LIT ISSUE RELEASE & OPEN MIC FUNDRAISER
SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY The South Side Weekly is an independent nonprofit newsprint magazine written for and about neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. We publish in-depth coverage of the arts and issues of public interest alongside oral histories, poetry, fiction, interviews, and artwork from local photographers and illustrators. The South Side Weekly is dedicated to supporting cultural and civic engagement on the South Side and to providing educational opportunities for developing journalists, writers, and artists. Volume 6, Issue 33 Editor-in-Chief Adam Przybyl Managing Editors Sam Stecklow Sam Joyce Deputy Editor Jasmine Mithani Senior Editors Julia Aizuss, Christian Belanger, Mari Cohen, Emeline Posner, Olivia Stovicek Politics Editor Jim Daley Education Editor Ashvini Kartik-Narayan, Michelle Anderson Music Editor Atavia Reed Stage & Screen Editor Nicole Bond Visual Arts Editor Rod Sawyer Nature Editor Sam Joyce Food & Land Editor AV Benford Contributing Editors Mira Chauhan, Joshua Falk, Carly Graf, Ian Hodgson, Maple Joy, Morgan Richardson, Rachel Schastok, Robin Mosley Vaughan, Jocelyn Vega, Tammy Xu, Jade Yan Data Editor Jasmine Mithani Radio Exec. Producer Erisa Apantaku Social Media Editors Grace Asiegbu, Arabella Breck, Maya Holt Director of Fact Checking: Tammy Xu Fact Checkers: Abigail Bazin, Susan Chun, Sam Joyce, Elizabeth Winkler Visuals Editor Lizzie Smith Deputy Visuals Editors Siena Fite, Mell Montezuma, Sofie Lie Photo Editor Keeley Parenteau Staff Photographers: milo bosh, Jason Schumer Staff Illustrators: Siena Fite, Natalie Gonzalez, Katherine Hill Interim Layout Editor J. Michael Eugenio Deputy Layout Editor Haley Tweedell Webmaster Managing Director
Pat Sier Jason Schumer
The Weekly is produced by an all-volunteer editorial staff and seeks contributions from across the city. We distribute each Wednesday in the fall, winter, and spring. Over the summer we publish every other week. Send submissions, story ideas, comments, or questions to email@example.com or mail to: South Side Weekly 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. Chicago, IL 60637 For advertising inquiries, contact: (773) 234-5388 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lit Issue Once a year, South Side Weekly reserves an entire issue to celebrate all things Lit. Poetry, fiction, essays, even comics are included in the offerings. Submissions pour in from across the city and beyond, with each writer hoping for their work to make the cut. What is the mark of a fine piece of literature selected for our publication? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but it has that special something that captures the particular flavor that is South Side, and our editors know it when they read it. We read, re-read, vote blindly, deliberate, then vote again(rinse, repeat) to select what we all agree are works that speak to what is South Side, by way of literature. This is no easy task. We wish we could publish much more than we are able —but we have a strict page limit to follow or we would never finish editing this much-loved and anticipated issue every year. Each piece has something that will resonate with the South Side that lives in any one of us who has had the pleasure or the pain of being changed in some way by the South Side—her beauty, her grit, her resilience. Whether you’ve lived here for fifty years, are just stopping though for a university stay, or are visiting any number of people, places and things that are uniquely us, you will find your South Side somewhere within these pages. The words we’ve compiled will take you on a sprawling journey, making stops along the way at the apprehension and child-like wonder of a first day of school and the ritual of hair combing. We’ll stop to hear the ocean in a can of seltzer and contemplate our origin and our faith. We’ll visit Kimbark Plaza and Halsted Street. We’ll come face to foot with the clutches of a mysterious white van, and we’ll jump a fence, while good night jazz or a garden wedding ditty plays in the background. Oh the places we'll go, all while riding along within the pitter-patter of our favorite (or at least familiar) South Side city bus. All aboard. The next stop is Lit.
various contributors.....................4 back of the yards students declare
“If you don’t use your voice, someone will put words in your mouth and tell your story for you.” brittanee rolle..............................15 sailing on
“I want to step out of my language/and light up” ian hodgson....................................16 ruffy's thursdays
matt ford.......................................18 a torch that still burns brightly
“His name and a history of missing assignments, tardies and absences. Then there is nothing.” joseph s. pete..................................21 never a city so lovely
filmfront branches out with new bookstore
“It’s really a reflection of our bookshelves at home.” helena duncan............................25 "welfare
queen", a misnomer
Taylor was infamous, and then she was forgotten—yet her existence influenced policy surrounding public aid for decades. siri chilukuri...............................26 sounds from the fourth annual chicago poetry block party
“We are building it as an event that fosters relationships between artistic communities.” av benford...................................28 all about love
“Most people know her by the linocut prints, but she was a sculptor, she was a painter.” tammy xu.....................................30
He was a turbulent personality, always attracted to extreme positions. christian belanger.......................23
Cover Illustration by Haley Tweedell AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 3
The First Day BY PARIS SMITH
aking you back again to my little boy days in the nineteen-fifties when I was living with mom and dad in the apartment on South Ingleside Avenue, in Chicago. I guess you could say I was one of those rough and ready kids with plenty energy, and maybe kind of spoiled because I had lots of toys and got to go to all kinds of fun places. My parents weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we had what we needed, and most times what we wanted. I was a perfectly contented child who played by himself most of the time. Life was ghetto good and I was happy. But one day in early September, when I was five years old, things changed for me— big time. I’d known for a while the change was coming, heard talk about it, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Then one day it happened. “You’ll like school,” my mother told me that Monday morning while she saw to it that I put on my clothes and shoes. “I don’t want to go to school,” I said. And really I felt terrified about the whole thing because I knew I was supposed to be away from home in the company of strangers for several hours, five days per week. “You’ll like kindergarten, son,” Mom assured me in her sweetest tone. “You’ll meet other kids and make new friends.” That was when I cried because I knew the moment of reckoning was close at hand. Mom picked up her purse and took that final look in the mirror at her hair. She was a pretty woman, not very tall; brown skinned 4 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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with what were to me heavenly eyes. Don’t cry,” she said. “Everyone goes to school. You don’t want to grow up to be stupid, do you?” “No, Ma. But I don’t want to go to that place. I want to stay here with you.” Smiling, she took me by the hand. “Come on now, son. There’s a big world out there. Don’t you want to know something more about it?” At first I pulled back, but then she fired THE LOOK at me and I knew I’d better straighten up and fly right. It was a warm morning when we finally headed out along the avenue. A sultry breeze jostled the trees and swung the limbs, and the birds were singing joyously. We walked to Forty-seventh Street, the main drag, and proceeded east, past the corner bar-b-que shack, the five and dime store, and Grady’s drugstore where my mom and her neighborhood girlfriends sometimes hung out, sitting at the counter drinking Green River and chocolate malts. Trucks, automobiles and streetcars passed us as we trekked the two blocks to Greenwood Avenue. We crossed Forty-seventh under the protection of the crossing guard, dressed in her police-like uniform, directing traffic and halting it so that kids going to the school wouldn’t get hit by cars. And there loomed the redbrick school building in the next block. And that was when I really got scared as we were about to walk that final distance. “Momma, I don’t want to go there,” I
wailed, trying to pull away from her. “It’s going to be fine, son,” she told me, holding my hand tighter. “No, I don’t want to go!!” And I tried to slump down to the pavement. “Stop that clowning here, boy.” Mom gave me a forceful pull and I stumbled along. “I don’t want to have to give your father a bad report about you on your first day of school.” And so we finally entered through the big doors to Shakespeare Elementary School. Eight years later I would graduate from Bret Harte Elementary school. Someone pointed out to me somewhere along the line that I’d begun my grammar school education at an institution named for a famous writer, and concluded it at another. We climbed a short bank of steps to the first floor. Boys and girls of all ages were walking the school house halls, up and down the stairs, going in and out of classrooms. We stopped in an office where Mom spoke with a little bird-faced woman standing behind a counter stamping papers and making marks on them with an ink pen. She handed Mom an envelope, said a few words, then looked down at me and gave me a cold smile. Everything inside the school looked big to me. The ceilings were high, tile floors shiny with wax. My kindergarten room was on the first floor, not far from the stairwell and the office. I felt my heart drop down into my stomach when we first set foot in the classroom. Kids were sitting on the floor and crawling around. A little goldenhaired girl kept up some noise, banging a book against a cabinet. A middle-aged woman wearing a blue skirt waddled over to greet us at the door, introducing herself as Ms. Alice. She came on as being very pleasant, shaking mom’s hand and taking the envelope. The backs of her pale legs showed strands of blue veins under the skin. They talked for a few minutes while I stood there, still holding my mother’s hand, feeling like I was in total shock, beleaguered by my surroundings. Presently, Mom let go of my hand and turned to leave me. I felt like I was going to cry, but I only sniffled. She reached down and squeezed my shoulder and nodded to me.
“Go there and sit on the rug with the other children,” the teacher told me in a very kindly voice. I went on and took a seat next to a skinny little fellow with two missing front teeth. He looked scared, too. Ms. Alice welcomed a couple more kids and their parents before she finally sat down at a spinet piano and led the class in singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I didn’t sing at all. I just stood there staring at the floor, frightened of this new world I had been dropped into. Next came the row your boat song and the teacher got up from the piano and mingled with the kids, coaxing the shy ones to loosen up and join in. A teenage girl, her hair in pigtails, came in to the room to help Ms. Alice with the kids. She wore eyeglasses and moved with a spring in her step. I sang softly, barely opening my mouth, scanning the room with my frightened eyes, noting the bookshelves and painting easels, the toys and games. I looked around at the other kids, none of whom I knew. And then I felt totally terrified. I had to get out of there, and get back home where I was supposed to be. All of a sudden the snaggletooth boy sitting next to me burst out crying. The teacher’s aide came to see what the matter with him was. I noticed that his pants were wet, and there was a wet spot on the rug where he sat. The girl took the crier by the hand and led him away through a door at the back of the room. I almost let out a scream. What was going to happen to him? KEELEY PARENTEAU What were they going to do to him? I felt a chill that made me quiver. Hopefully, I could hold my pee if I had to. I couldn’t sit on a strange toilet, without my mom or dad being there with me. Ms. Alice announced that the class would shortly partake of graham crackers and orange juice. A little girl shouted out, “My momma is coming to get me.” And for a moment I felt extremely upset. Was my mother coming to get me? I wanted her to hurry and get there. Then Ms. Alice said, “Now, class I want everyone to quiet down, and starting with you, young man” – she pointed to a pudgy fellow sitting to her right – “we’ll go around the room and everyone will say their name
and tell us how old you are.” And so the ritual went from kid to kid, mumbling, shouting and stuttering their words. My voice was so low that the teacher had me repeat myself. But my tone got no louder the second time. My mind was somewhere else, wrapped up in a world of terror. And even though Ms. Alice projected nothing but caring and kindness in her manner and voice, I felt deathly afraid of her. She was a stranger, and my mother wasn’t on the scene to protect me. A boy wearing a red shirt wheeled in a cart carrying bowls full of graham crackers, along with little cups of orange juice. Most of the kids jumped right on the snacks, but a few, like me, hung back, something else on their minds. The teacher’s aide returned to the room, bringing the snaggletooth boy back with her, his pants changed. Had he been whipped? He wasn’t crying anymore. What had been done to him? Mostly all the crackers got eaten and the juice definitely finished off. I never went near any of it. I just kept on looking around, taking it all in: the dainty curtains hanging at the windows, the potted plants sitting on shelves and ledges, the fishbowl and the bookcases. I had to get out of there. I didn’t want to be kept prisoner. So I waited quietly, keeping my eyes on Ms. Alice and the teacher’s aide while they went about tending to the class, and at a moment when I figured neither of them was paying me any attention, I got up and headed to the door. Didn’t look back. Turned the knob and was gone. Hit the stairs and made it to the front doors; took all my strength to get one of them open. I felt exhilarated when the warm outside air hit me. I was free. I was also scared. I knew my way home, but I’d have to negotiate the streets and the traffic. I made my way south along Greenwood, past the schoolyard and the neighboring apartment buildings. The sidewalk was broken in places. A woman getting out of her parked car gave me a second glance, as I skipped past her. I came to Forty-seventh and suddenly felt overwhelmed. Vehicles roared by continuously. How could I ever get to the other side? The crossing guard wasn’t there. Avoiding the issue right then,
I crossed Greenwood while there were no cars coming at all, and headed west on Forty-seventh, past the corner grocery store and some more apartment buildings. Then I walked by the Catholic school and the church and soon came to Ingleside, my street. The door to the corner tavern sat open, letting out the sounds of juke box jazz. My dad sometimes drank there, but he was at work then. Now the moment of truth had come. I had to cross the big main avenue where the vehicles and trolley cars moved fast, hardly ever stopping. A cement mixer truck, huge like a monster, rumbled by, kicking up grit that got in my eyes. How would I know when to make a run for it? What if I got hit by a car? I looked both ways on the street. Or maybe I should walk another couple of blocks to where there was a traffic light. And that was when I felt the firm hand grab my arm. I turned around and looked up. The teacher’s aide had tracked me down. She wore a panicked and concerned expression on her tan face. “You little rascal,” she called me, taking me by the hand. “You shouldn’t’ve left the building like that. It’s too dangerous for you out here by yourself. You could’ve gotten hurt, or kidnapped. Now, come on, let’s get on back to school. They’re calling the police.” “I don’t want to go back to that school. I want to go home.” She pulled me along for a little ways, until I started walking straight. She talked to me and stressed how dangerous the streets were and how I could’ve gotten hit by a car. When I got back to the classroom, Ms. Alice took me aside and gave me a good talking-to, stressing again how perilous my flight had really been for me. In conclusion, she told me that she was going to tell my mother about the stunt I’d pulled. So, I got through my first day of kindergarten, after having made my break for freedom. I finally joined in and sang a couple of songs with Ms. Alice and the class, and I scribbled in crayon on large white sheets of paper. I looked at a couple of picture books. And I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I wet my pants about twenty minutes before it was time for Mom to pick me up and take me home.
AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 5
Praise to the Bus Ride BY DAVON CLARK
After Nate Marshall’s ‘ praise song ’ Praise to the late bus Praise to the early bus Praise to the bus driver That found a way here against all odds
Praise be to the sights we all see. How a neighborhood blurs into a cityscape
Praise be upon The fumble, the pocket pat, The “damn, I swear I had it”, the two dollars that never were
Praise be upon the bus route that don’t change when the sidewalks do. Praise to the construction work that does.
but the ride that still be — Praise be the OG rideshare. The person in the back with your fare in hand
Praise the humming engine That sings no matter what. Praise the creaks, the squeaks, The cracks, the leaks—
Praise be the Southside bus driver that lets you go for free. Praise be the finesse:
Praise every bus That has made it this far And keep an old transfer slip In your pocket for each bus that hasn’t.
The ads plastered along the window That paid for all of this to happen, Praise be the one way windows, Praise seeing a world
Praise the bus drivers that say goodmorning Every morning
That will never see you. Praise this morning rush local bus that sees you. The eye contact we all make at once— The “I done seen you before”s, The “I done heard yo ass before”s, Praise to those who came before. The cycle that keeps every seat in the back warm, the pitter-patter of bouncing Seat-to-seat.
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Say a good afternoon For every bus driver that waits for a runner. Wish a good evening for every bus driver That is on time to make sure you can have one.
Praise the glowing yellow sign in the distance. Praise how slow it comes. Praise how fast it goes. Praise be to going. Praise be upon the dozens of us that are all going somewhere But to nowhere near the same somewhere. Praise be upon the passenger. Everyone from the schoolbound youth To the elders treating the front seats Like a classroom. Praise the 2-hour commute. Praise the rush hour express bus. Press the efficient The proficient The existent. Praise the homies. Praise each of ‘em that have been Along for the ride Praise the homies I’m riding from, Praise the homie’s I’m riding for, Praise the home’s I’m riding to.
Praise the people Tug a cord for every stop you remember by heart. That move and shake Like a rickety J14. Remember your life in routes And arrival times; Praise every horsepower Know how late you will be in my diesel chariot. Praise everywhere I’m going today To get to where you need to be And praise the way today; Know how okay you will be I get there. When you finally do.
Good Night Jazz BY L. D. BARNES
The smell of wine takes me back To finger snapping days When I thought I was a beatnik Down in clubs filled with smoky haze. Nodding so cool Swaying gently with the beat Pop your fingers when they’re done Don’t clap, just pat your feet. Beret bedecked In a tight black turtleneck Wearing sunglasses after dark Walking barefoot in the park The sounds of my soul was jazz. Taboo was the perfume I wore When my world was bookstores, boutiques and art galleries Days spent sketching sail boats on the Lakeshore Nights carrying really good fake ID. When I stayed up too late Trusted too easy Cried too hard Yearned for my soul’s mate I was decades late, dollars short Playing Miles and all his cohorts While the Beatles experimented with the blues But my heart said it was all a ruse The currency of my nights was jazz. When I should have been home asleep I wandered into adulthood On an El train ride without a map Playing Holly Go Lightly on the cheap Cinderella of the Birdhouse Lounge, Barbarosa’s, Mr. Kelly’s and the Sugar Shack The lubricant of my pretense was jazz. Muddy Waters played our prom The night before Lyndon Johnson sent my boy off to Vietnam Nat King Cole crooned Nature Boy And Lady Day’s voice always gave me the shivers Howling Wolf gigged the Showboat lounge Floating down the Chicago River Now that the sets are over The instruments put away It’s been quite a day The joy of my life is a Good Night’s jazz.
Kimbark Plaza BY MCKENZIE CHINN
it seems like they’ve made everything else condos or a restaurant with edison bulbs. but on 53rd between Woodlawn and Kimbark, the plaza is still there, all low rise and boring taupe, all caps Helvetica signage and intensely nothing special. the bank and Harold’s Chicken. the grocery store and the public mailbox. the laundromat and the 24 hour drug store just in case. i imagine we live in a quaint town and not a city at odds with its own reflection. i imagine my neighbors aren’t taking online quizzes to find out if they’re gentrifiers - anything to be adjacent to soft destruction, but not the wrecking ball itself. the university students believe their tuition has bought them a whole city. their ambition takes up the sidewalk, crosses the street without knowing what ghosts haunt their hallowed, but on a Wednesday at Kimbark, they buy their bread same as me stand in line for the ATM, all of us just citizen, such justice, scurrying with the things we need back to our little places before the cold gets the best of us. at the liquor store they play music i like and i feel like everything on the shelves is mine. the cashier speaks like family speaks, gives me a little something for free, a dad pressing a fifty into your hand before you make the drive back to wherever you’re finding home these days. we live here. i want you to know we live here.
AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 7
A Room For Rishi BY O. A. FRASER
“It looked a little nicer in pictures,” he said of the apartment, “but still comfortable.” Walking down the hallway to the kitchen without invitation. “Where’s the room for rent?”
Preetha sat across the living room from her flat mate looking past the white orchid on the bay window sill to the brown dog in a slow, angling trot down Kimbark Avenue.
A strange smile creeped across Preetha’s face. She was moved by his uncommon boldness. Asking for tea now. Brazen like someone and no one. nothing and something; somebody and absolutely nobody.
She had seen the nameless thing dodge morning traffic on Lake Shore Drive. Once fed it her half-eaten samosa from Rajun Cajun, a cook shop American friends hailed for Indian cuisine.
“Oh God,” she thought, “what if he has fleas?” No help from Shubha, carrying on about the central air and free laundry in the basement. Offering tea biscuits and cherry jam.
“I see him everywhere,” said Shubha. “Where does he sleep?” “He’s just a stray,” Preetha replied. “Once had a nice home, still looking for another one.” Shubha smiled, relieved that University classes were done for the year.
The dog again catching Preetha’s eye. Sniffing at the hands of a child. The boy’s hysterical shriek shattering the street quiet. His father moving quick to the front of the stroller. And the yelp of the retreating animal.
The apartment no longer felt like home with Meera gone: three years belly dancing in Hyde Park without a sari. Lost again in Mumbai, a sullen stranger in their parents’ land, plotting her return to an American medical school.
Rishi’s eyes were closed in quiet satisfaction. Resting comfortably for the first time all day: The pleasure of warm tea and soft jam, and the sweet perfume of two Indian maidens.
The girls basked in the Sabbath sunlight baptizing the room, eyeing the meandering mongrel, awaiting Meera’s replacement: an unknown Savior replying to a roommate ad on Marketplace.
“I think I have found a home,” he said nodding. No clear word about how he would pay for it. His was the unreliable energy business. Not a utility like ComEd or People’s Gas: energetic cleaning.
Forty-five minutes late, he hadn’t called. “It would be good,” said Preetha, “to have a man around. And I’m pretty sure, he’s Indian. Maybe it’s fate.”
Dozens of business clients in the community. Exhausting himself removing negative energy clinging to the neglected buildings. Just a matter of time before the owners paid up. Set him easy for life.
The brown stray darted amid the upturned trash cans in the gangway, shooed by an angry janitor, cursing the mother of the dog. The distinctive color of a Harold’s Chicken Bag triumphantly aloft in its mouth.
His replies to their inquiries spoken with the clarity of reason that always accompanies madness. And when he opened his eyes, Preetha could see in them that he had been crazy for a long time.
Both girls rose, cheering the mongrel’s victory as the doorbell sounded. “This is Rishi,” intoned the voice, “about the room.” Two minutes in frozen suspense at the open door. Stunned by the stony steps of the stranger from the intercom.
Shubha’s gaze met hers in wordless conversation. Wanting to show respect to a man their fathers’ age: Two Indian girls from Catholic school contemplating the Christian thing to do.
He stood before them, either a prophet or a madman. They couldn’t be sure. But they knew of him. Spine curved under the weighty remnants of a lost world in his backpack. Hitchhiking through life like a bipedal turtle.
“We will get back to you,” they said in unison. Suddenly joined in Girl wisdom, telepathic union. Extending the remaining tea biscuits as a parting gift. Talking of future visits with jasmine rice.
Rishi had acquired a certain fame: an Indian man wandering thirty days and thirty nights in the tempting, unwelcoming wilderness Hyde Park is for the homeless. Unable to turn stone into bread.
Rishi had heard this song before. Had been shown other doors. “This country,” he huffed, “lost its sense of decency a long time ago!” He felt a season of welled up anger erupting from deep within.
The din and dinge of the godless streets slowly numbing him into a colorless stray: not quite dirty, not quite clean. Shopkeepers on East 53rd Street feeling their kindness abused, posting angry signs in their doorways, shooing him away.
The piercing squeal of brakes interrupted his outburst. A sudden, loud collision down below. Without looking out the window at the slowly gathering crowd, the girls knew the wayward dog had been hit hard.
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White Vans BY TINA JENKINS BELL
he day it happened, I couldn’t buy respite in my home with two articles due, essays to grade, kids to shuttle, and a mountain of clothes to wash. I sequestered myself in the bathroom. While seated on the toilet, I discovered I was the second choice for a coveted newswriting position, according to the letter that attempted to tidy up rejection on an upswing. “If he can’t...then you...” Meanwhile, my daughter banged on the door, alerting me to an urgent call. It was my husband informing me I needed to add picking up the kids from their summer activities. I needed to escape and yearned for time to take my morning walk for peace. Still sequestered, I listened to the boys play soccer in the hallway separating the living and family rooms with the bathroom in between. The door shuddered; a loud thud followed. “Sorry, Mom,” the boys shouted. “It’s okay,” I assured, my words getting lost in their bustle. “Goal,” they screamed. Hours later, the day fizzled to an end with the next day’s list of carpools, projects, tasks, and deadlines swimming my brain’s channels. Sometime after 11pm, my house quieted. I still needed to decompress, so I dressed in baggy attire, mussed my locs, grabbed my Walkman and left my home, looking homeless. As the door closed behind me, my husband’s warning to take the dog ricocheted off the back of my head. I wasn’t worried. Nothing much happened in our
neighborhood, a bedroom community that rolled up every night about 7pm. I wound through cul-de-sac protected blocks and surged deeper into the neighborhood until a tiny voice urged me to switch my course and return home. I wasn’t alone. A white van trailed me. I reversed my direction and sped down the street. The driver matched my pace. Could this be happening? I look homeless, and I’m black living in an integrated neighborhood where not everyone is happy about the variance. If I run to a neighbor’s house, will they help me? I pushed past my doubts, rushed toward a lighted porch, and banged on the door, pleading for help. Seemingly reading my mind, the driver pulled to the curb, lowered his window, and observed. Seeing this, I pounded the door, faster and harder. As I waited, I squeezed my eyes shut as scenes flashed by of the boys punching the walls for karate practice, my daughter singing with a phone cradled to her ear, my husband beckoning me away from my desk to cuddle, my students crowding my personal space to beg for extensions. The door opened, and the white van rolled away. And, even after my neighbors safely swept me into their home, even when my husband picked me up and I was home, even as I watched the gentle rise and fall of my children’s chests as they slumbered, I craved a return to the sense of safety and assurance I’d always felt before the white van drained it away. AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 9
SELTZER WATER SOUNDS LIKE THE OCEAN BY MANUEL GUERRERO
there’s a can of water by my bedside sometimes, when I’m alone, or late at night i like to open can after can after can of anything with large amounts of carbon dioxide i had to look up what makes the fizzing sound in carbonated water google told me it's a marketing trick, but i'd rather pretend like i’m sitting by the ocean so next time i need to forget i'll go grocery shopping, i'll come home, i'll turn off all the lights and i'll sit still, listening,
Halsted St., Midnight BY SAM KEPP
the long low moan
of a westward-headed freight train makes pause as the bulldog cross the way in the apartment with the nice TV sleeps on
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forgetting chicago, june 23, 2018
Wedding Party Ditty BY W. E. PIERCE
That’s green that speaks in me alone and last, for you and first of all That’s trimmed, translated, bridged which makes us weak With you the time comes slow or not at all Holds fast our hands when summer turns to fall
here’s a white crowd the size of a riot on Clark Street. Pale, red, sweaty bodies sway through the streets pumping fists, screaming the names of those lost from their group. Carmen is a dark speck in the loud crowd of people dressed in white and blue. She feels out of place, covered from head to toe in dark colors, wearing a faded Korn shirt, wideleg jeans, black k-swiss shoes; standing still taking in the scene of people obviously drunk and—whiffs the smoke—freely smoking weed. Carmen is remembering all this, trying to find the best way to describe what happened inside her the night she went to Wrigleyville. She was only there to go to a concert at the Metro. To see Wheatus and Zebrahead. Two rock bands fronted by over-gelled, spikey-haired, high-pitched male singers. Two rock bands that probably did not feel out of place in the pale crowd. Carmen and I sit in silence on Carmen’s grandmother’s porch steps. Carmen is on the top step leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and her head staring at the concrete step. I sit a couple steps below, hugging my left leg while my right leg is sprawled to the side, happy to not have someone tell me close those legs! You’re a young lady and young ladies keep their legs closed. The warm wind blows through both of our long, dark hair, and causes the bushes at the bottom of the steps to crisp and sway. The pink sky has turned into a silky navy blue. It’s getting late. I take a deep breath, let go of my leg, and adjust myself on the step. Carmen doesn’t move. “Well, I don’t know but, if you don’t want to talk about what happened to you then don’t and I don’t mean that in a bad way but dude, you being all quiet and shit is making me sweat.” Carmen chuckles. “Well, that’s your own guilty conscience making you sweat.” “You’re making me sweat.” “I don’t know why,” Carmen says leaning back onto her elbows. “I’m just sitting here—” “In complete silence, you weirdo!” I say, leaning my head onto the lapis lazuli porch rails. A plane headed to Midway airport roars past and I start to wonder where the people aboard the plane are coming from, where they’ve been. “If I tell you, promise not to laugh
When We Jumped the Fence
BY MARIA MENDOZA CERVANTES
An excerpt of “Gage Park” or give me shit? Better yet,” Carmen says, “keep this between us.” “You know I will,” I say gazing into Carmen’s brown eyes. Carmen smiles. “Ok, fine. I went over to the north side to go to a concert over at the Metro. Do you know where that is?” “I know it’s in the north side,” I tell her. “But that’s about it. I do hear about it all the time on the radio, though. Aren’t the Smashing Pumpkins supposed to play their last show there?” “Yea, they are,” she says. “So, what happened over there? Over at the Metro.” “Ok. Explain to me why so many drunk ass people, still drinking, and smoking pot, can gather in the middle of the night, and be loud as fuck, and not get their asses arrested or at the very least, get some bright fucking lights flashed on them?” I say nothing. I don’t know what to say. They’re white people, they’re rich people, those are the only things on my mind but between Carmen and I lately, things can’t simmer down to surface facts anymore. These past couple of days, Carmen has tried go further than just state deliberatelymasquerading facts, as she calls them. I just want to ask her What are you truly looking for?! but I never do. One part because I think I know what she’s looking for, and another part because I’m trying not to want the same thing. Luckily for me, Carmen speaks again. “I know it was all happening because of the Cubs game.” “I fucking hate baseball.” “Yeah but soccer can be just as boring,” Carmen says with a hand sway.
“Hell no!” I say turning my body to the side, leaning back on my elbows, remembering the game in which I kicked Red’s ass, my pride rising again. “But let’s not talk about that right now. Let’s go back to your story.” “Yeah, ok, like I was saying,” Carmen says leaning forward again. “I know it was because of the game and shit like that always happens because of games. I mean, you remember the Bulls championship riots.” “That shit was so badass.” “Ok, well, then there’s nothing to talk about.” “You chicken shit,” I say with a laugh. “Move over,” I tell her, as I get up and sit next to her, grazing my left arm on Carmen’s right. “What are you afraid of telling me, huh?”—Carmen bows her head down with a chuckle— “Are you scared of saying you wished you weren’t here?” —her head nods— “You wish you weren’t Mexican?” —her body quiets— “You wish you were white?” Carmen tilts her head to her left and considers my brown eyes. We stare long enough to feel suddenly naked then turn our gaze to the concrete steps. The looming light of the street lamp fifteen feet in front of us feels incriminating. We hide our faces from it, from ourselves. From up above, though, the light is illuminating. Its aureate light lightens our hunched backs, irradiates the wide concrete sidewalk in front of us, and highlights the tall bush of pink flowers right below it. Its floral braches swaying with the passing breeze. Carmen’s grandmother's house is the only house on the block accentuated with flowers. Our
dark pony-tailed hair swings with the clank-clink of Carmen’s grandmother’s porch chimes. As the breeze finishes passing through, Carmen speaks. “Being in the middle of all those people,” Carmen says, “I ain’t gonna lie and say I didn’t feel a bit way too Mexican than I’m used to and that I wished for a longass second that I could fit in.” Carmen looks up at across the street to the enclosed pine trees of the long front garden of Florence Nightingale Elementary, our school. The pine trees were put there by the school administration to stop us from playing soccer on the only patch of grass safe enough to play on. “If only to feel as free as them,” Carmen says, turning her gaze downward again. “I just want to be free, not feel caged up like I do here in this fucking hood.” We’ve always differed in the way we see Gage Park. I don’t feel caged in by the neighborhood. Now, just now, I’ve come to realize that I feel caged in by those that control our neighborhood. A small group of kids walking together causes cops to corral and huddle around us. Sitting, chillin’ on a porch causes cops to flash lights into our eyes, asking us what we’re doing, as if sitting, chillin’ on a porch wasn’t the only thing we are doing. “Fuck that,” I say. Carmen looks back up at the pine trees across the street. “Man, you know what,” I say straightening myself out, taking the last sip of the now watered-down blueberry raspado. “Let’s get everybody together and jump that fucking school fence.” I give her a wide-ass grin. Her thin scruffy eyebrows, the corner of her eyes, her mouth, her checks, all move upward on her face as I say, “Those pine trees won’t stop us. We’re gonna play soccer on that grass again. Fuck ‘em.” I feel powerful, ready to battle against the invisible now-made-visible oppressor. “Carmen!” Carmen’s grandmother yells through the open window. “Metate pa’ dentro! (Come inside!)” We stand up, wipe cement dust off our bums, slap and clasp hands that form wings. “Fuck ‘em,” we say together. I hop down the steps and open the black and bluetipped gate and slowly close the gate door out of respect of Carmen’s grandmother. Carmen waves to me one last time and turns and opens the wooden door, entering her grandmother’s bungalow house for the night. AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 11
here i am at the National Portrait Gallery
BY MCKENZIE CHINN
mostly people want to see the portraits of the Obamas. directions to their locations perch on the lips of the women at the front desk before i even reach them. i go up the marble stairs. i give Andrew Jackson the finger and wish it could actually change anything. above the hall of presidents, i imagine a banner:
is it possible to lead a people and not become a mass murderer? there’s a shrug emoji at the end. elsewhere, there is a room where Michelle Obama’s portrait is kept. she is unsmiling. she looks at me without blinking and i know in an instant that one may not enter this room carrying any of the dusty lies with which we have built all our tiny fragile. a black woman painted her. only black women can see other black women, like see see other black women and sometimes not even then. in the same room is a portrait of LL Cool J. there is a curator out there, floating around this erupting world who knows what it means to have leveled a portrait of LL Cool J in the National Portrait Gallery of a country the likes of this one. sometimes when i feel suddenly uninvisible, it is enough to make me cry. behind me a white woman raises her gaze to the portrait of the first black First Lady, and voices “she’s too serious in this.” above the room, i imagine a banner: i don’t owe anyone my joy. if i want, i can keep all of it to myself and nothing would be wasted. water in the well.
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BY KAREN VALENCIA
First published in Huizache: The Magazine for Latinx Literature (2014) I am from hot pavement and new snow. I am from napkin lyrics and bloody pen hearts: those that explode With sudden shock and palpitation: those that never revive. I am from greenery and winded stairs, painful laughter, foggy mountain air. I am from hidden tealeaf epiphanies and mystic palm readings where You shush coincidence and make believe. I am from string calluses and dirt, from 8 p.m. front stoop sunsets, Songs that stick to the tongue and pulsing “standing room only.” I am from dusty VCR tapes and from the sea of paperback books that Soak and tear up my to-do lists. I am from blushed cheeks and awkward jabberDrunken slush and honey coated sing-ing, sway-ing, some-times way too much… I am from a darkly lit stage, where I played people that mirrors can’t reflect: Where the Holy Ghost likes to roamBut home was always an inherited typewriter: that clickity-clacking word shooter. I am from two worlds, two alters, two tongues. Yo soy de nadie yo soy de nadie yo soy I am I am I don’t belong To any One. I am from: Nocturnal, the capital of Procrastination, home of the out of body experience. From: “Cool-ehh-ro! Cool-ehh-ro!” From: “Best out of three!” From: “Excuse me… this is my stop.”
Getting my hair combed BY HELEN MAYER-JONES
sat on the floor with my back leaning against mommy’s knees while she pulled the comb through my hair. Each time she pulled the comb, she pulled my head back towards her. ‘Ouch, it hurts’, I said. I could tell that she wasn’t listening; I could almost feel her thoughts flying backward over both of our heads. I tried to look up at her without moving my head. “Still!” Her chin was up and her eyes looked towards the ceiling and I wondered what was she thinking about? She pulled the comb through, pulled the comb through, until I thought my neck would break. Then she oiled it. She dabbed the bergamot hair grease around the edges of my scalp then throughout that mass of hair using her fingers. Smoothing with her fingers, smoothing and pulling and rubbing and smoothing, until that section of my hair felt like a long piece of silk. I closed my eyes and breathed deep smelling the bergamot. And we were like one, as she pulled and smoothed and I leaned this way and that, my eyes fluttering because of the heat in the room and on my head and the hypnotic movements making me almost fall asleep. I opened my eyes to slits and watch the dust motes bounce off each other in the sun light across the room. The ironing board is set up beside the window and ’michael’, our cat, is sitting next to the cooling iron looking out the window. He must feel me looking at him because he turns and looks at me and we stare at each other, both of us with our eyes like slits. Slowly I turned my eyes to my left and try to look out the window that overlooks our courtyard. That is where Daniel is playing “spit-spat-sputter” in the dirt with Cliff and Tommy. I wished that I was outside with them, even though they only let me play sometimes when they’re in a good mood. I close my eyes again and imagine the knife in my palm. “spit-spat-sputter!” I’m better than all three of them sometimes and they hate it. Mom is starting on the second braid. Only the second braid! At this rate I’ll be here all day, unless she drinks too much, gets tired and gives up halfway. The phone rings and she gets up to answer it. I breathe a sigh of relief and lean my head back on the couch. It’s grandmother. My heart tightens. There will be an argument. There will be a fight on the phone. Grandmother wants to know why we haven’t been in school, why the house is not clean, why there is no food in the refrigerator. She already knows the reason why so why does she bother to ask. But, mommy is her love, her joy, and it breaks her heart that her little girl turned out to be an alcoholic. So, she fusses and makes it worst for all of us. I love my granny but I love mommy too. I close my eyes and my ears and pretend that we are one big happy family. I’m snuggled up close to granny on her bigger than life bed and she is reading to me out of her bigger than life Bible with the color pictures of Christ and Job and the fishes. I lean on her shoulder and finger her soft peppery hair and stare at the moles on her face and love fills me and surrounds me on all sides. But the shouting and the banging of the phone on the hook makes me look up and I see mommy heading for the kitchen to refresh her drink. My head starts to throb in anticipation of what’s to come. Mommy stays away a long time and when I go to look she is lying across the bed. I put a rubber band on my hair and sneak out the house. I
know she will sleep for at least an hour. Our building is a three-flat with six apartments. We live on the second floor overlooking the courtyard. I leave the house and bound down the back stairs, with my mind fixed on joining the boys in the dirt. I am so focused that I do not see him until he speaks. I jump and my heart stops for a moment I am so frightened. Then I am instantly mad. It’s the weirdo from upstairs. He’s hiding in the shadows of the staircase. What is he doing there? I am so mad that he scared me that I yell at him and he laughs and grabs at me. Struggling, I push him off and run fast. When I get outdoors it’s like a dream. It is such a break from the dark and scary reality of the stairway that it’s as if it never happened but it happened just moments ago. My heart is thumping fast and I run to the boys and fall on my knees into the dust. They ignore me, although Daniel gives me a questioning look and we agree without words that I will tell him everything later. But, now, right now, I am happy. I am ecstatic. Daniel hands me the knife. Cliff begins to protest but stops unexplainably and just looks at me. “Spit-Spat-Sputter,”I go through all ten levels without stopping, grinning like a fool. Tommy stands up suddenly, curses, and storms off. Everything breaks up but I still feel better and my heart is beating normal again. Daniel takes the knife from me and we walk back to the building together. My brother. I love him so much. It is just the two of us and he is sooo serious about everything. I wish he wasn’t so serious. I wish he would smile more like he use to. I guess he is too old to smile and besides, he must look after mommy and me. He is eleven, four years older than me. He is my older brother and my best friend, after mommy. He is so smart and good looking. All the girls like him and even the boys like him. He is the best at “Spit-Spat-Sputter”, when I’m not playing, but, he taught me so, I don’t really count. He’s still popular with the girls and has lots of friends, but, he doesn’t smile as much at home anymore. Especially since Tillis died. Tillis was mommy’s boyfriend and he was a friend to us. He didn’t talk much but we knew that he loved us. Still, mommy would torture him with her rants. You see, Tillis couldn’t get a regular job, he couldn’t read or write, so he worked odd jobs, anything to bring in money for mommy and us. We always had a running tab at the store on the corner and we never had enough money at the end of the month to pay it off. But, in the winter Tillis would wear his big heavy coat with lots of pockets. Well, Tillis was a big man anyway, but when he wore his big coat he was a giant. He would go into the larger grocery stores, like, “Hi and Lo,” and when he came out, he would have a ham or something like that under that coat and mommy would be happy and we would eat good! I will never forget the night Tillis died. I was asleep in mommy’s bed when she woke me up. “Hedda, I think Tillis is dead”, “He aint dead.” I answered. “Go and see”, she said. I went into the back room where Tillis slept and touched him. I had never been that close to a dead person before. I went back to mommy and said, “Tillis is gone.” Tillis died from eating spoiled pork chops that mom had put under the sink. That was the end of Tillis.
AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 13
PARK KIDS AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM When School is Out, Parks are In!
It’s time to register for Fall programs with the Chicago Park District! STAY CONNECTED.
Online registration begins: Monday, August 5 at 9AM for parks WEST of California Ave. (2800 W.) Tuesday, August 6 at 9AM for parks EAST of California Ave. (2800 W.)
In-Person registration begins: InSaturday, August 10 for most parks. Some parks begin Monday, August 12 *Please note: registration dates vary for gymnastics centers as well as Morgan Park Sports Center & McFetridge Sports Center. MAYOR LORI E. LIGHTFOOT Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners Michael P. Kelly, General Superintendent & CEO
For more information visit www.ChicagoParkDistrict.com or call 312.742.7529 or 312.747.2001 (TTY)
poem for us BY MCKENZIE CHINN
remember when the earth carved out a place for us? remember cartoons and cereal and superhero underwear and skinny brown legs and double dutch and passing notes and i don’t know what home is. i’ve packed my things more times than i can count and so i’ve made a home for myself inside my own body, pilgrim with no holy land but my own feet, blessed sidewalk, blessed city bus, blessed rooftop where we can drink and watch the sun go down. your home is anywhere you choose to stand, welcome home. find yourself a place in the sun and it’s okay if the only place you can find right now is on the inside of you. i architect like i am my own ancient pyramid, my own shining city, my own church and there’s a tent revival tonight with lanterns and a gospel choir. catch the spirit? i am the spirit, and all my tribe is waiting inside these walls, baby, with a plate of hot food and pallet where you can sleep with a quilt made by someone who loves you.
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Back of the Yards Students Declare #MyHoodMyHeadline
Say It Loud, an online magazine written and produced by third graders at Chavez Elementary School, serves to include young writers’ perspectives about important issues and people in their community BY BRITTANEE ROLLE
ow loud can words on a page be? In Back of the Yards, the words written by local young people rang in the ears of the entire neighborhood. A group of third-graders at Chavez Elementary School, led by their teachers Lindsay Singer and Ashley McCall, created the first issue of an online magazine titled Say It Loud, or Dilo Fuerte. Under the line #MyHoodMyHeadline, the students covered stories about Back of the Yards that are often overshadowed by media outlets that only report on the violence in their neighborhood. They included interviews with local community figures, poetry, and even book reviews. Each year, Singer’s social studies class and McCall’s English Language Arts class collaborate for their final unit plan, an “inquiry-based unit” that, according to Singer, is meant to answer the question: what is an activist? The unit kicks off at the end of April, and community leaders are invited to speak
to the class. Students are then allowed to choose how they’d like to address any social justice issue that they learned about in the unit, like access to clean water or disability rights. Throughout these exercises, both Singer and McCall noticed that their students had a gift for storytelling, and decided to use it in service of lifting up the untold stories of the neighborhood. “Students were really focused on their community and how proud they felt,” Singer said. “They thought about the newspapers covering their neighborhoods and noticed it was mostly about violence and crime.” Singer and McCall proposed the idea to create a magazine, and the students voted in favor of it. Then, according to McCall, “students were given templates for writing and worked in groups determined by their topics and genre to discuss ideas.” McCall emphasized the importance of students having control over the story they wanted to tell, which was made possible due to the support that they were given throughout the
“As an elementary teacher, lower elementary doesn’t get enough shine for their social justice work, but we should allow them to engage authentically with the world,” McCall said. “But when you give them the tools, they can do pretty much anything.”
writing process. Many students chose to write pieces in genres that allowed their personal perspectives and concerns to be heard most clearly. Each entry gives insight into their budding writing voices: one student did an interview with their principal, and another poetically described the flowers in their neighborhood. As you scroll through each entry, a sense of pride in their neighborhood rings off the page. One of the students, Mario Quiterio, interviewed “two future fifth graders [about] what social justice means to them.” He believed his writing was important because “we are having a lot of issues around the world and they need to stop.” While some students like Quiterio wrote interviews, others like Monzerath Sanchez used their work to inform the audience about topics that affect them personally. Sanchez shared, “I wrote about Donald Trump building the wall so Mexicans can’t come in. It affects me because I am Mexican.” Throughout the production of the magazine, students were responsible for more than just their writing. So, although Monzareth was one of the writers, her favorite part of creating the magazine was “choosing pictures to match the writing pieces.” “Students took photos for the magazine, created posters for their presentation, made calls for donations to get the paper published, edited their papers, drew the cover of the magazine and designed t-shirts. They were a major part of the process,” Singer said. Singer and McCall taught their
students that telling a story includes more than just writing the words: it involves shaping every aspect of how those words are put into the world. Singer would repeatedly say to students, “Voice is a source of power. If you don’t use your voice, someone will put words in your mouth and tell your story for you.” The paper’s name, McCall shared, comes from the James Brown song “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m proud.” James Brown’s confidence and unflinching belief in his identity resonated with the students in rooms 306 and 307 of Chavez Elementary School. They decided to adopt the lyric as their magazine name: it is their mission to change the dominant narratives of violence and destruction in Back of The Yards to one of “real stories about the Back of The Yards,” as Quiterio stated. So who heard their voices? After the AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 15
Sailing On magazine was created, students invited their peers, family members, and people from their community to their publishing party. Moises Bautista, one of the student writers, got to meet the new alderman Jeanette Taylor, whom he had interviewed. The Gate, a local newspaper in Back of The Yards, also came to cover the event. The Chicago Public Schools shared a post on Facebook linked to the online magazine. Quiterio and Sanchez were also invited to speak about the magazine on The Jam TV Show, which will be aired later this week. More than anyone, though, students wanted the attention of people who live in their neighborhood. "We wrote it for people in Back of the Yards," Quiterio said. Monzareth wanted parents to read it “because they could use their social media to spread awareness about the magazine.” The publishing party was filled with parents and people from Back of the Yards watching students put on performances and use their voices to share their writing. The teachers of 306 and 307 simply “gave [them] the space to talk and write about the things they care about,” Singer said. The magazine also challenged expectations regarding what third-grade students can write about. People who read the magazine online initially assumed that the writers were in sixth grade because of the seriousness of some of the issues they reported on, such as policing and border control. “As an elementary teacher, lower elementary doesn’t get enough shine for their social justice work, but we should allow them to engage authentically with the world,” McCall said. “But when you give them the tools, they can do pretty much anything.” That thing, as Quiterio put it, is to “say things loud so others can hear it.” The question is, are we listening?¬ Brittanee Rolle is a high school writing teacher on the South Side of Chicago. She believes one day the South Side will be known for having amazing young writers. ¬
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Camonghene Felix’s debut poetry collection is full of taunt emotion BY IAN HODGSON
uild Yourself A Boat is more than just the title of the first collection from poet and political advisor Camonghene Felix: it’s an imperative. Published by Chicago’s Haymarket Books, the collection comes on the heels of Felix’s own Chicago connection, working as the Director of Communications for Amara Enyia’s mayoral campaign. In Build Yourself A Boat, Felix’s first full-length collection (she previously published the chapbook Yolk in 2015), she grapples with trauma past and present, personal and societal, and to retain her sanity, dignity and selfidentify through it all. Her writing is at times brash and sardonic, and at others tender and melancholy, but retains Felix’s distinctive and powerful voice throughout. The first lines of the opening poem set the stakes for what is to come. “The psych on duty in triage/Asks me if I want to die, and I say/Not at the moment, no, but stay/Tuned.” The causal web between trauma, mental health and self-destruction permeates the collection, but Felix doesn’t wallow in despair; the mission here is to recognize and overcome. “Stick to the project,” Felix reminds herself, “there are oceans and/oceans and I am just on querulous fish glittering and/considering the upstream.” Build Yourself A Boat weaves in and out of acerbic nihilism and cool reflection, buildingtriangulating an uneasy compromise between self-actualization and self-destruction. “You don’t know the true success of survival ‘till you’ve/experienced the adrenaline of a too-close death. What is/there to fear when you’ve licked the edge?” Felix writes in “‘But There Were
The causal web between trauma, mental health and self-destruction permeates the collection, but Felix doesn’t wallow in despair; the mission here is to recognize and overcome. Times When you Offered Your Consent With Older Man. You Chose Them & You Were Not Afraid. Why Not?’ - Freud.” The poem describes a teenage encounter with an older man, walking the uneasy line between discovering sexual agency and abuse. Felix ends in a calloused confidence “he looks down/at me & moans out ‘who the fuck are you?’/I say, and the answer remains the same thereafter:/‘nobody, who are you?” The poetry really shines when Felix steps back and contemplates the costs of survival itself. Self-creation is a wearying business and takes its toll, emotionally and physically. “I am overwhelmed with my stiff bones with/the rigidity of being strong always handling always beyond my/years def dying faster than everyone else.” Felix also reflects on the struggle to stay guarded, to keep in her pain, and to maintain. “I try not to tell about the stories/ still bleeding,” she writes in “Contouring The Flattening.” “I only say what they/need to hear. If the they is an us/I make myself an example. I lie to/keep it all intact./But if I could, I would unstitch/this plaque sewn
over my mouth.” Felix came up in the world of slam poetry, competing in Brave New Voices,— a national slam poetry festival, dedicated to empowering young poets,— and even appearing in an HBO documentary about the competition. HerFelix’s background in Slam is apparent on the page. In poems like “Imagine??? My Sister an Astronaut???” and “Trap Queen,” sheFelix uses white space the way a slam poet uses air. The line breaks and shifting alignment perfectly capture the breaths and staggered delivery of her performance style. You can hear Felix’s vocal delivery as you read the page. However, some of the Felix’s best pieces in Build Yourself A Boat are the more experimental poems, which fully utilize theare unique to written form. The palindromic “Tonya Harding’s Fur Coats” is one such example. Like Harding’s tripleaxle, the poem spins powerfully upwards, before hitting its peak and unfurling back down—cutting a distinctly different path in each direction. “In the fog of my first tunneled spiral/I saw the drug of that magic/that blade in the shoulder of grace/That cold floor a gallery of small stars/I learned the artifice of/Falling/ and gravity is/but a single tiny hand/of compulsive insignificance.” The language shifts and becomes something entirely different when read in reverse: “There I was, welled in tar and fat and /of compulsive insignificance/but a tiny hand/and gravity is/Falling/I learned the artifice of/That cold floor/That galley of small starts/That blade in the shoulder of grace/I saw the drug in the magic/In the fog of my first tunneled spiral.” Build Yourself A Boat is an impressive first collection, highlighting Felix’s
unmistakable voice and impressive talent. She proves that she is just as capable on the page as she is on stage. “I want to step out of my language/and light up,” Felix writes in “On Entropy”. And iIn this collection, she does just that. ¬
Camonghne Felix, Build Yourself a Boat. $16. Haymarket Books. 72 pages Ian Hodgson is a contributing editor at the Weekly.
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A Torch that Still Burns Brightly The gone-too-soon Rafael Torch’s memoir illuminates big themes with incandescent prose BY JOSEPH S. PETE
espite dying nearly a decade earlier, Rafael Torch made a dramatic splash at this year’s Printer’s Row Lit Fest, shining with his lapidary prose in a book he wrote fifteen years ago. Released earlier this year, The Garcia Boy was put together with the help of Torch’s widow, Emily OlsonTorch, and students in DePaul University’s creative writing program and published by Big Shoulder Books, DePaul’s press that “disseminate[s], free of charge, quality works of writing by and about Chicagoans whose voices might not otherwise be shared.” Big Shoulders’s founding editor is Miles Harvey, an associate professor of English at DePaul, who discovered Torch when a literary journal editor insisted he read the essay “La Villita,” which ended up becoming the first chapter of the book. Harvey reached out to Olson-Torch, who eventually furnished the unpublished manuscript and a host of supplementary materials that Harvey’s class shaped and edited into a finished book over the course of the class, molding the clay of 400-page, 350-page and 200-page drafts into a final, finished product last year. At the Lit Fest, which took place June 8 and 9 in the Printer’s Row neighborhood in the South Loop, and which is the largest literary festival in the Midwest, the university press handed out free copies of Torch’s book to anyone who stopped by its tent, and has distributed them across the country. On June 8, Olson-Torch and the book’s editors had a panel discussion at the Grace Place Church in Printer’s Row about “the best Chicago writer whose name you don’t know,” attaining long-overdue recognition on WGN Radio and other media outlets. Torch’s autobiography deserves as wide an audience as possible. It is candid and unflinching, brave and poignant in its descriptions of alcohol and drug abuse,
of street gangs and violence, and of the descendants of immigrants searching for a sense of identity and belonging, seeking to reconcile the time-honored heritage of their past with the boundless possibility of their future. The Garcia Boy is a powerful memoir, but it’s not Torch’s story alone. The late writer, who died in 2011 of sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, at the age of thirtysix, largely tells the story of three people: himself, an alcoholic who overcomes his addiction to become a husband, acclaimed essayist, high school teacher at the Latin School and dean at the largely Latinx Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Pilsen; his father, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and combative drunk he spars with; and a student at his Catholic high school named Sergio Garcia whose life was tragically cut short because of gang violence. Sergio Garcia’s death haunted Torch because it just as easily could have been him: “a dead Mexican in the beaten-up back seat of a cheap car bought with someone else’s savings.” The grisly murder in a dark street of a teen who was fraternizing with gang members forced Torch to see his environment in a new light. His death is written with a stark, knowing realism—the Garcia boy wet his pants after dying, and was shot in both the chest and head as “a billboard, a plain message to someone in some other hood or gang.” Torch felt a strong sense of identification with the boy from a similar background: “He is me and I am him.” His heartbreak is raw, such as when he’s forced to repeatedly skip over Garcia’s name while grading papers for the rest of the school year: “His name and a history of missing assignments, tardies and absences. Then there is nothing.” It’s a story shared by many across the city and a powerful depiction of the human toll of the
violence that claimed several hundred lives a year across Chicago in the early 2010s. An account of growing up as an American of Italian and Mexican descent in suburban Cleveland and Chicago during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and teaching in the city in the early 2000s, the book covers a lot of ground despite clocking in at just 156 pages. Torch explores addiction, street gangs, and how the children of immigrants integrate into America, asking what it really means to be American. He probes the conundrum faced by some secondgeneration hyphenated Americans who feel perpetually betwixt and between. Torch viewed his identity as complicated, describing feeling like a foreigner while on a trip to Mexico and like a stranger in the immigrant neighborhood where he grew up. The alienation is thick as he drives through Pilsen: “The wasted, neon lights of 18th Street flash by the windshield. Slick, wasted boys at the street corner, angels in their regalia. Their eyes meet mine, and after a brief second there’s something like recognition and then again I’m just passing through, a tourist, a güero. A white boy. I creep through the full simulacra of my immigrant Chicago. It sits heavy and ready to pop as a warm summer breeze comes out of nowhere and makes me want to roll down the window for a moment and take it all in again for the first time, innocent and less cynical about the future.” He’s keenly aware of the duality of identity, riffing on flipping between Spanish- and English-language radio stations or a playground he views as “the green light Fitzgerald mused about” and a symbol of America that he notes is across the street from a bar with a neon sign that says “Cerveza Fria.” Torch’s writing has a lilt and a precision of language that brings it to life. His literary talent is on full display with firecracker prose
like “my father fled the bullets and mayhem in a country lost in the wild winds of a dust storm, the ghosts of Pancho Villa nobody cares about anymore, the Emiliano Zapata who failed his people, the Mexico City earthquake and the nightmare hangovers from drinking bathtub tequila of mezcal.” A specter of unrealized potential hangs over the work, a hazy penumbra of what could have been. Before his abrupt death, Torch earned a master’s degree in Humanities at the University of Chicago and became a dean at the private high school where he taught English. He published in journals like Indiana Review, Antioch Review, and Crab Orchard Review. His published literary output during his lifetime was limited to a smattering of essays, but his memoir shows a major talent. (After his death, a literary award was established in his honor.) His prose reaches great heights of lyricism: “The Garcia boy is an urban myth now, one of those sad stories to add to the repertoire of sad American communities at the edge of the twenty-first century. I see long cold cinematic shots of the dangerous remnants of buildings and broken glass and hungry murderers and hunted prey AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 21
“Slick, wasted boys at the street corner, angels in their regalia. Their eyes meet mine, and after a brief second there’s something like recognition and then again I’m just passing through, a tourist, a güero.”
that resemble people. The Garcia boy and the music give me images of empty, halftorn-down buildings like the ones that line Roosevelt Road near Blue Island Avenue and those on North Halsted near Division, near busted, rotted-out, rusted steel bridges creaking in the ferocious summer wind sweeping up all the dust and skimming it across the top of the Chicago River. Reality sets in, and the wrecking ball waits for no one.” The Garcia Boy paints vivid pictures of the city, such as slack-jawed gaping at the city’s sheer rust-kissed majesty and the “dark blue abyss of Lake Michigan” while driving over the Chicago Skyway for the first time or drinking at a downtown bar while a secretary moonlighting as a bartender keeps the beers coming. Committed to capturing the spirit of the place, he memorably describes Pilsen as a “densely populated area, awash with newcomers and old-timers, well-oiled Americans still clinging, like it or not, to their Mexican identity” as a neighborhood that “has changed the Mexicans--who believe so much in the Past--into people of the future.” Despite student editors’ efforts to reassemble it, the book does suffer some structural issues. It can read like a 22 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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hodgepodge of shorter essays that were glommed together haphazardly. There are time jumps, discordant themes and the abrupt, awkward introduction of his first struggle with cancer in the epilogue. The chronology bounces all around. But despite minor flaws in organization, it stands as a powerful voice of witness and testimony to widely shared experiences. Through his memoir, Torch also transformed parts of the past into something we can take with us into the future. ¬ Rafael Torch, The Garcia Boy: A Memoir. Free upon request at bigshouldersbooks.com. Big Shoulders Press. 156 pages. A regular Weekly contributor, Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning writer whose work has appeared in more than 200 literary journals and a few zines. His one-act play Thank You For Your Service will be staged at the Veterans 10-Minute Play Festival at Salem State University in Massachusetts this September, and his book Lost Hammond, Indiana is coming out later this year.
Never a city so lovely
Reevaluating the legacy of one of Chicago’s most iconic writers. BY CHRISTIAN BELANGER
alfway through his new biography of Nelson Algren, Never a Lovely So Real, Colin Asher recounts a story the novelist once told about F. Scott Fitzgerald, who thrust himself into his work so whole-heartedly that “he could no longer be both a good writer and a decent person.” The author of The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise instead became like “the beady-eyed men I used to see on the commuting train... men who didn’t care whether the world tumbled into chaos tomorrow.” Algren’s point is that the writer is engaged in a permanent flirtation with unhappiness, if they’re good. (If they’re bad, or just a hack, he thinks
their life is easy enough.) Reading Asher’s book—a thorough account of the contours of Algren’s own unhappinesses—it’s difficult not to think of this anecdote, and its demand that the writer subordinate their life to their art. Algren was once so poised for success that after the release of his most successful novel, The Man With the Golden Arm, which won the inaugural National Book Award, Ernest Hemingway wrote a note in his copy that said, “Ok, kid, you beat Dostoyevsky.” But political persecution, aided by a turbulent personality, meant that Algren practically stopped writing at the height of his career, andwhile the books he did put out were tepidly
received. His reputation faded in the world at large, helped on by his critics, who derided him as a “a bard of the stumblebum.” Asher’s book is, in some ways, a long argument for why Algren and his work deserve to be revisited. (He may overemphasize the point slightly. Even at his nadir, Algren’s reputation in Chicago and among other authors remained robust: his contemporary admirers include Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, and Cormac McCarthy.) It also offers a challenge to anyone living in Chicago: how do you engage well with the work and intention of a writer whose words about the city have has been so picked over that his words about the citythat they have become to the point of becoming a cliche? Nelson Algren grew up in South Shore, at 71st Street and South Park Avenue (now MLK Drive), where he chased after brewery trucks, collecting and drinking sickly sweet canfuls of yeast and malt. In 1920, when he was eleven, his family moved to a Jewish neighborhood in Albany Park. Over the course of his life he’d hop around the city— from a small garden apartment at 35th and Cottage Grove to a three-flat in Wicker Park. It was in the latter neighborhood, in Chicago’s old Polish Triangle, that he gathered much of the material for The Man With the Golden Arm. The story of Algren’s life makes it clear that he was a turbulent personality, always attracted to extreme positions. Sometimes, this took the form of attempts at radical reinvention. In college at the University of Illinois, he read Marcus Aurelius and became a Stoic, enduring cold showers at 6am and oatmeal with salt for breakfast. He wasn’t particularly successful at living up to this ideal—“I was always perpetually falling off this grand plane that I had arranged,” he said in a later interview. Engagement in “an extended contest between virtue and sin,” as Asher puts it, gave Algren’s life meaning that, in a quotidian college town, it would otherwise have lacked. Algren was fully capable of selfdestruction, too. During the early fifties, at the height of his literary success, he gambled away the money his publisher sent him, asked them for more, and lost that too. He remarried his ex-wife, Amanda Kontowicz, while in love with another woman, Paula Bays; Asher writes that, after finishing the vows, Algren kissed Bays before Kontowicz. (He then wrote an agonized letter to another great love of his, Simone
de Beauvoir, declaring that he had “made a horrible mistake.”) Soon after the ceremony, he traveled to the South to get away from his marriage and work on a book in what became the first—it marked the beginning of a long series of meandering trips, the attempts of a broke forty-something-year-old to write, make money, or leave the country. At one point, he spends a few nightmarish months in Los Angeles, coerced into working on the film adaptation of The Man with the Golden Arm. At another, he visits some free-spirited friends in East St. Louis; there, he longs to experience the carefree pleasure they take in life. He writes enviously to a friend, “Every one of those women, and their men too, sat there for hours just having themselves one hell of a time.” Algren was capable of having a good time—he was the consummate tour guide to his own city, drinking all of his out-of-town friends under the table. HisThe problem was a lack of moderation. He couldn’t stop himself, as he admitted in a letter to his friend, from marrying Amanda because it seemeds like the right thing to do, in line with the same principles that informed his written work. He also couldn’t resist defending the Rosenbergs, or inserting a throwaway reference to a pair of real-life FBI informants on leftist movements in one of his novels, causing both men to contact the agency about Algren’s past politics. It’s this last act that spells trouble for Algren. Never a Lovely so Real isn’t the first biography about the writer: Tribune reporter Mary Wisniewski released hers all the way back in 2017, and there was another written in the eighties. But Asher has a good reason for putting out a new book, and a convincing explanation for Algren’s failure to capitalize on his quick fame: he’s the first to gain access to a less redacted version of Algren’s FBI file, maintained during the years that the agency suspected the writer of being a Communist spy. Algren was involved with the Communist Party in the thirties, when he was a member of the Chicago’s proletarian literature movement. In an atmosphere suffused with revolutionary optimism, he developed the idea that writing should be explicitly political, for and about the working-class. That underlying principle informed his decision to write about people living on the “fringes of society” for the rest of his career. It’s present in his failure of a first novel all the way to his most famous AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 23
LIT works, Golden Arm and Chicago: City on the Make. The FBI assiduously surveilled Algren: —the postmaster in Gary, where he lived for a while, kept track of the writer’s mail, and agents would routinely phone up his unsuspecting mother to figure out where he was. But because the details from the investigation were never made public, Algren’s mid-life deterioration seemed to be entirely his own fault, even to Algren himself. He never knew how many of his friends and professional contacts the bureau had spoken to, or how closely they were watching him, so when publishers began distancing themselves from him, he assumed his work simply wasn’t wanted or wasn’t good enough…. When he discovered he couldn’t concentrate well enough to write the way he once had, he attributed this trouble to personal weakness. As he writes in the introduction, Asher’s biography relies heavily on this point: Algren was not dragged down by his own demons, except with a generous shove from a repressive political regime. In making it, he also comes close to levying a defense of Algren that concedes too much ground to the moralizer—Algren is salvageable because he was not as bad as his detractors suggest. But just as we shouldn’t read novels to confirm our smug ethical certainties, there’s no need to save Algren from his critics. Asher’s book uncovers valuable new information that expands our understanding of Algren’s circumstances, but it’s also an entrancing picture of his failures, and a man unable to do anything at half-speed, even as it leads him into trouble.
hough Algren may live on in general obscurity until Asher gets his way, he retains a significant reputation in Chicago, where his footprint sometimes shows up in slightly absurd ways. Last year, Neon Wilderness—a bar named after Algren’s short story collection—opened in Wicker Park; the hard-nosed slogan on their website reads: “We Don’t Hand Out Participation Trophies. They’re Earned.” A few months later, the Art Institute hosted an exhibition of mid-century Chicago film and photography with the same title as Asher’s book. Algren is also a favorite of the contemporary columnists and journalists who seem to see themselves as descendants of a long line of Chicago writers writing for the common man—Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Ben Hecht. Tribune columnist John Kass once argued that City on the Makei 24 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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should be Chicago’s official book of the year, decrying the “Orwellian magic” of the selection committee that chose To Kill a Mockingbird instead. In hisBack when he had a former column at DNAinfo, Mark Konkol wrote that, “No other writer has captured the truth about our beautifully corrupt and lovingly coldhearted city like Algren in the 1940s.” (Ignore, for a moment, that the book was written and released in the 1950s.) It’s easy to see the appeal of tying oneself to Algren and his peers. City on the Make sketches the enervation of a once-great city—“the kind of town, thirty years gone, that made big men out of little ones.” It’s only the little ones that remain by the time Algren is writing, ordinary people trying to make a life for themselves in whatever defiant and defiled way they can manage. Still, there’s a romance to the Chicago shown in the work, indelibly corrupt but somehow irresistible, “an infidel’s capital six days a week.” It’s this vision, of a place equal parts underdog and conman, that’s come to dominate the city’s conception of itself over the last half century. But this view of Chicago erases any of the nuance in Algren’s thought and writing. Kass’s columns, for instance, are full of both reflexive cynicism and treacle: every politician is corrupt, while every police officer, up to and including Jason Van Dyke, is worth all our mawkish sympathy. The writing must play well with uninformed suburbanites, but, unlike The Man with the Golden Arm, it’s neither sharp nor resonant. What would it mean, particularly for a Chicagoan, to take Algren seriously instead of superficially, and to genuinely engage with his legacy as a writer? For this, it may be best to replace City on the Make with Nonconformity, a book that Asher highlights as particularly worthwhile in his biography. Rejected by Doubleday and published posthumously, Nonconformity is a long essay covering Algren’s theory of what literature should be. His main contention is that the “flabbiness and complacency” of most American writing is due to the unwillingness of novelists to live and work “in shabby company,” somewhere outside the confines of mainstream cultural spheres. He inveighs against writers who spend time mostly around their own kind, and eventually take off for the coasts: “The less he sees of other writers the more of a writer he will ultimately become. When he sees scarcely anyone except other writers, he is ready for New York.” Nonconformity also criticizes writing that models itself after reportage and “makes
a virtue of stenography…. A surefire means, it seemed, wherewith to gain one’s art without losing one’s life.” Algren, who wanted to be a sociologist for a while in college and researched his books exhaustively, is drawing a fine distinction here: while literature must be true to life, it cannot simply imitate it. Instead, there must be a commitment to discover emotional truth, paired with a relentless description of reality. If we must engage with a city as it exists, and not simply as we imagine it to be, is it still justifiable to think of Chicago as a “city of hustlers”? That’s a complicated question, of course, and the near-decade under Rahm Emanuel saw plenty of corruption scandals wherein some vestige of an old machine asserted itself: Willie Cochran, Ed Burke, Barbara Byrd-Bennett. But they can sometimes seem to pale in comparison to how straightforwardly the extraction of resources from the city’s lower classes takes place now. The closing of schools and mental health clinics wasn’t a con—it was just faceless austerity politics. The news that Burke tried to shake down a local Burger King franchise, or that Danny Solís enjoyed visiting massage parlors, is small-fry comedy next to the recent finding from a team of New York University public health researchers that the gap in life expectancy between Englewood and Streeterville is thirty years. This presents its own challenge. How do you write fiction about the gradual disappearance of Black people from the South Side, or new megadevelopments the size of a small neighborhood? Perhaps for this reason, the betterknown Chicago novels of the 21st Century have mostly tackled the safe territory of the past: Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, is partly set in the present-day, but revolves around the AIDS crisis of the eighties, and Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project is focused on a hundred-year-old murder. This isn’t a crime; Algren’s mandate for fiction is in many ways singularly narrow-minded— his embrace of a particular mode of writing often came at the expense of others, and he railed against a tendency toward symbolic fiction that he saw emerging in the midtwentieth century. Still, there’s something compelling in Algren’s totalitarian, ambitious vision of what a writer should be. Part of the appeal, of course, is that he was writing at a time when it still seemed to matter what writers had to say about the world. But his ideas also encourage literature that extends our understanding of the world all the way to its frayed edges, and helps us see the complex lives of others beyond the simplifications of,
say, centrist identity politics. Last Friday, Lil Durk, the drill rapper from Englewood, released his fourth studio album, Love Songs 4 the Streets 2. On the fifth track, “Locked Up,” he raps about his friends and associates who are languishing in prison—the one who didn’t snitch in exchange for a plea deal, or another who got thrown “in the hole ‘cause he got a gang case.” He recalls, briefly, his own incarceration (three months on a weapons charge), and his drug problems. Listening to Love Songs, I was reminded of a passage at the beginning of The Man With the Golden Arm. Frankie Majcinek, the book’s protagonist, has been picked up and sent to jail for the night. The next morning, he watches the other inhabitants get up and perform their daily ablutions: Though he had seen not one man of them in his life, Frankie knew each man. For each was seared by that same torch whose flame had already touched himself…. The great, secret, and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in a land where ownership and virtue are one. Majcinek imagines the remaining days of these men, “luckless living soon to become the luckless dead.” It’s their anticipation of death as the great equalizer that they take solace in: “they’d all be taking the same road, down the same littered street, to the same single trench together.” Algren here is trying to confront us with the invisible lives of people in trouble; their utter, anonymous forgettability is what should haunt us. Durk’s songs don’t necessarily deal with the forgotten; their subject is often, instead, the interchangeable Black male always implicitly present when people talk about violence in Chicago. He takes the grainy photo from the police blotter and shows the guilt, sorrow, and anger that might exist within that person. He also confronts us with the invisible—the rich interior life we deny the criminal. I think that if there is a true heir to Algren in Chicago, it’s probably not a novelist, or John Kass, but Lil Durk, or one of the other drill rappers and backyard slam poets depicting the nuanced realities of life on the South and West sides. It’d still be nice to get a big new book about the city, though. ¬ Colin Asher, Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren. $39.95. W.W. Norton. 560 pages.
“Welfare Queen,” A Misnomer A new book highlights how in the 1970s one woman altered American welfare policy forever BY SIRI CHILUKURI
n 2013, author Josh Levin first became acquainted with the story of Linda Taylor, first nicknamed “The Welfare Queen” by a Rochester newspaper. Levin wrote a detailed article for Slate that both brought her crimes to light and detailed her iconization by Ronald Reagan and other politicians looking for a way to cut money to public aid programs. Taylor was infamous, and then she was forgotten—yet her existence influenced policy surrounding public aid for decades. The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth, Levin’s biography of Linda Taylor, is a complicated portrait of a woman whose motives can never be fully uncovered. Her actions, and the way others vilified them, changed the course of welfare policy in this country forever. In this, the book tells two interconnected stories of theft: Taylor’s attempts to defraud state governments, and politicians’ efforts to steal from the country’s poorest citizens through unscrupulous policy. The book opens with a 1974 encounter between Taylor, who had reported a (nonexistent) burglary at her apartment, and Chicago Police Department policeman Jack Sherwin, whose quest to take down Taylor weaves throughout the book. At the time, Taylor was in her late forties. “She was just over five feet tall, with olive skin and dark, heavily lidded eyes. Her face, a long oval tapering to a sharply jutting chin, seemed vaguely elfin. Her eyebrows, plucked into thin arcs, made her look like an old-
fashioned glamour girl.” Sherwin took note of the items that Taylor had reported missing, including a large refrigerator, and concluded the interaction as he usually did—with a promise to follow up, should he find more information. But he left the scene with a suspicion about the woman and her missing refrigerator. His quest to understand what happened would begin his interactions with politicians and reporters to highlight the crimes of the ‘Welfare Queen’. This encounter sets up Taylor’s heartwrenching story—her triumphs, her tribulations, and her many more interactions with the police. Levin frames the story by teaching us about Taylor’s misdeeds before we learn about her abusive childhood, and in doing so, implies that her tumultuous childhood contributed to her crimes. This structure lends itself to intrigue, but not to clarification. In the first half of the book, which deals with Taylor’s adult life, the reader is left wondering why she committed the crimes she did. The latter half of the book is much more comprehensive, bringing up themes of race, gender, poverty, family, and acceptance that are lacking in the first part of the book. According to her birth certificate, Linda Taylor was born Martha Louise White to a white mother and white father in Tennessee. Taylor’s early childhood was filled with falsehoods from her family about
who her father was, until at age six she was expelled from an all-white school and her mother Lydia White could no longer lie about her child’s heritage. Years later, both her grandmother and her uncle would divulge that Martha Louise White was half Black. But in the South in the 1920s, the prospect of a biracial child could have indicted her mother for a felony, and so Taylor’s family seemed content to tell her and the rest of the world that she was white. After Taylor was expelled, White left her with Jim and Virginia Collins, a Black couple. While family members claimed Taylor’s location became increasingly hard to pin down as she grew older, it might have been because they made it clear she wasn’t
welcome at home. Taylor’s vagabond childhood and clear rejection from her mother’s family seemed to be the catalyzing events for her crimes, which could be seen as a form of selfpreservation. Despite the harsh description of what her family put her through—sending her off to various places and refusing to let her into their homes, ostensibly because of her race—there is little time dedicated in the book to those events which would leave her with a disregard for others. Instead, when we first meet Taylor, she is already a fully formed adult committing crimes. While this makes for an intriguing story, the reader might be better served by a more linear timeline. AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 25
*** After stints in California and Michigan as a teenager and young adult, Taylor settled in Illinois. Through various schemes involving her daughter’s children and her own, she perpetuated welfare fraud. She used her previous marriage with a veteran to defraud the VA, as well as child assistance programs, for her own gain. She would claim multiple imaginary children to do so, and ended up defrauding an estimated total of $40,000 from welfare programs in Illinois. In addition to her welfare fraud, Taylorwas also involved in other very serious criminal actions. Two of the people mentioned in the book that suffered at her hands were her former husband Sherman Ray and her former friend Patricia Parks. Through interviews with family and friends, Levin finds that both of their lives were lost because of circumstances perpetrated by Taylor. In the first instance, Parks died by a barbiturate overdose, a substance she had been taking under Taylor’s advice. In the second instance, Ray died after being shot by an associate of Taylor’s, Willtrue Loyd, according to Ray’s best friend. Yet the prosecutors and politicians who viciously condemned Taylor for her fraud never charged her with the tragic deaths of these two people: the focus on Taylor in newspapers and stump speeches was always on her welfare fraud. Though some welfare fraud was committed by copycats of Taylor, Levin notes that the state and city employees which oversaw welfare programs also deserved close scrutiny. “While the public imagination latched on to the story of Linda Taylor and her scamming ways, reporter George Bliss wanted to clarify that rampant welfare abuse could be perpetuated by anyone.” But Taylor’s story was flashier and politically advantageous, so other angles often were overlooked. Among the various agencies that Taylor stole from, the most illuminating example was a program called Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC).This program was started as Aid to Dependant Children 26 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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(ADC), tucked into the Social Security Act of 1935, one of many laws passed as part of the New Deal. Despite the fact that the law was meant to be a social safety net, not everyone was included. As scholar Dorothy E. Roberts notes in her book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, “Even the ADC was created primarily for white mothers, who were not expected to work. Black mothers, who had always been in the paid labor force in far higher numbers than white mothers, were considered inappropriate clients of a system for the unemployable.” In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement fought for the rights of Black citizens to receive aid similar to their white counterparts, and as Roberts writes, “secured entitlements to benefits, raised benefit levels, and increased the availability of benefits to families headed by women.” Roberts continues, quoting historian Gwendolyn Mink: “‘By 1967 a welfare caseload that had once been 86 percent white had become 46 percent nonwhite.’ The majority of Black women nevertheless continued to work paid jobs and the majority of welfare recipients remained white.” But this hard-fought win became moot as benefits from the AFDC started to dwindle. The Reagan era brought massive cuts to welfare, citing Taylor as the woman in Chicago who used eighty aliases and stole $154,000 from public aid. Although Reagan could never prove the figure, the story resonated with an angry American public. Politicians and journalists had advertised the image of a freeloading, welfare cheat—and this person, unlike the white administrators and low-level bureaucrats who also took from the pot, was Black. The white middleclass was furious. Reagan told stories on the campaign trail—or rather the same story—about Taylor making off scot-free with a hundred thousand dollars. While the truth was less politically expedient—the figure was closer to four aliases and $40,000—it pleased crowds and got a point across: America needed to stop the Linda Taylors of the world. And while Reagan lost the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976, he would win the White House four years later
and capitalized on this fear-mongering in 1982. As Levin details in The Queen, “Congress ultimately approved $35 billion in cuts for the fiscal year 1982, $25 billion of which came from initiatives that affected the poor. An estimated 408,000 of the country’s 3.9 million AFDC households lost their benefits entirely, while roughly one million people lost access to food stamps.” This loss of benefits was devastating to poor families everywhere, but media coverage of the poor Black “welfare cheats” that was prevalent soon became eclipsed by another narrative. Sympathetic stories about their white counterparts were soon featured in greater number s Levin argues that “this dramatic shift couldn’t be explained by actual demographic changes: White Americans made up 66 percent of the nation’s poor in 1972 and 1973, and 68 percent in 1982 and 1983.” In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a law that transformed the AFDC into Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). TANF was much more onerous to receive than AFDC, and as the title suggests, not nearly as easy to keep. The program has work requirements for parents and twoyear limits on benefits received, as well as five-year lifetime limits. While having fewer citizens on welfare is an admirable goal, this version of TANF did not include job training or any substantive welfare-to-work initiatives that would increase the income of families living in poverty. Instead, President Clinton and Vice President Gore tried to create their own initiatives. Despite this program and an initial decline in poverty, the number of Americans living in poverty has mostly stayed the same, fluctuating about five percentage points since 1965. As in the original version of the AFDC, the TANF was intended to be difficult for poor families to navigate. This reflected a new age in welfare, where a lack of social services was supposed to motivate poor citizens to work. Where it was previously viewed as a social safety net, welfare was now framed as a shove into the workforce. While most people conjure up the idea for any kind of reform to be thought
up in the offices of Washington D.C., TANF was the result of years of welfare reform policy that started in fear of Linda Taylor in her mink coat and Cadillac. While the rules changed for AFDC—an aid program primarily meant for women— other programs that Taylor ripped off have appeared to stay the same. The VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation was one of the places she swindled by trying to get benefits for a child who did not have any ailments, and yet this fund has remained free of the work requirements and a five-year lifetime stipulations that have defined the newest incarnation of the AFDC. So many poor Americans weren’t Linda Taylor: they didn’t drive Cadillacs or scheme to defraud the government. They were citizens who, for various reasons, could not find gainful employment and needed help from the government. As the “Welfare Queen”, Taylor became a malignant stereotype for all poor Black welfare recipients, her individuality rarely recognized. Yet when Taylor reached old age and eventually passed away in 2002, her death went almost unmentioned. There was no media blitz, only a small gathering of family that remembered her. The once infamous woman became unknown in her later life and death. Yet the implications of her notoriety would impact so many who never knew her name. While the story of Linda Taylor is at once bewildering and tragic, there are millions of untold stories of people who suffered because of her infamy, and we may never know their names. But by reading about Taylor’s life and the perplexing person she was, we may be able to understand people who live today in poverty. We can meet their challenges with compassion, and not lionize or demonize them, but see them as Linda was never seen in the eyes of the public—as a full person. ¬ Josh Levin, The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth. $14.99. Little, Brown. 432 pages. Siri Chilukuri is a journalist and student at The New School in New York. She currently lives in South Loop. This is her first story for the Weekly.
Sounds from the Fourth Annual Chicago Poetry Block Party This year’s Poetry Block Party continued the event’s tradition of bringing together art and activism. BY AV BENFORD
hen the Poetry Foundation calls this a Block Party, they mean it.
On July 27, the National Museum of Mexican Art and Crescendo Literary, a writing and education group founded by South Side poets Eve Ewing and Nate Marshall, celebrated “poetry, music, and creativity” with roped-off streets, a slamming sound system, art installations, vendors, a pinata, and even a bouncy house at the fourth annual Chicago Poetry Block Party. All day long, from Harrison Park down 19th Street from Wolcott to Wood, you could hear performances by The Chicago Mariachi Project, Lester Rey, DÉCIMA, avery r. young, and the CPBP House Band (under Ayanna Woods’s direction). All the while, the Founders mobile monument stood at the corner of Wolcott and 19th, billowing like a strapped-down cloud and towering over thirty feet in the air. The monument is a collaboration between the Floating Museum and artists Chris Pappan and Monica Rickert-Bolter. I caught up with Eric Perez, a sweet bearded gentleman working as an exhibition manager, who was more than happy to update me on all things Founders. Perez said that this was the fourth showing of the installation: previous showings have happened at the Austin Town Hall, Garfield Park at the Golden Dome, and Boxville in Bronzeville. *** The monument is called Founders, so we wanted to pay tribute to the founders of Chicago. In this case, that would be DuSable—and when you talk about DuSable, what a lot of people don't talk
about is his Potawatomi wife, Kitihawa. We wanted to find a way to build a monument to this woman that is rarely mentioned. DuSable has a bust on the Chicago River. DuSable has a museum. This is a way for us to give Kitihawa something. *** Community-focused organizations were tabling at the park near the museum. While a mariachi band dressed in navy blue pants and white shirts serenaded us, I spoke with Leone Jose Bicchieri, founder and executive director of Working Family Solidarity. Working Family Solidarity is a non-profit organization with offices in Pilsen that works primarily in the West and Southwest Sides of Chicago to slow gentrification. The organization focuses on building solidarity across racial groups, particularly Black and Latinx low- and moderate-income families, around labor and housing rights. Bicchieri spoke to me about this mission and the importance of the Chicago Poetry Block Party (CPBP). *** We are promoting that WE Latinos and African Americans, that WE don't see that THEY are getting moved out of this neighborhood over here, and that THEY are getting moved out of that neighborhood over there, but that WE all of us, people of color, are getting moved out of Chicago. WE won't be in Chicago in another decade or two, and so we are promoting unity around better jobs and better housing so that WE can stay in Chicago and have our families be stable again.
[Events like the CPBP] bring a lot of people together, a lot of young people and interestingly enough we find that young people have more open minds and so we are getting a lot of folks, white, Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous youngsters and by youngsters I mean thirty and below, but folks that are into what we are saying. *** Next, I moved on to the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA)‘s table. I spoke with Emma Chow, a representative tabling that day, who explained that CALA is “just a big activist community group.” Chow described CALA as a non-profit that provides legal aid for individuals and community groups that can’t afford it. “Just being in the community and out here with the celebration, I mean, it gets us thrilled.” As I drank in my surroundings and waited for one of the organizers to have a moment to chat, I couldn’t help but smile at the families
easily lounging on the well-maintained lawn, the sidewalk chalk murals being created, and the mariachi band—none of the members over the age of twenty-five—enjoying Jarritos in the shade. I grabbed an arroz paleta from a vendor and watched poets—some seasoned by years on the scene; some freshly minted, holding their first-ever poem from the day's workshops—mix it up on stage. Ydalmi Noriega is the Director of Community and Foundation Relations for the Poetry Foundation. I managed to snag her for a few minutes during the Block Party. Noriega has been a part of the event’s organizing team since its inception in 2016. The logistics have gotten easier over time, but Noriega says that the team is now more focused on the community engagement aspects of their programming. The festival has been previously held in Bronzeville and Austin, but 2019 marks its second year in Pilsen. I asked Noriega to talk about how things have changed year to year, choosing partners, planning for the future, and the people that AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 27
“If you’re going to read a poem on a stage then this is one of the most supportive audiences you could ask for.”
come out to the festival. *** The logistics of running it are getting easier. Now we know, now we have our team. So what changes for us is to think more deeply about what the community engagement aspects of the program are. How do we build relationships with the communities that are hosting us, [when] we move the event to a new location every year? And then, how is that a lasting programmatic relationship that just isn't about today? Another [change] is that more people know us. It felt a little like the first year, people who were already in our networks came because they wanted to support us personally, but with time, this has become an event that people know is coming every summer. It's really cool to see people that... may not have that deep of a connection to poetry, but have heard cool things about the event and come to check it out. We have some idea of where we want to be next year, but we don’t have a place picked out. It really comes down to logistics: who is the local partner that can host us? And we really want to take it all over the city. We want to be deep South, we want to be on the South Side, we want to be on other parts of the West Side, we want to be on the Southwest Side. We are building this to be a sustainable model. We are building it so that it is a fun event that people want to come to, but also we are building it as an event that fosters relationships between artistic communities and other kinds of organizations, and between people, so that they can continue building on this model to make events like this happen. We always invite [every organization] that has come before. Once you are in the fold, you are in the fold. But the other part of that is working closely with our host 28 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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organizations. Last year, Austin Town Hall knew Austin, and they were like: If we are going to throw this party here, then these are the people we need to be involved. They are the ones who help us connect with the organizations. They’ll also say, “these folks are legit, they are coming to do this thing, you all should partner with them if you can.” [It’s] the same with Pilsen— a lot of the people are here because we have conversations with the museum, and they are like, “Look: if we are going to be in Pilsen, and we are going to do this thing, then these are the people who should be involved.” *** CPBP is a partnership with Crescendo Literary, a collective that writers and scholars Eve Ewing and Nate Marshall co-direct. Both were raised in Chicago and grew up in circles “where artistry and activism went hand in hand, and that’s a strong, strong legacy of how things work in Chicago,” as Noriega put it. Marshall is moving to Colorado Springs this month to teach at Colorado College, but Noriega said that the team is refusing to let the partnership go. “We haven’t always been here all the time,” she said, noting that Eve Ewing was in Boston for grad school for one year of the festival, and that Marshall had once been teaching in Indiana. The event, which in years past has hosted 1800 people, certainly shows no signs of slowing down. *** I think my favorite part is seeing people chilling out on a Saturday afternoon, on a beautiful day. We’ve been super lucky for the past four years to have the perfect weather for this sort of thing. Just seeing people have fun. I don’t know what everyone is doing, I have no idea who was in the museum, who was in the bouncy house, but just looking around and seeing a vibe of joy and community—I love that, it's my favorite part. I think we had fifteen slots [in the open mic] and I think twenty-two people signed up. The really beautiful thing about this
open mic is that we time it to run right after the workshops. We ran three workshops in the gallery where people were writing in conversations with the art. The people who lead those workshops were a poet and a member of the museum's curatorial staff. This year we had a couple of people— and this happens every year—who wrote their first poem this afternoon at 3:30 and then got up on the stage right after and read it. And that’s also one of my favorite things. If you’re going to read a poem on a stage, then this is one of the most supportive audiences you could ask for. ¬ AV Benford is the Weekly’s Food & Land Editor.
All About Love
A first biography of Margaret Burroughs struggles to codify the multilayered artist, educator, and activist who created a signature southside cultural institution. BY TAMMY XU When Margaret T.G. Burroughs passed away in 2010 at the age of ninetyfive, condolences flowed in from across the country. President Barack Obama praised her as an “esteemed artist, historian, educator, and mentor,” and called the DuSable Museum in Washington Park, which she founded, “a beacon of culture and a resource worldwide for African-American history.” But for Purdue University Fort Wayne English professor Mary Ann Cain, author of South Side Venus: The Legacy of Margaret Burroughs, Burroughs’s passing was surprisingly personal. “I felt incredibly sad, unexpectedly...I just felt, you know, really deep, deep loss,” Cain remembered. They were not especially close, but had crossed paths a few times after Burroughs initially helped Cain with background research for a novel. Like many others who met Burroughs, Cain had been touched by Burroughs’s generosity. “She was just so incredibly generous to take time for somebody she didn’t know,” said Cain. In her book, Cain takes up the challenge of writing the first-ever biography of this important but often overlooked Chicagoan, who was by all accounts not interested in self-promotion. She traces Burroughs’s life through momentous periods in United States history, from the Great Migration, when her family moved from St. Rose, Louisiana when she was five years old to the Civil Rights movement, when she founded what became known as the DuSable Museum of African American History. Although the biography carefully documents these events in Burroughs’s life, Cain sometimes sidesteps the opportunity to offer a sophisticated critique of Burroughs’s role in a historical context.
It’s a pity, especially when Cain declines to pursue the interesting questions she raises about Burroughs’s actions during the height of McCarthyism. One could easily assume that Cain’s anxiety over portraying Burroughs in a negative way may be because Burroughs is so beloved by her contemporaries. “[My intention] was to present her in the light of how people who trusted me with their stories about her saw her,” Cain said during a book talk in June at the Printers Row Lit Fest. She encountered apprehension over the idea of a Burroughs biography from some of the people she interviewed while conducting research for the book. “One person specifically said, ‘If you’re digging up dirt on [Margaret Burroughs] then I’m not participating,’” recalled Cain. But Cain insists she was not constrained by the expectations of Burroughs’s acquaintances while writing the book. She explained that the “dirt” the interviewee was referring to was the government’s crackdown on activists during the Second Red Scare, during which Burroughs saw her share of harassment. During that period, activist groups were viewed with suspicion, and former activists became much more cautious in order to avoid being labeled communists. This in particular affected Black activist groups. “After the 1938 establishment of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC),” Cain writes, “the persistent efforts during the Popular and Negro People’s Fronts to work across color and other identity lines [were] met with more and more resistance.”
it was just this kind of work to which Burroughs dedicated her life. She had been civically engaged from an early age, attending NAACP meetings in high school and protesting the arrest of the Scottsboro boys. At DuSable High School, where she taught art, she was known for speaking her mind. She would teach her students about famous Black figures such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in secret because the school disapproved. “I’d look over and see the white principal appear at the classroom door,” Burroughs wrote in her autobiography. “Turning back to the class I’d say, ‘And that’s how Betsy Ross came to sew the flag. Now boys and girls, let’s talk about Patrick Henry…’ As soon as he was gone, we’d go back.” Her motivation was simple: “I just couldn’t see myself standing in front of a group of eager-eyed young [B] lack people and not being able to tell them something very positive about themselves.”
As Cain makes clear in the biography,
Burroughs also had direct ties to
communism, both through her activist work and through Charles Burroughs, her second husband, who completed his schooling in the Soviet Union because his mother did not want him to “suffer a Jim Crow-style education”. The two initially crossed paths when Charles was lecturing at a Russian chapter of the International Workers Order and Burroughs was an usher for the event. Their second meeting was at a children’s summer camp whose goal was to “integrate the Marxist principles of unity, equality, and democracy [...] into family life.” After they married in 1949, they had famous house gatherings dubbed the Chicago Salon, where famous artists and intellectuals, such as James Balwin and W.E.B. DuBois, passed through and where Charles, who “loved his Russian culture and language and shared it with anyone who cared to listen, s[ang] the praises of his adopted country as a place where he did not suffer the kinds of discrimination endured by his wife.” AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 29
In 1951, Burroughs was called in to testify before the Chicago Board of Education. At the time, all teachers had to sign a “loyalty oath” in order to teach. The Board interrogated her about her connections to people with communist affiliations and demanded she reveal the names of other teachers who had Communist sympathies. “Their final directive to me was not to tell anyone about the meeting or the questions,” Burroughs wrote in her autobiography, “but of course as soon as I left the building I called all the teachers I knew to inform them of what had happened and what to expect if they should be called down too.” Cain describes Burroughs, who suspected she was the only teacher subjected to the interrogation, as being “shaken to the core” by the experience. Cain marks that testimony as a catalyst for some important changes in Burroughs’s life. In 1952, to escape from the pressures of the situation in Chicago, Burroughs took a year-long sabbatical from teaching to live in Mexico, where she met Mexican artists and learned printmaking, a technique she later used to make her signature lithograph prints. It was also in Mexico where, praised by people on the natural curl of her hair, Burroughs got the confidence to stop straightening her hair—an unusual choice in Chicago at the time. A former student said that Burroughs’s early adoption of wearing her hair naturally helped in “communicating a message of racial pride and self-determination to students.” Burroughs also became less of an activist during this period. Cain writes that “as the 1950s came to a close and civil rights movements began to mature [...], Burroughs did not join up or actively promote such events.” Cain thinks Burroughs learned to maintain a low profile, allowing her the ability to continue her “cultural and historic work” that supported her greater mission. “Because a lot of people...their careers were destroyed,” said Cain in an interview, listing artists Charles White and Elizabeth Catlett as people who had to leave Chicago as a result. Cain muses of Charles and Margaret Burroughs: “To what extent did they have to ‘compromise’? Or did they compromise? How did they maintain and still keep their integrity?” It’s unfortunate that instead of exploring these questions, Cain seems primarily concerned with casting Burroughs’s step back from left-wing activism in the best possible 30 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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light. Cain suggests that had it not been for Burroughs’s adoption of a lower profile, the DuSable Museum itself might not exist. It’s true that the origin story of the DuSable Museum includes some savvy political maneuvering by Burroughs. The museum started as the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art on the first floor of Burroughs’s home, with a small collection that she expanded by sending out letters requesting donations to exhibit and writing to “foundations and businesses for funds.” In 1968, community pressure was building for a museum to celebrate the Black settler Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. Burroughs took advantage of this by contacting the mayor's office and offering to change the museum’s name to DuSable, which would give the museum official status as a DuSable monument, along with receiving $10,000 from the City. When the museum grew too big for the Burroughs home, she petitioned the Chicago Parks Commission for the use of a vacant Chicago Police Department building in Washington Park. “Students wrote the superintendent and copied their letters to the mayor. As Burroughs recalled, ‘Luckily election year was coming up, and I guess the mayor [Richard J. Daley] figured it might look...good to see his picture in the paper presenting me with the keys to this building.’” *** Cain said it would be interesting for future Burroughs biographers to catalog the “full breadth of her accomplishments as an artist”. “Most people know her by the linocut prints,” said Cain, “but she was a sculptor, she was a painter.” Cain pointed to Burroughs’s hefty five hundred page surveillance file, compiled by the government during the McCarthy era, and the DuSable Museum’s trove of articles, short stories, and letters Burroughs wrote. These materials became available within the last few years, as rich resources Cain wasn’t able to properly explore due to time constraints. It’s exciting that there are many more primary sources of Burroughs still waiting to be tapped, because it’s when Cain quotes directly from Burroughs’s own writing, such as her 2003 autobiography, Life with Margaret, that Burroughs comes most alive. Burroughs is a wonderful writer.
Her motivation was simple: “I just couldn’t see myself standing in front of a group of eager-eyed young [B]lack people and not being able to tell them something very positive about themselves.” Events as large as the Great Migration are made personal through her eyes. In the autobiography, she recalls her excitement as a child taking the train to Chicago with her family, even though they sat in the noisy car behind the engine designated for Black travelers and Burroughs, who was big for her age, had to walk around with her knees bent so the conductor wouldn’t charge them extra. “Many noisy, arduous hours later we arrived in Chicago, a marvel of a place,” she wrote, “We had never seen anything like Chicago, with all its buildings, bigness and people—all sorts of people. We instantly liked it.” Burroughs provides interesting historical commentary as well, especially when she excoriates the US government for pushing Black activists toward socialism by “watching us as if we were criminals”, and then “offer[ing] us the unpleasant choice of renouncing socialist leanings in order to win greater civil rights freedoms—which seemed a near acknowledgement that civil rights was our only goal in the first place.” Life with Margaret is sprinkled throughout with origin stories, humorous anecdotes, general advice, and poetry, including an especially moving piece written to her husband Charles after his death. But the best writing Burroughs does is early on when she describes her early life before moving to Chicago, when she was living with her tight-knit family in St. Rose, Louisiana. “As children, we enjoyed the freedom of the open fields and of dangling our feet in the Mississippi when it flowed up to the levee,” Burroughs writes. “We would stand out by the station and watch the big Illinois Central trains snort in from Chicago and all
up and down the Mississippi. Or sometimes we’d stand in front of the General Store on Big Street, which was white-owned, and enviously watch the white kids skate around on their roller skates.” Though Burroughs later looked back on her childhood in Louisiana with a new understanding of the role racism played, she carried an appreciation for the power of community with her to Chicago. “It was wonderful growing up in a community of people who cared so much for one another,” she writes. “We were a team because we had to be; we had to work together to survive. There is a certain strength that comes from pulling together, working together, laughing and crying together.” This sense of community is a legacy Burroughs leaves behind in Chicago, felt not just in the institutions that she helped build, but in places like the acclaimed Yassa African Restaurant in Bronzeville, where a painting of Burroughs overlooks the room, or the latest album by Jamila Woods, the title of which is inspired by one of Burroughs’s poems, or the recently dedicated mural coordinated by an art instructor at Stateville Correctional Center, where Burroughs taught for many years. Cain explained that she titled her biography South Side Venus because Venus was the goddess of love. Burroughs had always been all about “love of self, love of people, love of community,” Cain said. “Margaret was all about love.” ¬ Mary Ann Cain, South Side Venus: The Legacy of Margaret Burroughs. $18.95. Northwestern University Press. 240 pages.
Filmfront Branches Out with New Bookstore
Inga, named for a nourishing tree, aims to provide patrons with similarly nourishing books
BY HELENA DUNCAN On August 4, the founders of Pilsen cineclub filmfront celebrated the opening of their latest venture: Inga, a bookshop and events space. Located in the same space as filmfront—some displays of books will be moved out of the way during film screenings—Inga focuses on independent and small-press publishing. The eclectic collection spans poetry, essays on film and art, critical theory, typeface design, books in languages aside from English, and magazines on art and feminism. “It’s really a reflection of our bookshelves at home,” co-founder Jacob Lindgren said of the store’s selection. “It’s things we really like and are really keen to get other people interested in as well.” Many books were created by international authors or published by international presses. Throughout the afternoon’s opening party, visitors browsed books like Move Along, an “instruction manual for open ended games, actions and interventions to untrain the body and
recondition space,” from Netherlands-based Onomatopee Projects; or flipped through an issue of OOF: The Art and Football Magazine, a British magazine exploring intersections of fine art and soccer. Many people appeared intrigued by a small red book titled Teaching for People who Prefer Not To Teach, a humorous guide from London-based AND Publishing. All of Inga’s stock will soon be available online, co-founder Malia HainesStewart said: “Though we’re really dedicated to being conducive for a community bookshop in Chicago, it just feels like since so many of our books are coming from around the world, it’s really a cool resource to make it available as widely as possible.” As she rang up a customer at the front, Haines-Stewart told the customer she was lucky: one of the books she had chosen, Sheere Ng’s This is Not a Food Magazine— an essay collection exploring Singapore through the lens of food-—was one of only a few remaining copies in print. “[Our collection is] gonna have to keep
growing, it’s stuff that once it’s sold out it’s gonna be pretty hard to come across,” cofounder Alan Medina explained. As customers browsed and mingled, they enjoyed a homemade treat from Chicago poet Imani Elizabeth Jackson, who would give a reading at the party: roasted cherry and pepper ice cream garnished with inga beans, and tamarind ginger sorbet. The store was packed by 4:30pm, when Medina announced that the poetry reading would begin shortly in the backyard. People gathered in the yard as Jackson took her place at a chair with a bowl of peas in hand and read from a text called “Fabaceae,” which she’d written for the occasion. She paused throughout the reading to pass around the peas for people to share—a nod to the poem’s narrator helping her grandmother shell peas as a child. Risograph prints of “Fabaceae” were available for free in the bookshop, along with postcards showing the pods of the store’s namesake, Inga trees, which grow in
South and Central America and are often planted to provide shade for other trees. “It’s a nitrogen-fixing and soil-reparative tree so it does all these positive things in its environment,” Haines-Stewart explained. “filmfront has existed in this space for four years now, so the idea of having another project that could come in and share values and share space in an ecological sense, that metaphor felt like it would be right.” ¬ Inga is located at 1740 W. 18th St., and is open Sundays, 11am–4pm, and Mondays, 1pm– 8pm. On August 18 from 5pm–7pm, Inga will host Jack Henrie Fisher of the design and publishing project Other Forms for the launch of “Avid Readers 4: A Lecture on Reading,” an experimental collective reading event. i-n-g-a. com Helena Duncan is a writer based in Hyde Park. She last wrote for the Weekly in July about the brief life of Hyde Park’s Sanctuary Cafe.
AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 31
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BULLETIN Climbing Wall at Steelworkers Park Steelworkers Park, E. 87th at Lake Michigan. 10am–2pm. Saturdays through Labor Day. Free. Contact Stephen Bell for more information: stephen.bell@chicagoparkdistrict. com The Park District is offering instructorfacilitated climbing at the climbing wall in Steelworkers Park. Equipment rental available for a small fee, and all levels of climbing experience are welcome. Children must be 8 or older to participate. (Sam Joyce) Talk Back: Community Reporting from the West Side Free Spirit Media, 906 S. Homan Ave. 14th Floor. Thursday, August 8, 6pm-7:30pm. Free. bit.ly/RealChiTalkBack The Real Chi provides teenagers and young adults in communities of color on the South and West Sides with media literacy and production experience. At their newsroom in North Lawndale, participants will share content they have produced and showcase their reporting. ( Jim Daley) The Chicago Journalists: A Literary Bus Tour Tribune Tower, 435 N. Michigan Ave. Saturday, August 10, 10am-12:30pm. $50. bit.ly/journobus The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame includes journalists such as Ida B. Wells, Fanny Butcher, Carl Sandburg, and Mike Royko. Join them as they visit sites like the Billy Goat Tavern (Royko’s storied hangout) and the Criminal Courts Building on this bus tour through Chicago journalism’s history. ( Jim Daley) 90th Annual Bud Billiken Parade King Drive between Oakwood Blvd. and 51st St. Saturday, August 10, 9am-1:30pm. Free. budbillikenparade.org The Bud Billiken Parade began in 1929 when the Chicago Defender created it as a celebration of Chicago’s African-American community. Now 90 years strong it’s the largest African-American parade, as well as the second-largest parade in America. This year’s event takes the theme of “Back to School, Back to Work, Back to Life, Back
to Bud.” A family fair in Washington Park at the end of the parade route opens to the public at noon. ( Jim Daley) South Side Summer Show The Revival, 1160 E. 55th St. Saturday, August 10, 8pm. $7.50. bit.ly/SouthSideSummerShow A cast of Chicago all-stars presents a revue of music, improv, and sketch comedy written for and by South Siders. Directed by Hannah Elizabeth Baker and featuring Tina Arfaee (Matt Damon Improv), Colette Gregory (SHADE), Dani James (The Teenagers), Devin Middleton (2017 Second City Comedy Fellow) and Tori Wynn (Tinderella), this show is sure to delight. ( Jim Daley) Inclusive Dev: TechHero & Southside Developer Meetup The Woodlawn, 1200 E. 79th St. Monday, August 12, 6:30pm-8:30pm. Free. bit.ly/TechSouthSide Join guests from Code Nation and ZaMLabs for a panel discussion that includes Ehi Aimiuwu of Code Burnout, Hana Worku, formerly of the Wikimedia Foundation, and Kortney Ziegler and Tiffany Mikell, the co-founders of Appolition. The discussion will be followed by a meetup with other coders and developers from the South Side. ( Jim Daley)
VISUAL ARTS Pilsen Art House Open House 1756 W. 19th St. Saturday, August 10, 3–8pm. (708) 715-0995. bit.ly/pilsen-openhouse Pilsen’s own Art House—a DIY home for art classes, concerts, and the selfexplanatory “disco picnic”— will hold an open house over the weekend. All are welcome for live music (and live painting), complimentary snacks, and lively conversation. (Christopher Good) Domina Domi (Opening Reception) Okay Gallery, 2215 S. Union #406. Opening reception Friday, August 16, 6–9pm. Viewing hours are Saturdays, noon–6pm (or by appointment). Closing reception, Friday, September 20, 6–9pm. bit.ly/domina-domi
“Domina Domi” (Latin for “Mistress of the House”), a solo show by the Chicago artist Bobbi Meier, marks the first exhibition at this newly opened Pilsen gallery. Publicity stills suggest soft sculpture in various textures (think wool and Gore-Tex) and a fondness for Pepto-Bismol pink. (Christopher Good) Studio Sundays at Maxwell Street Market Maxwell Street Market, 800 S. Desplaines St. Sunday, August 18 (and select Sundays after that), 10am–2pm. (312) 745-4676. Calendar at maxwellstreetmarket.us In partnership with Yollocalli and the National Museum of Mexican Art, Maxwell Street Market is hosting free arts and crafts programs for creative children. On the 18th, kids can learn how to make prints with market produce. Forthcoming events include Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations in September, a zine-making workshop in October, and Dia de Los Muertos in November. (Christopher Good) Go Down Moses Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan Ave. 10am–5pm except for Thursdays (10am–8pm) and Sundays (noon–5pm). Open now through Sunday, September 29. (312) 663-5554. www.mocp. org/exhibitions Though this installation at the MOCP marks his debut as a curator, Teju Cole has spent the past decade working with images across an arresting body of poems, novels, and photo essays. In “Go Down Moses,” named for the negro spiritual “beloved by Harriet Tubman and generations since,” Cole seeks to conjure a “visual tone poem of contemporary America.” (Christopher Good) Envisioning Justice Sullivan Galleries, SAIC. August 6 through October 12. Tuesday–Saturday, 11am–6pm. Free. Public reception Saturday, August 17, 2pm–5pm. (312) 422-5580. www. envisioningjustice.org “What happens when you center the voices of those most directly affected by the criminal legal system to reimagine justice using the arts and humanities?” For two years, the Envisioning Justice initiative has sought to do exactly that. This installation documents this mission with artwork
and ephemera from incarcerated artists. (Christopher Good)
MUSIC My House Music Festival Harrison Park, 1824 S. Wood St. Saturday, August 10 to Sunday, August 11. 12pm– 10pm. Free for guests 17 and under. General admission $10 + tax, VIP $100 + tax. bit.ly/ MyHouseMusicFestival For two-days, house music lovers across the city are welcome to enjoy art, food, and constant beats where the sound was first created. All proceeds for the event will be donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Yollocalli Arts Reach, and Sprouting Leaders. (Atavia Reed) Chicago Westside Music Festival Douglass Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Dr. Saturday, August 17, 2pm–9pm. All ages. Free, no tickets required. bit.ly/ WestsideMusicFest The Westside Music Festival returns for the eighth year to bring together locals and more for a day of summer fun. Faith Evans, Monifah, Da Brat, and Crucial Conflict will bring the noise at this year’s fest. (Atavia Reed) 11th Annual I AM Fest House of Blues, 329 S. Dearborn St. Saturday, August 17, 2pm–10:30pm. All ages. $20 advance, $25 day of show. bit.ly/IAMFest This all-day event will bring local musicians, visual performers, and artists into one space to celebrate Chicago’s creative community. A diversity of sounds ranging from pop-rock bands to soulplaying guitarists will rock the house all day long. (Atavia Reed) Chicago’s 7th Annual South Shore Summer Festival South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr. Sunday, August 18, 2pm–8pm. All ages. Free. bit.ly/SouthShoreSummerFestival More than 15,000 South Shore natives are expected to stop by this year’s summer festival. Attendees will have the option to watch performers like Robin Thicke take the stage or discover local small businesses at pop-up stands. Family-fun in the sun can be made at the KIDS Korner where games AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 33
for all-ages will be provided. (Atavia Reed)
STAGE & SCREEN Black Harvest Film Festival Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State Street. Now through August 29. Films and show times vary. Ticket prices $12 general admission, $7 students, $6 Siskel Center members, $55 6-film festival pass, and $8 discount matinees Fridays until 5pm. (312) 846-2800. siskelcenter.org Save the entire month of August for the twenty-fifth annual Black Harvest Film Festival celebrating Black life and culture on the big screen with opening and closing night celebrations, seventeen feature films, over forty short films and personal appearances by dozens of filmmakers. Films included in the schedule are: Bessie Coleman: First Black Aviatrix, Toni Morrison: The Pieces of I Am, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Love African American Style and the twentyfifth anniversary screening of Spike Lee’s Crooklyn. (Nicole Bond) Black Alice ABJ Community Services, Inc. 1818 E. 71st Street. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, August 15-17, and Thursday, August 22. All performances 7pm. Tickets $10; purchase at door. (773) 209-4586. Abjchicago.org There are different thoughts on what makes something a classic, but one one criteria is how well a thing maintains over time. The whimsical fantasy tale Black Alice is a classic play that has delighted audiences of all ages for over thirty years. Think The Wiz and Cinderella on a combined adventure toward self acceptance. Skillfully written by Rev. Dr. Oscar P. Grant, with direction and choreography by Bobby Andrews and co-direction by Sabrina Diane Smith. The youth-focused arts and culture institute ABJ Arts presents this production featuring emerging artists from the South Side. (Nicole Bond) PEACEBOOK - Collaboraction and Kennedy-King College Kennedy-King College Theater, 740 W. 63rd St. Thursday, August 15, 7pm (LaFollette Park program), Friday, August 16, 7pm (Douglass Park program), Saturday, August 17, 7pm (Hamilton Park program). Tickets are FREE but reservations are highly recommended. To reserve visit collaboraction. 34 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY
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org/peacebook-2019 or call the Collaboraction box office at (312) 226-9633. Collaboraction’s fourth annual Peacebook Festival launches this year at KennedyKing College Theater, reactivating the space as a mainstage destination for Chicago theater! Collaboraction is a collaboration of artists and activist creating performance work about peace and peacemaking in Chicago. Each free performance is followed by a “crucial conversation” moderated by managing director Dr. Marcu Robinson, to inspire post-show art to life connections. The Peacebook experience features: twentyone short works of theater, dance, music, and spoken word by artists and activists including: Bril Barrett, J. Nicole Brooks, Nambi E. Kelley, Patrese D. McClain, Sir Taylor, Tarnynon (Ty-yuh-nuh) Onumonu and so many others. (Nicole Bond) Victory Logan Center, 915 E. 60th Street - Room 501. Friday, August 9, 11am. Free (773) 702-2787 A Red Orchid Theater and the Chicago Performance Lab with Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago present a staged reading of a new play workshop by Brett Neveu, directed by Tanya Palmer chronicling the career of a former TV star. (Nicole Bond) African Festival of the Arts Gala Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St. - Performance Hall. Friday, August 16, 6pm. Tickets $75, Couples $125. aihusa.org/gala Africa International House will host a special gala presented by the South Side Jazz Coalition, to celebrate outstanding leaders in the business community whose work broaden the awareness of the collective contributions of African cultures. The event will also kick-off the thirtieth annual African Festival of the Arts to be held over Labor Day weekend in historic Washington Park. While at the gala, stop by to see the Spirit of Africa: African Festival of the Arts at 30 exhibit, featuring photos and video presentations spanning the festival’s thirty year run, in the Logan Cafe through September 16. (Nicole Bond)
FOOD & LAND Farmers Markets
Sundays: Bronzeville City Market, 4700 S. King Dr. Sundays, noon–4pm. Through September 8. Maxwell Street Market, S. Desplaines St. & W. Taylor St. Sundays, 9am–3pm. 95th Street Farmers Market, 1835 W. 95th St. Sundays, 8am–1pm, through November. Pilsen Community Market, 1820 S. Blue Island Ave. Sundays, 9am–3pm, through October. facebook.com/pilsenmarket Wood Street Urban Farm Stand, 1757 W. 51st St. Sundays, 9am–noon, through November 24. McKinley Park Farmers Market, 3705 S. Archer Ave. Sundays, 10am–2pm. Through September 29. facebook.com/MPFM1 Mondays: Bridgeport City Market, 1000 W. 35th St. Mondays, 4pm–8pm. Through September 16. Tuesdays: Southwest City Farmers Market, 3857 W. 111th St. Tuesdays, 9am–1pm. Through August 27. Wednesdays: Washington Park Farm Stand, 555 E. 51st St. Wednesdays, 9am–1pm. Through October 9. chicagobotanic.org Roseland City Market, 200 W. 109th St. Wednesdays, 2:30pm–5:30pm. Through October 30. Back of the Yards Community Market, S. 51st St. & W. Throop St. Wednesdays, 3pm–7pm, through September 25. Boxville, 320 E. 51st St. Wednesdays, 4pm–7pm, starting June 19. Thursdays: City Market at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St. Thursdays, 7am–2pm, through October 24. bit.ly/DaleyPlazaMarket South Loop Farmers Market, 1936 S. Michigan Ave. Thursdays, 4pm–8pm, through September 26. southloopfarmersmarket.com Hyde Park Farmers Market, 5300 S. Harper Ct. Thursdays, 7am–1pm, through October. downtownhydeparkchicago.com Fridays: Fresh Beats & Eats Farmers Market, 2744 W. 63rd St. Fridays, 2pm–6pm, through October 25. facebook.com/imancentral Saturdays: 61st Street Farmers Market, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. Saturdays, 9am–2pm, through October 27. experimentalstation.org/market The Plant Farmers Market, 1400 W. 46th St. The first Saturday of each month, 11am– 3pm. plantchicago.org/farmers-market
Trinity Community Farmers Market, 9500 S. Normal Ave. Saturdays, 7am–2pm. Through September 28. trinitychicago.org Eden Place Farmers Market, 4911 S. Shields Ave. Saturdays, 8am–2pm, through October 12. edenplacefarms.org Printers Row City Market, 700 S. Dearborn St. Saturdays, 7am–1pm, June 15 through October 26. Englewood City Market, 1219 W. 76th St. Saturdays, 10am–2pm. Through September 14. Farmers Market at The Port Ministries, 5013 S. Hermitage Ave. The second Saturday of each month, noon–4pm. Multiple Days: UHSC Farm Stand, 1809 W. 51st St. Mondays–Fridays, 9am–1pm, through November 25. Gary Comer Youth Center Farmers Market, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave. Tuesdays & Fridays, 3pm–6pm, June 18 to October 29. Farm on Ogden Food Stand, 3555 W. Ogden Ave. Tuesdays & Thursdays, 11am– 7pm; Wednesdays, Fridays, & Saturdays, 10am–6pm. chicagobotanic.org Summer has arrived, and Chicagoans are blessed with neighborhood farmers markets! Also remember, the Illinois Products Farmers' market will double Link purchases to $25 per card holder, per market day. Shop local, support midwest farmers, and enjoy healthy nourishment! Food justice is social justice, support fair wages and environmentally conscious agriculture production. (Morgan Richardson) Chicago Audubon Bird Walks Wooded Island: Museum of Science and Industry East Parking Lot. August 10 & 17, 8am–11am. bit.ly/JPBirdWalk McKinley Park: Farmers Market. August 11, 9am–11:30am. bit.ly/MKPBirdWalk Contact Pat Durkin for more: pat.durkin@ comcast.net. Free. Join the Chicago Audubon Society for bird walks through Jackson and McKinley Parks. Learn how to identify birds, while observing birds as they build their nests and raise their chicks. You do not need to be a member of Chicago Audubon to participate. Walks in Jackson Park are held weekly through December, while the McKinley Park walk will occur again in September. (Sam Joyce)
HOW DO YOU ENVISION JUSTICE?
Music. Dance. Movies. Theater. Festivals. Family Fun. Free events, in the parks, all summer.
Night Out in the Parks brings world-class performances to Chicago’s neighborhood parks!
View our upcoming Night Out events at www.NightOutInTheParks.com or access them in the free My Chi Parks™mobile app.
Envisioning Justice: An Exhibition by Illinois Humanities
THE OFFICIAL REWARDS
PROGRAM OF THE CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT
August 6–October 12, 2019 Sullivan Galleries
School of the Art Institute of Chicago 33 South State Street, 7th Floor New Visions Beyond Incarceration by Chicago Artists and Communities EnvisioningJustice.org
With generous support from
LLOYD A. FR Y FOUNDATION
AUGUST 7, 2019 ¬ SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 35 The 61st Street Farmers Market is a program of the Experimental Station, with the support of:
Chapin May Foundation
FREE COLLEGE COURSE THIS PROGRAM IS FOR YOU IF: You are 18 years of age or older You are income eligible (living at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines) You can commit to doing the assignments and completing the course You can read a newspaper in English You do not currently have a four- year college degree (B.A)
The Odyssey Project is a free, 32-week, college-credit granting humanities program for incomeeligible adults with limited to no access to a college education. Course materials are provided. Transportation assistance is also provided in cases of demonstrated need.
We offer classes at locations in Greater Grand Crossing, Austin, Rogers Park and Cicero, IL (in Spanish). Classes meet twice a week from 6:00-8:00 p.m., September through April. Apply online at www.ilhumanities.org/ odysseyproject OR by contacting Illinois Humanities at (312) 374-1550.
IN THE ODYSSEY PROJECT YOU WILL: Explore five different subject areas: Literature, Philosophy, Art History, U.S. History, and Critical Thinking & Writing Study with professors from local universities Work with like-minded adult students in a supportive environment Earn 6 transferable college credits from Bard College upon completion of the course.
APPLICATIONS DUE AUGUST 15