Dan Klefstad

Morning Edition Host & statewide newscaster

Good morning, Early Riser! Since 1997 I've been waking WNIJ listeners with the latest news, weather, and program information with the goal of seamlessly weaving this content into NPR's Morning Edition.

Since January, 2018, I've been delivering Illinois-focused newscasts for NPR listeners on WNIJ and partner stations WUIS, WCBU and WSIU.

As WNIJ's content manager, I'm responsible for what you hear on the air, and what you see on our website and social media platforms.

Questions/concerns/suggestions? Email me at dklefstad@niu.edu. Tweet @danklefstad. Or call 815-753-9000.

Last but not least: Thank you very much if you're a financial supporter of this station. If not, I welcome your new membership here.

Best,
DK

Ways to Connect

Memory and desire are common themes in Joe Gastiger's prose poems. In his latest collection, If You So Desire, he uses historically famous people to illustrate these themes as well as ordinary people in the news.

Chris Mann

Our roving reporter, Dan Libman, returns with a story about last weekend's "Tour de Frost" bike ride around Rockford. The 6th annual event raised money, and bicycles, for the Rockford Rescue Mission.

Two writers meet in a bar called The Jesuit in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The older one is struggling to finish the final book in his contract. The younger one hopes to repeat his one publishing success.

They only met the day before; but the older man, Nigel Moon, proposes a deal:

"What Moon would like the other writer to do is ghost-write this final book for him," says Craig Hart, author of the novel Becoming Moon, our first Winter Book Series selection for this season.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn't met with legislative leaders since the end of May, so today's expected meeting is important.

Or, rather, it will be if talks continue.

Illinois has been without a budget since July and is one of two U.S. states without a spending plan (Pennsylvania is the other).

WNIJ fans know this is the place to learn about literature from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. And you know we maintain a growing archive of author interviews and readings.

But if you're a hard-core listener, a true WNIJ nerd, you'll want even more information to satisfy your craving for content.

This post is for you.

This week, WNIJ begins airing promos for the Winter Book Series. You can take a sneak "listen" by clicking the three audio links below:

This is a story about a meeting that was supposed to happen today, but didn't, for an arguably good reason:

House Speaker Michael Madigan needed to attend a funeral for his father-in-law, and the memorial service was out of state.

The meeting would've been the first between Madigan, Gov. Bruce Rauner and the other legislative leaders since the end of May. The group hasn't met since then to talk about the budget, or anything else really.

This month, WNIJ will feature four books that belong on your shelf or e-reader. Three of them are by Illinois authors. One was written by an Iowa resident who used to work for Northern Public Radio.

The Winter Book Series will air Mondays in December during Morning Edition, and appear in our Book Series archive.

U.S. House Republicans continue searching for their next Speaker amid a very public family fight. The battle to succeed John Boehner is between established caucus members, who occasionally compromise with Democrats, and those who refuse all cooperation across the aisle.

This feud could've resulted in another government shutdown over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. But observers say Boehner's resignation put off any talk of a shutdown for now.

Maria Boynton

After selecting the winners for our "Three-Minute Fiction" contest, our judge picked a handful of Honorable Mentions.

Pushcart Prize-winning author GK Wuori issued our prompt last month and chose his five favorite stories out of more than 100 submissions. We broadcast the winners during Morning Edition. Wouri then selected five other writers who also got to record their stories in our studios.

Here are our videos of the five Honorable Mention authors:

Daniel Ng "Room at Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai / (CC by 2.0)

You're invited to a party at a wealthy person's home. Somehow, you find the master bathroom and stare at a mirror that appears to double as a medicine cabinet.

Do you open it?

Think about the things you can learn about your host just by taking a peek. Of course, there might be nothing more powerful or revealing than Tylenol in there. But you'll never know without opening it.

This is the premise for "Shattered," the final story of our "Three-Minute Fiction" contest.

Jamie Lieberman w/Brenda Puska

The protagonist in our next "Three-Minute Fiction" contest is a familiar one: a retired guy who maintains an immaculate yard and relaxes with a beer after putting the tools in the shed.

While he's past middle-age, he's far from dead. Or maybe you prefer the old "there may be snow on the mountaintop" metaphor. However you put it, he likes looking at women -- especially those younger and more attractive than his wife.

His neighbor mows her lawn on Tuesdays and, lately, does so in a bikini. Our hero sips his beer and watches her, which coincides nicely with our story prompt:

"Trick or Treat" by KOMU News / Flickr

"Don't go in there!"

How many times have you screamed that during a horror movie? Despite your protests, the hapless character opens the door and steps into the dark room or basement or tunnel -- alone.

Today's "Three-Minute Fiction" story has the same premise, but you'll have to read to the end of "The Last Adventure" to see what happens to the hero.

Maria Boynton

In Greek mythology, the god Zeus orders a lesser god to create the first woman on earth. The god charged with this task, Hephaestus, makes a stunning beauty out of water and earth. Her name is Pandora and the Olympians shower her with gifts, including a mysterious jar which, through a translation error, became known as Pandora's Box.

Carl Nelson

Remember last month when we launched our first-ever contest for short fiction? We called it "Three-Minute Fiction," inspired by an NPR contest of the same name.

GK Wuori, a Pushcart-Prize winning author, issued the prompt, and agreed to be our judge. When the deadline arrived on Sept. 20, we had more than 100 submissions.

If you have schizophrenia and depend on supportive housing, you could soon be on the streets again. That's because a program that funded housing for mentally ill people is a victim of the budget stalemate.

Illinois is about to enter its fourth month without a spending plan because Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-led General Assembly can't agree on a range of fiscal issues.

As a result, funding ended for the Department of Human Services' Permanent Supportive Housing program.

Carl Nelson

The prompt for WNIJ's first-ever Three Minute Fiction contest is thematic. It's not meant to be the opening line for your story.

But it could be.

Just remember: A three minute story is somewhere between 500 and 600 words, depending on how quickly you read it. So unless you're a minimalist prose superhero, I suggest you don't start with our 20-word prompt.

Day care businesses in Illinois are struggling as a result of the state's budget problems.

Many working parents depend on subsidies for child care. These parents make up a big part of the clientele for day care centers.

That is, until recently.

Christopher Voss

Here's another way to think of the budget standoff: a prison siege.

Christopher Voss is familiar with this scenario, having been a chief negotiator for the FBI. He says inmate rebellions offer lessons for sparring politicians.

"Behind each leader are groups of unruly inmates that are trying to decide who they're going to follow," Voss says.

Hopes for ending the budget stalemate faded even further this week when Gov. Bruce Rauner's office interrupted a news conference called by Senate President John Cullerton.

Cullerton, a Democrat, began by telling reporters that Rauner's budget was unbalanced when it was introduced. But then Cullerton appeared to offer an olive branch, according to Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky. In front of reporters, he asked the Governor to start over on the budget.

Illinois Public Radio

Illinois government is about to prove it can function at its most basic level without a budget, at least temporarily; the state will pay its workers on time, and in full, for work performed during the first two weeks of the fiscal year.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said he wanted this to happen even after his June 25th rejection of most of the budget passed by Democrats. Then on July 9, a St. Clair County judge ordered Comptroller Leslie Munger to cut the paychecks.

It turns out, the State of Illinois has limited spending authority even without a budget; a pair of judges said so in separate rulings.

In one case, a federal judge ruled the Department of Children and Family Services must continue to serve abused and neglected kids who've been removed from their homes -- despite the deadlock between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly.

Today, voters in Illinois' 18th Congressional District choose a Democrat and a Republican for the race to replace former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock.

Only a small number of voters will go to the polls, according to Matt Streb, who chairs the political science department at Northern Illinois University.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

It seems familiar: Illinois government enters a new fiscal year without a budget, and those who get state money start to worry. But the government never stopped running before, so why would it shut down this time?

After all, things worked out in 2007 when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich couldn't agree with fellow Democrats who controlled the General Assembly. Budget negotiations took until mid-September, but state government remained open.

Florencia Mallon wrote several books and articles about the events preceding Chile's 1973 military coup and the subsequent dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. These were intended for her colleagues in the field of Latin American history.

"He will be unshaven, wear a battered borsalino, and nod a greeting to me, smiling slyly."

This is how poet John Bradley describes his character, Roberto Zingarello, a fictional poet writing about his native Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

The 2015 Summer Book Series wraps up next Friday -- have you read any of the books yet?

You'll find links to the previous author interviews at the bottom of this article. Before the series ends, we wanted to give you a chance to hear Florencia Mallon read an excerpt from her novel, Beyond the Ties of Blood.

The story is about love, loss and the search for the "disappeared" in Chile during, and after, the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

NIU Newsroom

In 1965, the Saturday Review published a landmark study called "The All-White World of Children's Books." Author Nancy Larrick said 6.3 million non-white children were "learning to read and understand the American way of life in books which either omit them entirely or scarcely mention them."

This week, the 2015 Summer Book Series features the newly reissued Love-In-Idleness: The Poetry of Roberto Zingarello.

Zingarello is a poet looking for truth, love and revenge in Fascist Italy.

His creator is John Bradley, a poet and faculty member at Northern Illinois University. Bradley will discuss these poems, and his fascination with Italy during the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. That's Friday, June 19, during Morning Edition.

In 2000, dozens of U.S. Navy veterans arrived on the Greek island of Crete to restore a former American warship and sail it home. All were volunteers. Several served during World War II.

Their average age: 72.

One of the younger vets (at 61) was Robert Jornlin, who recounts the story in Bringing Back a Hero, a Summer Book Series selection for 2015.

The title, Annabelle and the Sandhog, introduces two of the book's main characters, so let's take them in order:

Annabelle is a nursing-home aide who befriends the sandhog, in the novel and in real life. We'll learn more about her in a bit.

"Sandhog" is American slang for a person who works underground at an urban construction site.

The sandhog in this story is John O'Malley, modeled after author Ray Paul's grandfather, who made a career of blasting bedrock to carve the foundations of tall buildings in the early 20th Century.

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