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Local Book Notes: Gang Cripples & Chicago Whispers

"Scholars studying dying languages, nuclear weapons, the effects of 'dark money' on politics and the history of immigration reform are among the first recipients of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, a new award intended to support research in the beleaguered humanities and social sciences," the New York Times reports.

"This year's 32 winners were chosen from a pool of more than 300 candidates, who were nominated by leaders in higher education, philanthropy and publishing and then asked to submit research proposals on the theme of 'Current and Future Challenges to U.S. Democracy and International Order.' The winners include a mix of junior and senior scholars and independent researchers from a variety of disciplines, whose proposals touched on such subjects as race, policing, privacy, big data, aging, voting behavior and nuclear power.

Laurence Ralph, an anthropologist at Harvard University, will research the impact of witnessing gun violence and death on black and Latino youth, with a focus on Chicago.

Will he call his project Chiraq?

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Laurence has a Ph.D in anthropology from the University of Chicago and also published Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago through the University of Chicago Press last year.

From the University of Chicago Press:

Every morning Chicagoans wake up to the same stark headlines that read like some macabre score: "13 shot, 4 dead overnight across the city," and nearly every morning the same elision occurs: what of the nine other victims? As with war, much of our focus on inner-city violence is on the death toll, but the reality is that far more victims live to see another day and must cope with their injuries - both physical and psychological - for the rest of their lives. Renegade Dreams is their story.

Walking the streets of one of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods - where the local gang has been active for more than fifty years - Laurence Ralph talks with people whose lives are irrecoverably damaged, seeking to understand how they cope and how they can be better helped.

Going deep into a West Side neighborhood most Chicagoans only know from news reports - a place where children have been shot just for crossing the wrong street - Ralph unearths the fragile humanity that fights to stay alive there, to thrive, against all odds. He talks to mothers, grandmothers, and pastors, to activists and gang leaders, to the maimed and the hopeful, to aspiring rappers, athletes, or those who simply want safe passage to school or a steady job. Gangland Chicago, he shows, is as complicated as ever. It's not just a war zone but a community, a place where people's dreams are projected against the backdrop of unemployment, dilapidated housing, incarceration, addiction, and disease, the many hallmarks of urban poverty that harden like so many scars in their lives.

Recounting their stories, he wrestles with what it means to be an outsider in a place like this, whether or not his attempt to understand, to help, might not in fact inflict its own damage. Ultimately he shows that the many injuries these people carry - like dreams - are a crucial form of resilience, and that we should all think about the ghetto differently, not as an abandoned island of unmitigated violence and its helpless victims but as a neighborhood, full of homes, as a part of the larger society in which we all live, together, among one another.

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"One of the most fascinating parts of Renegade Dreams is an informal group Ralph finds, the Crippled Footprint Collective, consisting of paralyzed ex-gang members who talk openly about life with paralysis, which formed out of a physical rehab program," Whet Moser wrote for Chicago last October.

"What's interesting about the Crippled Footprint Collective is that, in a sense, ex-gang members have a particular standing in the community to say [gangs will desert you]. On one hand, they're given an 'honorable discharge' from the gang, in Ralph's words; they're respected for having sacrificed themselves for the group. Like disabled veterans of war, they have an elevated status in the context of violence, and their words resonate. On the other, they're marginalized within the community; being disabled, they're of little to no use to the gang, while facing the same problems the disabled do in the wider community - if not more, in a resource-poor neighborhood."

Click through to read excerpts and Whet's interview with the author.

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Northwestern history professor Kevin Gerard Boyle is also a Carnegie winner.

"I'll be using my fellowship year to write an intensely intimate history of political extremism and governmental repression in the early 20th-century United States," Boyle said in a press release. "Through that history, I hope the book will speak to the deeply troubling issues the nation faces as we live through our own age of terror."

Boyle's The Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age won a National Book Award in 2004 when he was at Ohio State.

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"Boyle is currently at work on two book projects: The Splendid Dead, a micro-history of political extremism and repression in the early twentieth century; and Change is Gonna Come, a narrative history of the 1960s," his Northwestern bio says. "He teaches undergraduate courses on modern United States history, the civil rights movement, and racial violence."

Wink & Whisper
Over the transom . . .

The Guild Literary Complex is re-imagining the 1920s through music, song, comedy, and dance in their sixth annual benefit, Wink & Whisper: A 1920s LGBT Cabaret.

Emceed by Tamale Sepp, this year's benefit will celebrate the vibrant spirit and culture of a 1920s LGBT community with a fusion of talented performers - Vallery Dolls, Switch the Boi Wonder, Dirty Devlin, Toni Asante Lightfoot (as Jackie "Moms" Mabley) - compelling readings by Coya Paz, historical observations with Jennie Brier, and music by Nick Sula and Chicago Diamond Trio.

The benefit will take place from 6 p.m.-midnight on Sunday, May 17th at Uptown Underground (4707 N Broadway), and is open to the public. Advance ticket purchase is available. Tickets begin at $35 for students and $75 for the general public (age 18+). The evening will conclude with an afterglow dance party with DJ Reaganomix (FKA).

Wink & Whisper is inspired by Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago before Stonewall, by St. Sukie de la Croix (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2010). Copies will be available for sale at the event by local independent bookstore Women and Children First.

From the University of Wisconsin Press:

"Chicago Whispers illuminates a colorful and vibrant record of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people who lived and loved in Chicago from the city's beginnings in the 1670s as a fur-trading post to the end of the 1960s.

"Journalist St. Sukie de la Croix, drawing on years of archival research and personal interviews, reclaims Chicago's LGBT past that had been forgotten, suppressed, or overlooked.

"Included here are Jane Addams, the pioneer of American social work; blues legend Ma Rainey, who recorded 'Sissy Blues' in Chicago in 1926; commercial artist J. C. Leyendecker, who used his lover as the model for 'The Arrow Collar Man' advertisements; and celebrated playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun.

"Here, too, are accounts of vice dens during the Civil War and classy gentlemen's clubs; the wild and gaudy First Ward Ball that was held annually from 1896 to 1908; gender-crossing performers in cabarets and at carnival sideshows; rights activists like Henry Gerber in the 1920s; authors of lesbian pulp novels and publishers of 'physique magazines;' and evidence of thousands of nameless queer Chicagoans who worked as artists and musicians, in the factories, offices, and shops, at theaters and in hotels.

"Chicago Whispers offers a diverse collection of alternately hip and heart-wrenching accounts that crackle with vitality."

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on April 24, 2015


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