This piece is excerpted from Who Is the City For? Architecture, Equity, and the Public Realm in Chicago by Blair Kamin ’79, a guest at Amherst College’s LitFest 2024.Registerfor this exciting celebration of Amherst’s literary legacy and life.
Looking back on nearly thirty years of architecture criticism at the Chicago Tribune, I realize that I have borne witness to a dramatic transformation of Chicago, from a declining industrial colossus to a dynamic yet deeply troubled postindustrial powerhouse, whose favored emblem is a jellybean-shaped sculpture of highly polished steel. The mirrorlike surface of that sculpture, officially titled Cloud Gate but widely known as “the Bean,” reflects the striking skyline of the city’s ever-growing downtown, now home to $10 million condominiums, Michelin-starred restaurants, and an elegant promenade that rims the once badly polluted Chicago River. But the Bean does not reflect the reality of a very different Chicago. That Chicago, though not without distinguished buildings and untapped economic potential, is also a place of weed-strewn vacant lots, empty storefronts, and unceasing gun violence. Indeed, Cloud Gate may be the ultimate shiny, distracting object. While the 2020 census revealed that Chicago’s population grew by nearly 2 percent during the previous decade, to 2.7 million, the dramatic disconnect between the two Chicagos prompts the question: Is this a good city, a just city? Absolutely not. Which prompts a second query: Can those responsible for building the city advance the fortunes of neighborhoods devastated by decades of discrimination, disinvestment, and deindustrialization? On that crucial matter, the jury is still out.
This piece is excerpted from The Healing Stage: Black Women, Incarceration, and the Art of Transformation by Lisa Biggs ’93, a guest at Amherst College’s LitFest 2024.Registerfor this exciting celebration of Amherst’s literary legacy and life.
Stage healing as a practice of self-repair is generated and sustained by women behind bars in collaboration with the volunteer theater artists who direct their drama clubs. The term is deeply indebted to Cara Page and the Kindred Healing Justice Collective, who characterized healing justice as “how we can holistically respond to and intervene in generational trauma and violence … to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds.” This “active intervention,” writes Prentiss Hemphill, makes listening to and collaborating with people who are “imagining transformative responses to harm” other than “feeding Black incarceration” foundational, not only to healing work but also to Black community organizing—in their case, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement.25 Healing justice recognizes that locating alternative, noncarceral responses to harmdoing requires finding ways to “develop and to honor practitioners of many different disciplines and modalities with capacities and skills to be with trauma, who know themselves well enough to navigate the complex terrain of emotion and guide others towards change.”26
This piece originally appeared in The Atlantic. Journalist Ed Yong will be a guest at Amherst College’s LitFest 2024. Register for this exciting celebration of Amherst’s literary legacy and life.
Alexis Misko’s health has improved enough that, once a month, she can leave her house for a few hours. First, she needs to build up her energy by lying in a dark room for the better part of two days, doing little more than listening to audiobooks. Then she needs a driver, a quiet destination where she can lie down, and days of rest to recover afterward. The brief outdoor joy “never quite feels like enough,” she told me, but it’s so much more than what she managed in her first year of long COVID, when she couldn’t sit upright for more than an hour or stand for more than 10 minutes. Now, at least, she can watch TV on the same day she takes a shower.
There are people who express with songs what they can’t express with their own words. My grandfather is one of these people.
Papá José, as we grandchildren call him, is a reserved man, but he has a unique way of talking about his life and expressing his feelings. His hair is now covered in white and his face in lines. He usually wears a pair of gray pants, a flannel shirt, his old sandals and his light brown sombrero. He’s a working man of the countryside.
I visit him only once a year. Like many people from my country, I go to Mexico every December to spend Christmas and New Year’s with my family. It has been twelve years since I left home, the house where I grew up, the dirt streets and brick houses where I spent my childhood on the outskirts of Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. I went to elementary school there, then junior high school, until my family and I moved to the United States. So much time has passed since then. And now I have repeated the family history. Three years ago, I left my parents’ house in California to go study on the other side of the world. I can travel only once a year. The distance and time make me miss my family a lot. I question why we are constantly moving: Why do we keep looking for a better life somewhere else? This is why, for some time now, I have felt the need to talk more with Papá José, to know more about his life. I try to take advantage of every visit to talk to him and listen to his stories.
We demanded, we begged, we guilt-tripped our parents for money. We had reached the age where we cared about our image. We no longer accepted garage sale clothes or Kmart blue-light sale items. We wanted the hip-hugging, sailor-pant flap Chemin de Fer jeans, we wanted the upside-down-U-stitch-on-the-butt Dittos, we wanted the iconic Ralph Lauren polo, and we wanted the clunky Connie Clogs. We wanted the clothes our American middle school classmates strutted around in.
When I was finally allowed to leave home on my own, my sister accompanied me on the train from Moscow. For the first leg, anyway. In the morning, she would get off and I would go on to Croatia, alone. We knew the instructions well. No sooner were we inside the sleeper cabin than my sister set to blocking the air vent with clothes and duct tape. It was 1998, and, along with the first popular elections and counterfeit jeans, the Russian Wild Nineties had brought rumors of enterprising thieves who pumped sleeping gas through trains’ ventilation systems, and then went through the cars relieving unconscious passengers of their valuables. Local friends had cautioned us to keep our passports on our persons at all times. But at sixteen, I was short, shy, self-conscious, and prone to vivid imaginations. The prospect of strangers running their hands over my body—unconscious or not—seemed far worse than that of losing my passport, so I left mine in my bag on the seat as a decoy.
In 1976, when I was eight years old, my Korean American father, a produce wholesaler and former farmworker, decided to become a full-time farmer. My Japanese American mother, descended from a long line of farmers and farmworkers, wanted it too. They had spent their childhoods dreaming of a home on the land, so we moved from Los Angeles to a tenant farm thirty-five miles away.
I live on a wooded road posted with NO TRESPASSING PROPERTY OF GEORGE FUDGE signs. In addition to being a large landowner, George Fudge rents out dumpsters, and is rumored to be an ex-con and confirmed to be a minister. When the season is right, he plows snow. He’s plowed my driveway more than once for free. I am surrounded by good intentions. On the wall of the post office there is a note that says, I am an honest girl, written by a customer who took a card costing $2.99 and left $3. The town maintains a free rack of clothing outside the dollar store, kids’ jumpers and XL T-shirts fluttering brightly.
I work on a small vegetable farm carved out of hayfields owned by the local high school and woods owned by the local commune. The other young farmers and I grow food for a hundred families that come each week to get shares of vegetables, which begin in spring as ephemeral greens and end in winter as sacks of beets and potatoes.
Home from work with a heavy trash bag of compost for my pigs, I find the escaped animals locked in the chicken coop. They got out in the unwatchful summer afternoon, their snouts bending up the bottom of the fence to roam undeterred past illegible PRIVATE PROPERTY signs. They were escaping their squalid pen out of pure misery, I think. I had been watching them get shocked trying to push through, seeming genuinely angry, for the past few days, putting off moving the fence out of laziness or a desire to escape the drudgery of what I’d taken on.
Before I learned about his utopian philosophy of expat writing or his scrappy resistance to publishing-market forces, I knew David Applefield as the marketer of the HAPPY CAP—the world’s first mess-free way to cover a toothpaste tube. This was, of course, completely by chance.
I was thumbing through his papers in the Amherst College archives as The Common’s inaugural holder of the David Applefield ’78 Fellowship, an Amherst College student internship endowed in Applefield’s honor by his friends and family. Tucked among sheets of poetry, reviews of Applefield’s two novels, and other literary artifacts, I was surprised to find a series of letters typed on the official stationery of “A.R.A. Industries.”
Cowboys aren’t remnants of the Wild West. Today they herd cattle across state lines, national borders, and now even oceans. From the feedlot to the slaughterhouse and from pasture to greener pasture, a cowboy’s travels feed the food industry machine.
Your modern cowboy sits on eighteen wheels with six hundred horsepower and saddles up truck stop to truck stop. They trot along the asphalt and follow the commands of reds, greens, and yellows.