Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


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My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Audrey Petty's High Rise Stories

I am very pleased to announce that Audrey Petty’s new book High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing has just appeared. Thanks to Audrey, I have a copy right here next to me on my desk! This book is a powerful work of oral history and historical recovery—it collects the voices of residents from no-longer-existing housing projects in Chicago. Audrey, who is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing in our department, served as editor, compiler, and introducer for these first-person narratives. The book is published in the Voice of Witness series, an imprint of McSweeney’s Books dedicated to “illuminating human rights crises through oral history.”

I was fortunate to hear Audrey read from and discuss High Rise Stories during a very affecting event about memoirs and memory at the IPRH last February that also included our own LeAnne Howe. Some of you may have also seen Audrey present the book during a joint event sponsored by the English Department and the Chicago Humanities Festival. I can attest that High Rise Stories is a moving and important book that exemplifies the best impulses of faculty in the humanities to make their work available to and for a larger public.

Here’s a little more about the book and the people who tell their stories in it, taken from the publisher’s website:

About the book:

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.

Among the narrators:

DONNELL, who was initiated into gang life at the age of twelve. A former resident of Rockwell Gardens, Donnell recounts growing up in an environment where daily life involved selling drugs, fighting rival gangs, and navigating encounters with a corrupt and often violent police force, as well as his efforts to turn his life around after incarceration.

SABRINA, whose sister was shot in the head in their Cabrini-Green apartment when she was caught in the middle of a turf-related shooting. Because ambulances refused to come to Cabrini-Green, and the elevators were out of order, Sabrina’s father and her then-pregnant mother had to carry her sister down thirteen flights of stairs to rush her to the hospital.

DOLORES, who, at the age of 82, was hastily displaced from her home in Cabrini-Green after 53 years and forced to leave many of her belongings behind. Dolores depicts her community’s evolution over five decades, including her leadership in resident government, and her husband’s mentoring of youth through a Drum and Bugle Corps.

CHANDRA, whose son’s felony conviction bars him from entering the grounds of Chandra’s home in Orchard Park. Chicago Housing Authority rules demand that Chandra report him to the police if she sees him on the property, or face eviction herself.”

1 comment:

Jarrett (B.A. '01) said...

I can't wait to read this.

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