Ravyn Lenae’s demands for her audience were simple. In between the R&B singer’s spacey electro-soul verses, she would say: “Dance,” or, “Y’all can just close your eyes, okay?” She electrified the crowd—all from onstage while sitting down. Listeners mumbled “okay” in response, and started moving their bodies; people who had been sitting on the ground to just listen became active participants in the performance.
On November 20, 2013, the board of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) announced its immediate closure, rendering defunct the Journal of Ordinary Thought, the quarterly publication of the seventeen-year-old community literary institution. “It was an issue of capacity—a lot of nonprofits were hit by the economic downturn,” recounted Sue Eleuterio, a former board member and interim director of the NWA, as well as a workshop leader of ten years for Ordinary Thought. In spite of the despondency that accompanied the sudden collapse of an institution that shaped literary worlds across the city, the cherished memories—and numerous afterlives—of the Journal of Ordinary Thought still keep it in the hearts and minds of many Chicagoans today.
On a sunny July afternoon, four teenage girls are sitting around a table, walled off from the rest of the Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library (CPL) by a green curtain. They are reading out lines from Macbeth but, despite all appearances, this isn’t summer school— it’s YOUmedia, one of the first Chicago Public Library programs devoted specifically to teenagers.
For Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the politics and priorities of Freedom Summer never stopped. King’s arrival in 1966 from the embattled South ignited the Chicago Freedom Movement, and the conditions in northern, urban, and de facto segregated Chicago changed King and his beliefs. It was in Chicago that King intensified his call for economic justice as a goal both beyond and including racial integration.
“Trayvon Martin armed himself
Nate Marshall and Eve Ewing spent years as what Marshall called “Chicagoans in exile”: both born in the city, but departed in the course of their education (Marshall to Nashville then Ann Arbor; Ewing to Boston). But by this fall, both will be back in Chicago full-time. The creation of their new project Crescendo Literary, an organization devoted to community-based art, formalizes the exchange of ideas between the two longtime friends; its first projects, an Emerging Poets Incubator and a block party (both hosted in tandem with the Poetry Foundation, the latter also including The Renaissance Collaborative), took place July 28-30. Ewing and Marshall have both been poets and teachers in a multitude of settings, ranging from Young Chicago Authors to the University of Chicago, and their conversation with the Weekly (to which Ewing called in from New York) traced the shifting balance between art, community, mentorship, and political engagement in their life, work, and promising collaboration.
These poems were all written by seventh and eighth grade students in a writing program at Brighton Park Elementary School, a neighborhood school on the Southwest Side. They were compiled for publication by Xian Franzinger Barrett, a teacher at BPES who led his students in non-traditional writing classes that focused on expressions of trauma, identity, and community. This portfolio is arranged in alphabetical order by author and will be updated throughout the summer.
Write To The City is Young Chicago Authors’ annual summer writing camp for poets, activists, and aspiring educators. Participants step up their craft through hip-hop poetics, the tradition(s) of Chicago realist working class portraiture, and contemporary art practices. Led by Jamila Woods, Kevin Coval, Safia Elhillo, and Nate Marshall, Write To The City challenges ideas about what art is, how it’s made, and by whom. Here are a few poems from this year’s participants.
where do brown boys
when you bury a homie
and the mayor says