- John H. White/Sun-Times
- Stories from the projects are all around us.
Last week I was reading High Rise Stories, a book of interviews with Chicago public housing residents that I recently reviewed, as I rode the Red Line to work. About halfway through my commute, the guy sitting behind me, probably in his mid-30s, tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said, “what are you reading?”
I angled around in my seat to show him the cover. “It’s called High Rise Stories, it’s about the Chicago projects.” He said he’d been reading over my shoulder and seen the words “Cabrini-Green” on the page, and that that was where he grew up. I started to tell him more about the book, about how the interviewers spent two years finding people who had lived in CHA housing at different points in the 20th century. His eyes kept getting bigger. “This book is about the projects? About the projects? It’s just about the projects?”
I gave him the media info sheet that I still had tucked into the book’s pages, so he could read more about it and have the title for reference, and I went back to reading. About ten minutes later, when the woman sitting next to me got off, he jumped up and took her seat. “This book is just about the projects!” he said. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe someone wrote about the projects!”
I told him there were going to be events for the book around the city, in Oak Park, at 826CHI, at Hull House, and that he should try to go and meet the editor. He seemed skeptical, but he was adamant that he’d get the book. “I gotta show everyone,” he said, “you know?” It struck me that as I’d been sitting on the train, reading about people who lived in CHA housing, I was literally surrounded by those people. It had taken someone else’s multiyear research project, turned into a book, and sent to me by the publisher, for me to turn and talk to one of them.
After I got off the train I felt bad that I hadn’t given him the book, which would have been easy for me to replace. I felt bad that I hadn’t at least given him my e-mail, or taken his, so I could make sure he knew about the events. I felt bad that we hadn’t even learned each other’s names. But I told him there was a book about the projects, and I hope that was enough.