In Chicago, at least, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) has started to seem like a part of the arts establishment. A Power Stronger Than Itself, George Lewis’s landmark history of the Black music collective, came out in 2008. And in 2015, a blowout fiftieth anniversary concert series and a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art further solidified the group’s legacy. With all this institutional ticker tape falling, it’s easy to forget what the AACM actually is: an insurgent arts collective, a case study in the use of communal organization to create visionary work. They’ve stuck to the same collectivist principles for over half a century, building a cohesive international community while writing a wealth of strikingly original music.
When it comes to the telling of a life, there are things that our surroundings know more than we will ever do. Arthur Melville Pearson, a conservationist, pays clear attention to this in Force of Nature, his biography about George Fell, the founder of the natural areas movement. This post-World War II movement initiated enhanced communication and collaboration among people concerned with the protection and study of natural areas and natural diversity. Through Pearson’s attention to place, the story of this obscure conservationist figure is told with the conviction that the inextricable force of nature drove all of his endeavors.
Late into The Blazing Star, the new young adult novel by self-described “South Side girl” Imani Josey, the Prince of Egypt leads the main character, Portia, into a palatial dining hall. “Personally, I wouldn’t call our Hyde Park home luxurious, but we didn’t want for anything,” Portia said. “But this room was not luxurious. It was otherworldly.”
On a slightly gray Saturday, I walk up to the Beverly home of Tina Jenkins Bell, the president of For Love of Writing (FLOW), to sit in on an impromptu meeting of the group’s core members. Chirskira Caillouet, FLOW’s vice president, invites me in and offers me food—she tells me that whenever the group meets, there’s food.
David Omotoso Stovall knows how to hold a crowd. Watching him engage the audience at Seminary Co-op on a January afternoon, it is easy to imagine him connecting with a classroom of teenagers at eight in the morning. Stovall is a professor of educational policy studies and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), but he also teaches a class on “Education, Youth, and Justice” at the Greater Lawndale High School for Social Justice (SOJO). His talk at the Co-op centers around his book, Born Out of Struggle, which documents his involvement with the school’s creation.
The Lorraine Hansberry House in northwest Woodlawn is unremarkable in appearance. Its brown brick walls and minimal adornments mimic thousands of other brick three-flats built in Chicago throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its outward appearance is transformed, however, when one learns that many of Hansberry’s experiences growing up in this house served as the inspiration behind her canonical play A Raisin in the Sun—a fictionalized reflection of her parent’s fight against housing discrimination in this very home.
What happens when we do not learn from the past?
On January 7, a chorus of voices sang tribute to the beloved Chicagoan poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. Their hushed Logan Center audience heard selections from the new anthology Revise The Psalm, a collection of works celebrating Brooks’s life, published by Curbside Splendor this month to commemorate Brooks’s one-hundredth birthday.
The cover of Amanda Seligman’s latest work on urban studies shows photographs of four South Side neighborhood welcome signs, the kind you immediately associate with her ostensible topic: the historically African-American block clubs of Chicago. And yet, reading the book, you can’t help but feel that the narrative of Chicago’s African-American block clubs has been omitted, a fault that Seligman explains by citing the limits of the archive she worked with while writing the book. If this was indeed the case, perhaps a sociological approach would have been better suited to her task. Her studied impassivity can be trying at times, especially to readers with inclinations toward revisionist history. That said, Seligman’s account is detailed, and helps to elucidate the relationship between Chicago’s neighborhood organizations and its city government, as well as the relationship of neighbors to each other over the last century, allowing readers familiar with the city’s history to identify ways in which Chicagoans have, at various times, worked to both oppress and uplift each other.
In the sweltering auditorium of the DuSable Museum of African American History, at the border of Washington Park and Hyde Park, the packed audience murmured on Wednesday, November 30, in anticipation of the presence of acclaimed author Zadie Smith. Clasped like precious heirlooms in audience members’ arms, the bright yellow covers of her new book Swing Time dotted the room with frequency. As one fan whispered to a woman next to him, “I told my kids, this is like a rock concert to me.”