I recently met someone who recommended the book High Rise Stories. And, then there it was at a bookstore I was visiting. So, I purchased it, carried it around for a bit, and have now read it. I would say it is must reading for Shimerians -- at least those who want to understand our current environs.
A volume in a series entitled Voices of Witnesses (published by McSweeney's) that brings together oral history with matters of conscience, High Rise Stories is subtitled Voices from Chicago Public Housing and is edited by Audrey Petty. The book is exactly what it says it is: narratives compiled from interviews, extensive interviews, with former residents of places like Cabrini Greens, hte ironically named Robert Taylor Homes, and elsewhere across Chicago. Their experiences living there - and their experiences being displaced by the "Plan for Transformation" that led them to be demolished. They are recent, they are troubling, and they are inspiring.
I brought to this reading my own stereotypes, as we all do. And yes, there is an enormous everyday-ness to the violence described, to the poverty. And yet, there is also joy and community and much much more. There were facts I learned -- like the setting of the television show Good Times as connected to Chicago. And, I did read the appendices, which include some material on high rise architecture, a time line of public housing in the city, and more.
What makes this work critically important? For Shimer, perhaps the most directly relevant is the voice of the individual whose home was in the Robert Taylor homes for that is our neighborhood. To be part of this neighborhood is to know it. I recommend the read. And, then, a walk around the neighborhood. And, for those of us who no longer reside in places like Chicago, it is a welcome introduction to the notion that Voices of Witnesses -- a series focusing on "illuminating human rights crises through oral history" exists. And, as importantly, a model of the public intellectual that is inclusive and wide ranging.