As an editor and publisher, I spend a lot of time listening, reading and watching—to plays, films, speeches and interviews of all sorts of creative people. And sometimes there is a magical serendipity when you receive a message that resonates over and over across time and art forms. This week, the message was about empathy, about recognizing the value of each and every person as an individual, rather than forming opinions based on preconceived notions or cultural stereotypes. And about the power of story to share that empathy and to ensure that people are not forgotten.
On Monday, we attend Steppenwolf’s new play, “Ms. Blakk for President.” It’s a true-life tale of a drag queen from Chicago, who, after running for mayor of Chicago, decides, in 1992, to run for president on the Queer Nation ticket as in-your-face activism. During the performance, Terence Smith, the real-life Ms. Blakk, talks about the power of being remembered, and knowing that his life mattered and in hopes that others like him who had been “forgotten” might also now be remembered.
On Thursday, Alex Kotlowitz, author of “There Are No Children Here” and “An American Summer” is honored at the Harold Washington Literary Award and talks about how listening to people and their stories makes us understand and relate on a human level. He talks about encountering a man in a wheelchair at the hospital who has been shot in a robbery while at work. Because of what happened, people leap to the assumption that he must be a “bad” guy. As he was about to be wheeled away, he asked Alex, “Don’t forget about me.” He wanted his story told, to be remembered.
On Friday, at the press opening of his show at the MCA, Virgil Abloh talks about his early life as a black kid in Rockford and his own preconceived notions that architects and fashion designers did not look like him. But then he graduates from architecture school and rapidly rises as a fashion designer from his own brand into the helm of the storied French luxury brand Louis Vuitton, where he is now artistic director of their men’s wear collection. Abloh’s story would never have been told if he’d let those preconceived notions hold him back.
In the interview that Sadaf Ferdowsi has with Sasha Hemon in this issue, he talks about his parents’ migration from Bosnia. “Even before this Ellis Island mythology, refugees and even immigrants in general have been represented as this faceless, zombie-like mass with no lives, no individuality, no complexity; they are just driven by a hunger to ‘get what we have.’ But this is not really the case: Everyone is a person and everyone has a story.”
We’re living in times where empathy is given little or no value, at least by our national government. And it’s in these times that storytelling that recognizes the humanity of every single person around us is more important than ever.
In this issue, SUMMER 2019 The City Pastoral:
Communing in Chicago’s Japanese Garden
Falcons, Coyotes, and How to Re-Wild Downtown Chicago
Have You Seen A Kirtland’s Warbler?
How to Meditate in Public
Painting Outdoors, Like It’s 1899
Repairing the World
Saved by the Cottonwood
Spokesman for Outdoor Enjoyment
Summer is a Johnnie’s Italian Beef Sandwich
Take Me to the River Town
Ten Songs for Summer
The Summer Parade Begins
Update From the River
“East Garfield Park Bull Thistle (after Hugh MacDiarmid)” by Roger Bonair-Agard
“The Bra I Saw on Michigan Ave” by Jennifer Karmin
“Chicago is not a good place to fall into the river” by Marcy Rae Henry
“Chicago Wilderness” by Robbie Q. Telfer
“From Our Porch I Gaze at Our Lush Garden” by Jacob Victorine
“Looking at a Tulip with Lydie” by Chris Green
Look for Newcity’s July 2019 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week or subscribe to the print edition at newcity.com/subscribe.