Tag Archives: Granta

Kudos for Kotlowitz – Award for ‘The Interrupters’ Acknowledges Another Important Work

The incredible efforts and social dedication of Alex Kotlowitz have once again been recognized. The Interrupters, a film by Steve James and Kotlowitz, won Best Documentary at the Film Independent Spirit Awards Saturday night.

The Interrupterstells the moving and surprising story of three ‘violence interrupters’ in Chicago who with bravado, humility and even humor try to protect their communities from the violence they once employed.”

In honor of Kotlowitz’s win, I’m posting a piece I did a few years ago pertaining to the heavy impact his book There Are No Children Here had upon me  while living in Chicago. To get a feel for the powerful, magnanimous art of Kotlowitz, take a look at the trailer for The Interrupters.

NLR – Kotlowitz Perseveres in Granta Piece

Years ago when I was living in Chicago, I read There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Up to that point, Chicago had been my happy college home. The Chicago I had grown to love carried its own energetic pulse with its winking, open-windowed restaurants, beckoning beer gardens, star-lit nights at Wrigley, and the constant comforting rumble of the El. Navigating the Loop and northern neighborhoods both day and night, I believed Chicago to be the friendliest city in the world and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

But after my literary introduction to young Lafayette and Pharoah in There Are No Children Here, my view of the city took a different turn – not worse, just different. Realizing these young boys lived mere miles from my Lincoln Park playground left me unable to total the sum of my advantages. How had I been riding the El over the projects for years without truly thinking about the people occupying them?

It is to the credit of Kotlowitz that I began to think outside of my insular box. I began to tutor in Cabrini Green, and upon graduating from Loyola took a teaching job in a poor, tagged pocket on Chicago’s West side. As I slowly peeled back the layers of my privilege, I was quickly made aware of the violence inherent in these communities.

On my first day of teaching, my doe-eyed second grade students informed me that the closest neighboring school wouldn’t be starting until the following day. Why? Because a body had been found in the parking lot and the school needed to be taped off as a crime scene. I was stunned, but based on the kids’ reactions this event seemed a matter of course rather than surprise.

Regardless, I continued to love and live in Chicago for ten more years. Though I still had my fun it came with a deeper understanding of my dual surroundings, and the essence of Kotlowitz’s work filtered into my expanding view of privilege and poverty.

I now write this from my home in Michigan, which sits within the borders of my youth a mere twenty minutes from Detroit. However, while I’ve settled into a quieter appreciation of suburban life, Alex Kotlowitz is still hard at work. With the arrival of my most recent issue of Granta, I realize Mr. Kotlowitz continues his attempt to create some understanding of the incomprehensible.

His Granta contribution Khalid is a brief, heartbreaking work which looks at the people behind the violence that continues to puncture the heart of Chicago. It is a work that translates to any major American city, including Detroit, that suffers the pointless murder of its youth.

So, as my content life buzzes along with errands, carpools, work and quick trips to Target, it is with sheer admiration that I once again read the work of Mr. Kotlowitz – a man who has valiantly dedicated himself to recognizing the gross racial and social discrepancies of our time.

Other works by Alex Kotlowitz:

There Are No Children Here

The Other Side of the River

Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Granta Gets Sassy This Time Around

I pulled the latest issue of Granta out of my mailbox yesterday, and it’s cover is quite the eyebrow-raiser. It wasn’t until I turned it a few different angles and pulled it up close that I saw the gold title “SEX” embossed at the bottom of the issue; clarifying what I thought I was seeing.

Subtle, or downright racy? I haven’t had a chance to dig into issue 110 just yet, but some of the contribution titles definitely catch the eye. With titles like The Unwriteable, The Agony of Intimacy, and Empty Porn Sets leads me to believe that I won’t be reading this edition in the dentist office, but rather in my closet with a headlamp.

Herta Muller doesn’t strike me as the devilish type, but then again, who knows what mysteries the Nobel Prize winner might hold in her contributing piece Zeppelin?  Dave Eggers also throws in a few drawings with the sequence title Four Animals Contemplating Sex. And, Robert Bolano (author of 2666 which, fyi, I did not like) offers up The Redhead just to round things out. Strange, no?

Keep in mind this isn’t a review; I’ve barely cracked the spine. After all, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to fully review any lit magazine because they are just too involved. In this case, regardless of it’s potentially bizarre content, I suppose it thrills me to know that people still seek out endless avenues of expression and continue to find ways to peak our literary curiosities.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Whimsy

Kotlowitz Perseveres in Granta Piece

Years ago when I was living in Chicago I read There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Up to that point, Chicago had been my happy college home. The Chicago I had grown to love carried its own energetic pulse with its winking, open-windowed restaurants, beckoning beer gardens, star-lit nights at Wrigley, and constant comforting rumble of the El. Navigating the Loop and northern neighborhoods both day and night, I believed Chicago to be the friendliest city in the world and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

But after my literary introduction to young Lafayette and Pharoah in There Are No Children Here, my view of the city took a different turn. Not worse, just different. Realizing these young boys lived mere miles from my Lincoln Park playground left me unable to total the sum of my advantages. How had I been riding the El over the projects for years without truly thinking about the people occupying them?

It is to the credit of Alex Kotlowitz that I began to think outside of my insular box. I began to tutor in Cabrini Green, and upon graduating from Loyola took a teaching job in a poor Hispanic pocket on Chicago’s West side. As I slowly peeled back the layers of my privilege, I was quickly made aware of the violence inherent in these communities. On my first day of teaching, my sweet second-grade students nonchalantly informed me that the closest neighboring school wouldn’t be starting until the following day. Why? Because a body had been found in the parking lot and needed to be taped off as a crime scene. I was stunned, but based on reaction this event seemed a matter of course rather than surprise.

Regardless, I continued to love and live in Chicago for ten more years. Though I still had my fun it came with a deeper understanding of my dual surroundings; I had managed to work Kotlowitz’s story into my frame of  reference. Now, ironically, I write this from my home in Michigan, which sits within the very same borders of my youth a mere twenty minutes from Detroit. And as I have settled into a quieter appreciation of suburban life, Alex Kotlowitz is still hard at work.

With the arrival of my most recent issue of Granta, Mr. Kotlowitz continues his attempt to create some understanding of the incomprehensible. His Granta contribution “Khalid” is a brief, heartbreaking work which looks at the people behind the violence that continues to puncture the heart of Chicago. It is a work that translates to any major American city that suffers the pointless murder of its youth. So, as I busy myself with errands and quick trips to Target, it is with sheer admiration that I once again read the work of Mr. Kotlowitz; a man who has valiantly dedicated himself to revealing humanity beneath the gross racial and social discrepancies of our times.

Other works by Alex Kotlowitz

There Are No Children Here

The Other Side of the River

Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Leave a comment

Filed under Alex Kotlowitz, Authors, Whimsy