HIGH RISE STORIES: VOICES FROM CHICAGO PUBLIC HOUSING

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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.

Audrey Petty is on tour in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities.

Read an excerpt from High Rise Stories here.

Read a Q&A with editor Audrey Petty and Stephen Elliot.

You can download free curriculum for this book here.

Praise for High Rise Stories:

“The importance of this book cannot be overstated. High Rise Stories is essential reading for anyone interested in fair housing. The Voice of Witness series is a megaphone for our country’s most marginalized voices, opening critically needed space in the national conversation on housing reform.”
—Van Jones, Former Special Advisor to the Obama White House, author of Rebuild the Dream and The Green Collar Economy

“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, author of Tenth of December

“Lest we are tempted to think because the public housing towers are no longer there that they never existed, High Rise Stories captures the memories that defy demolition. The former residents are neither sentimental nor spiteful, just truthful about the ups and downs of their lives and the lives of the buildings they lived in. Petty shows deep care and respect in making sure that these histories live on, and that we listen to their wisdom.”
—Mary Pattillo, author of Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City

High Rise Stories allows real residents of public housing to speak in their own voices. Their life stories are at once harrowing and inspiring, and give the lie to the myth that the projects were a monolithic hell, the people there mere victims or victimizers. The book is important reading for anyone hoping to understand Chicago in all its workings.”
—Ben Austen, The Last Tower

“Whatever else might be said about Chicago’s Plan for Transformation, it has proved a stunningly effective disappearing act. The city did not merely demolish its high-rise public housing developments; it erased them, without regard for the identities, attachments, and histories of those for whom these communities were home. High Rise Stories is a major act of recovery and rescue. Bypassing the official narrative of enlightened urban ‘transformation’—as well as the social scientific folklore and magical thinking about “mixed income communities’ deployed to support it—Audrey Petty has done something radical: she has simply and deeply listened to residents. Her book is an extended act of neighborly hospitality. Each of the voices she has assembled is distinct. Taken together, they evoke a lost world and speak to a future in which all have an equal right to the city.”
—Jamie Kalven, Working WIth Available Light: A Family’s World After Violence

“A powerful and authentic work. High Rise Stories captures the vibrant sense of community at home, as well as the challenges that existed for those who lived in Chicago’s public housing developments, through a series of searing first person narratives. An important book and a very moving read.”
—Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps

“A hard look at the consequences of poverty and flawed concepts of public housing and urban renewal.”
Kirkus

“The stories demand attention rather than voyeurism: though nearly all of the high rises themselves have been torn down over the last decade, the problems discussed in the book remain.”
Publishers Weekly

“A nuanced story of struggling communities, beyond the well-worn descriptions of violent, narcotic-saturated spaces.”
Gapers Block

“[High Rise Stories] is informative and moving, empathetic and educational. While most of the CHA developments are gone, their influence on the demographics of Chicago life is not. As Paula Hawkins, who grew up in Cabrini-Green in the 60s and 70s, says, ‘The thing is: we the landmarks. Forget a building! People are the landmarks.’”
—Janet Potter, The Chicago Reader

Voice of Witness is a non-profit organization that uses oral history to illuminate contemporary human rights crises in the U.S. and around the world. Founded by author Dave Eggers and physician/human rights scholar Lola Vollen, Voice of Witness publishes a book series that depicts human rights injustices through the stories of the men and women who experience them. The Voice of Witness Education Program brings these stories, and the issues they reflect, into high schools and impacted communities through oral history-based curricula and holistic educator support.