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An American Summer
Cover of An American Summer
An American Summer
Love and Death in Chicago
From the bestselling author of There Are No Children Here, a richly textured, heartrending portrait of love and death in Chicago's most turbulent neighborhoods.
The numbers are staggering: over the past twenty years in Chicago, 14,033 people have been killed and another roughly 60,000 wounded by gunfire. What does that do to the spirit of individuals and community? Drawing on his decades of experience, Alex Kotlowitz set out to chronicle one summer in the city, writing of individuals who have emerged from the violence and whose stories capture the capacity—and the breaking point—of the human heart and soul. The result is a spellbinding collection of deeply intimate profiles that upend what we think we know about gun violence in America. Among others, we meet a man who as a teenager killed a rival gang member, and twenty years later is still trying to come to terms with what he's done; a devoted school social worker struggling with her favorite student, who refuses to give evidence in the shooting death of his best friend; the witness to a wrongful police shooting who can't shake what he has seen; and an aging former gang leader who builds a place of refuge for himself and his friends.
Applying the close-up, empathic reporting that made There Are No Children Here a modern classic, Kotlowitz offers a piercingly honest portrait of a city in turmoil. These sketches of those left standing will get in your bones. This one summer will stay with you.
From the bestselling author of There Are No Children Here, a richly textured, heartrending portrait of love and death in Chicago's most turbulent neighborhoods.
The numbers are staggering: over the past twenty years in Chicago, 14,033 people have been killed and another roughly 60,000 wounded by gunfire. What does that do to the spirit of individuals and community? Drawing on his decades of experience, Alex Kotlowitz set out to chronicle one summer in the city, writing of individuals who have emerged from the violence and whose stories capture the capacity—and the breaking point—of the human heart and soul. The result is a spellbinding collection of deeply intimate profiles that upend what we think we know about gun violence in America. Among others, we meet a man who as a teenager killed a rival gang member, and twenty years later is still trying to come to terms with what he's done; a devoted school social worker struggling with her favorite student, who refuses to give evidence in the shooting death of his best friend; the witness to a wrongful police shooting who can't shake what he has seen; and an aging former gang leader who builds a place of refuge for himself and his friends.
Applying the close-up, empathic reporting that made There Are No Children Here a modern classic, Kotlowitz offers a piercingly honest portrait of a city in turmoil. These sketches of those left standing will get in your bones. This one summer will stay with you.
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  • From the book An American Summer

    Excerpted from Prelude to a Summer

    Near midnight on August 19th, 1998, the phone rang, an unusual occurrence at my parents' home in upstate New York where I was visiting with my wife and infant daughter. I got out of bed, and scrambled to the hallway to grab the phone. The voice on the other end sounded familiar but I couldn't quite place it. "It's Anne Chambers," she said. Anne was a Chicago violent crimes detective whom I knew. She told me she was calling from the kitchen in our home in Oak Park, a suburb bordering Chicago. She told me that Pharoah was there with her, and that he may have been involved in a murder. My legs buckled. I sat down to catch my breath.

    This was the Pharoah from my book There Are No Children Here, a boy who tread cautiously, who loved school and who was so charming and vulnerable that adults went out of their way to protect him. Shortly after the book came out, Pharoah, who had grown up in one of the city's housing projects, had moved in with me – for what I thought would be a short period. I'd helped get him into Providence St. Mel, a college prep school on the city's west side, and he was struggling, understandably. He couldn't find quiet in his first-floor public housing apartment as rivers of people flowed in and out daily, mostly family and family friends. He called and told me he just wanted to catch up with his school work. Could I be stay with you, for just for a while? he asked. Maybe a week or two? I was single at the time, unencumbered and with a spare bedroom, so I invited him to stay. Though only 12, he knew what he needed. He brought with him a garbage bag filled with clothes – and his school backpack. Those two weeks turned into six years.

    When I got married, Pharoah walked my wife Maria down the aisle – along with her dad. We moved to Oak Park as we wanted to be near his school, and we figured it was a community that wouldn't look askance at this unusual arrangement. His adolescent years were rocky. I didn't anticipate how this living situation would pull at his sense of identity. While his mother, LaJoe, supported his decision to live with Maria and me, others in his family didn't. One time, his mother called and after leaving a message forgot to hang up, and so on my answering machine I listened to a five-minute rant by a friend of their family berating LaJoe for letting Pharoah live with a white couple. He don't belong there, the woman told LaJoe. He ain't white.

    I knew it had to be hard for Pharoah. He undoubtedly heard these harangues, as well. It's tough enough to be a teen in the best of circumstances, grappling with who you are and who you want to be, and here Pharoah had to figure out who he was while living with two white adults who were not related to him by blood, who were not his parents, who were not even his legal guardians. In particular, he had an older brother – I gave him the pseudonym Terence in the book – who clearly resented Pharoah's decision to live with us, and so he would try to pull Pharoah into his activities in the street. There was also a measure of opportunism here as he knew Pharoah, who had never been in trouble with the law, would not likely draw the attention of the police. It felt like a tug of war, and I often felt on the losing end. At one point, Pharoah knew he had to get away, to find some reprieve from these forces pulling at him, and so at his request we sent him to a boarding school in Indiana, a military academy where he had attended summer camp.

    A week after he left, I was tidying up his bedroom, picking clothes off the floor, making...
About the Author-
  • Alex Kotlowitz is the author of the national bestseller There Are No Children Here, which the New York Public Library selected as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. His second book, The Other Side of the River, was awarded the Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction. For his documentary film, The Interrupters, he received an Emmy and a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. Kotlowitz's work, which has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and on public radio's This American Life, has been honored with two Peabody awards, two duPont-Columbia University awards, and a George Polk Award. He is a writer in residence at Northwestern University. Kotlowitz lives with his wife, Maria Woltjen, and their two children, Mattie and Lucas, just outside of Chicago.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    October 15, 2018

    What does it do to the very souls of Chicago residents that over the past two decades, 14,033 people have been killed in the city and another 60,000 or so wounded by gunfire? To find out, Kotlowitz focuses on one summer, capturing the whole through portraits: a man struggling with having killed a rival gang member years ago, for instance, and a social worker whose favorite teenager won't give testimony in the killing of his best friend. From a Peabody, George Polk, Helen B. Bernstein, and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award winner whose There Are No Children Here was called one of the 150 most important books of the 20th century by the New York Public Library.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from January 1, 2019
    A chronicle of dreams and gun violence one summer in the city of Chicago.In 1991, Kotlowitz (Journalism/Northwestern Univ.; Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago, 2004, etc.) published the modern classic There Are No Children Here (1991), which told the story of brothers Lafeyette and Pharoah and their experiences in one of Chicago's violent housing projects. Years later, the author received a call in the middle of the night and learned that Pharoah may have been involved in a murder. In his latest powerful sociological exploration, the author masterfully captures the summer of 2013 in neglected Chicago neighborhoods, rendering intimate profiles of residents and the "very public" violence they face every day. One example is Eddie Bocanegra, who killed a rival gang member as a teenager. "Eddie did the unimaginable," writes Kotlowitz. "He took another human life. I suppose for some that might be all you need to know. For others, it may be all you want to know about him. And that's what Eddie fears the most, that this moment is him. That there's no other way to view him." We also meet Anita Stewart, a dedicated social worker who watched one of her favorite students get murdered and another struggle with the aftermath. Heartbreakingly, the author writes early on, "I could tell story after story like this, of mothers who drift on a sea of heartache, without oars and without destination." Throughout, Kotlowitz raises significant issues about the regions where violence has become far too routine. "After the massacre at Newtown and then at Parkland we asked all the right questions," he writes. However, "in Chicago neighborhoods like Englewood or North Lawndale, where in one year they lose twice the number of people killed in Newtown, no one's asking those questions." Kotlowitz offers a narrative that is as messy and complicated and heart-wrenching as life itself: "This is a book, I suppose, about that silence--and the screams and howling and prayers and longing that it hides."A fiercely uncompromising--and unforgettable--portrait.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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