Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.
Alex Kotlowitz has made a career out of mapping the lives of those who live in what he has called “the other America,” in works like his award-winning 1992 bestseller There Are No Children Here, his documentary film The interrupters, and his wide-ranging reporting for newspapers, magazines and radio. His revelatory, heartbreaking new book An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago takes up the problem of gun violence with a portrait of a single city over the course of one murder-wracked season. It probes the nature of the crisis where it tears most persistently into the lives of ordinary people placed by poverty and racism into a daily struggle with the aftermath of violence and the fear of more to come. But An American Summer is a tapestry of story – a work about the Chicagoans who opened up their lives and hearts to Kotlowitz; the result is a powerful evocation of grief and endurance, love and loss. Alex Kotlowitz sat down in the studio with B&N’s Miwa Messer to talk about how this book started – and what it became.
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 about 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 into your bones. This one summer will stay with you.
Author photo of Alex Kotlowitz (c) Kathy Richland.