When Ron Offen retired from his job as a school librarian in California two years ago and moved back to Illinois, where he grew up, he brought Free Lunch, his twice-yearly poetry journal, with him. Offen has edited and published Free Lunch since 1989, and now he’s running it out of his Glenview home. The 32-page journal puts the work of luminaries like Billy Collins and Liesel Mueller next to newcomers you may never have heard of. Offen prints about 1,200 copies now and sells them for five bucks each; $12 for a three-issue subscription. But Free Lunch is free to “serious” poets, so he’s giving away more copies than he sells. He started the journal after a bout with cancer, and says it’s only the latest manifestation of his affection for things that are free. In the 1970s he ran Gangway Theater–a Jeff Award-winning free children’s theater in a space across the street from Body Politic on Lincoln in Chicago. Now Offen’s beginning a series of poetry readings in his new hometown. The first one, this week, will feature Indianapolis poet Jared Carter (he’s published ten collections of poems and won two NEA fellowships), along with a poetry-reading contest for five members of the audience. “This is not an open mike for writers,” Offen says. Rather, it’s a chance for people to read their favorite work by others–pieces “from world literature.” The first five audience members who sign up will get a chance to read; a panel consisting of Offen and several volunteers will judge the performances, with a $25 gift certificate from Glenview’s Alibi Books going to the winner. Losers get a Free Lunch. It starts at 2 on Sunday, September 7, at the Glenview Public Library, 1930 Glenview in Glenview. It’s free; call 847-729-3595.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Pflum.