“When I was a kid on the south side of Chicago I’d drive by the Taylor Homes or Cabrini Green and, equipped with a head full of bleak legends, wonder: “What’s going on in there?” Now I know. This astonishing book tells us that what was going on in there was…life. Loving, fighting, kindness, insanity, addiction, aspiration, terror, redemption—everything that goes on in any human community but with the dual compressions of poverty and neglect. Audrey Petty and her team have recorded and edited these stories in a way that is joyful, novelistic, and deeply moving. High Rise Stories radically expanded my understanding of human beings.”
—George Saunders, Tenth of December
We’re thrilled to share words of praise for our forthcoming title, High Rise Stories, from bestselling author George Saunders. In the gripping first-person accounts of High Rise Stories, former residents of Chicago’s iconic public housing projects describe life in the now-demolished high rises. These stories of community, displacement, and poverty in the wake of gentrification give voice to those who have long been ignored, but whose hopes and struggles exist firmly at the heart of our national identity.
High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing will be in bookstores this September. To learn more, click here.
What human rights/social justice issues do you care about, and that you feel aren’t getting the attention they deserve?
What kind of voices and stories do you want to hear more of?
Could your passion project become the next Voice of Witness book?
Post your ideas on our Facebook page—we’d love to hear from you!
This summer, Voice of Witness Education Program Director Cliff Mayotte sat down for a brief oral history of his own—discussing some of the key issues in our work with teachers and students. Voice of Witness intern Valerie Snow took Cliff’s interview and crafted a wonderful glimpse into our work. Read on to learn more about what’s on our minds, in our hearts, and on the agenda for the Voice of Witness Education Program.
Taking History Personally: Voice of Witness in the Classroom
Adapted from an interview with Cliff Mayotte, by Valerie Snow
Educational outreach is an integral part of our mission at Voice of Witness. Introducing educators and students to the stories in our book series can facilitate learning on many levels and build community in the classroom and beyond. Our resources help teachers add a rich layer of engagement to standard history curricula while students realize that they are participants in history – not just bystanders. Cliff Mayotte, Education Program Director at Voice of Witness, elaborates: “Our education resources support the idea that it’s impossible to read history or to understand or to engage in history without empathy – without looking at the complexity of human communication and having our thinking complicated by a story.”
In light of the recent rulings on the Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander cases, this 2012 article from the Center for American Progress offers some sobering statistics on racial disparity in the U.S. criminal justice system. These issues are poignantly explored in narrators’ stories from Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives From Women’s Prisons.
Between 2006 and 2010, prison doctors in California sterilized nearly 150 female inmates without obtaining proper authorization from the state. As described in an article by The Atlantic Wire, The Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered that doctors sidestepped state procedures in order to perform tubal litigation on the prisoners, despite a law requiring state approval on a case-by-case basis.
Sheri Dwight, a narrator in the ninth book of the Voice of Witness series, Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, shared the story of how her ovaries were surgically removed without her knowledge or consent. She did not discover the truth about her sterilization until five years later. Inside This Place, Not of It is a collection of thirteen oral histories that reveals some of the most egregious human rights violations within women’s prisons in the United States. In their own words, the narrators recount their lives leading up to incarceration and their experiences inside. Click here to learn more.
Last month, the Latin American Review of Books reviewed Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives from Colombians Displaced by Violence, edited by Sibylla Brodzinsky and Max Schoening. Throwing Stones at the Moon is a powerful collection of oral histories from Colombians from all walks of life, including farmers, union leaders and former guerillas. They describe the most widespread of Colombia’s human rights crises: forced displacement.
In the Review, they wrote: “Brodzinsky and Schoening have done a great job of bringing us the stories of ordinary people trapped in Colombia’s labyrinth in a way that highlights both the horror and the hope.”
To read the full review, click here. Learn more about Throwing Stones at the Moon and purchase the book on the McSweeney’s store here.
This week, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability (CLEAR) project of CUNY Law School, filed a lawsuit accusing the New York Police Department of religious profiling and suspicion-less surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers.
An article in the Guardian explains, “in an effort to uncover terrorist plots, so-called “rakers” or “mosque crawlers” – typically paid NYPD informants – were sent to Muslim student association meetings, businesses, universities, restaurants, whitewater rafting trips and more than 250 mosques in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.”
Personal experiences of this type of surveillance are detailed in Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice, the eighth book in the Voice of Witness series. A groundbreaking collection of oral histories, Patriot Acts tells the stories of men and women who have been needlessly swept up in the War on Terror. In their own words, narrators recount personal experiences of the post-9/11 backlash that have deeply altered their lives and communities. Click here to learn more.
Early reviews of High-Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing are coming out now, and we’re delighted to share them with you. This month, Publishers Weekly said of the narratives within the book:
“The stories demand attention… though nearly all of the high-rises themselves have been torn down over the last decade, the problems discussed in the book remain.”
Click here to read the full review. In bookstores this September, High-Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing presents gripping, first-person accounts from former residents of Chicago’s iconic public housing projects. Click here to learn more about the book.
This week, Chicago radio station WBEZ began a series looking at “what separates — and possibly connects — life on either side of Chicago’s social divide”. Producer Tanveer Ali describes the project: “We’ll look at not only about how and why they ended up living where they live, but also how their homes define their lives.” Click here to read the full article and to follow the series.
Out this fall is Voice of Witness’ eleventh book, High-Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing. A gripping collection of oral histories from former residents of Chicago’s iconic public housing projects, these stories of community, displacement, and poverty in the wake of gentrification give voice to those who have long been ignored, but whose hopes and struggles exist firmly at the heart of our national identity. High-Rise Stories will be available September 17 with events in Chicago, the Bay Area, and New York to follow. Click here to learn more.
Voice of Witness is delighted to announce the dates of our third annual oral history training for educators, Amplifying Unheard Voices. Join us June 24th- June 27th in San Francisco to take advantage of this incredible opportunity!
Amplifying Unheard Voices is a four-day professional development workshop that highlights the power of personal narrative and provides educators with the tools to conduct oral history projects in their classrooms and communities. Workshop participants will engage in an interactive process that introduces the skills, ethics, and social significance of doing oral history, as exemplified by Voice of Witness and other leading practitioners in the field. For more information, contact Cliff Mayotte.
The cost of this workshop is $400. Contact us for information about scholarships to help make attendance possible.
Click here to download an application.