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‘The Most Ravaged of Our Communities’: A Conversation With Alex Kotlowitz About ‘An American Summer’ and Violence in Chicago

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Community activist Will Calloway speaks to the press on January 18th, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois, following the sentencing hearing for former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Since his 1991 book There Are No Children Here, Alex Kotlowitz has worked as one of the most in-depth chroniclers of urban American life. Kotlowitz is a documentarian (The Interrupters), a broadcaster (a This American Life segment on Harper High School), a journalist (he’s contributed to the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and others), and an academic (he teaches a course in “The Journalism of Empathy” at Northwestern University).

Kotlowitz’s new book, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, is a beautifully written, nuanced, and empathetic book about tragedy, courage, and heartbreak in Chicago during the summer of 2013. In the introduction, Kotlowitz describes the book as “a set of dispatches, sketches of those left standing, of those emerging from the rubble, of those trying to make sense of what they’ve left behind.” Describing the violence of the summer of 2013 in Chicago, Kotlowitz writes: “Over the course of three months [that summer], 172 people were killed, another 793 wounded by gunfire.” An American Summer tells the story of “how, despite the bloodshed, some manage, heroically, not only to push on but also to push back.”

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