort of quasi-apocalyptic quality to it."
Writers have been known to flock to New York City after achieving certain thresholds of fame and recognition — thresholds Chaon has most certainly eclipsed. His short stories have received Pushcart Prizes, the O. Henry Award, and have been included in the Best American Short Stories series. His 2001 novel Among the Missing was a finalist for the National Book Award; his 2009 novel Await Your Reply — much of which is set in Cleveland — appeared on multiple year-end Top 10 lists.
But Chaon loves living in Cleveland, where "people generally are cool about stuff." So for now, he'll keep working at his home office on his new novel and a TV pilot about bank robbers in the 1970s.
"I've got a lot in the pipeline," says Chaon.