Jacob Sabolo (LAS ’12) shares his experience with “How Long Will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence,” a project that enlisted DePaul students and faculty to shed light on Chicago violence.
Photo via BigShouldersBooks.com
In 2011 and 2012, while more than 900 people were being murdered on the streets of Chicago, creative-writing students from DePaul traveled all over the city to interview people whose lives have been changed by the violence and bloodshed. The project, created by Miles Harvey, assistant professor of English, resulted in a Steppenwolf Theatre production inspired by the interviews, as well as an anthology containing 35 narratives.
I enrolled in the project’s first course in the winter of 2011. On the first day of class, Harvey asked me and my fellow classmates to locate South and West Side neighborhoods on a map of Chicago. The majority of us could not. He talked about Derrion Albert, a high school student whose brutal murder was recorded on video in 2009, and Frankie Valencia, a DePaul student who was shot and killed in 2009. The stories made it clear how severe youth and gang violence is in the city and how many Chicagoans don’t really know what is going on or what they can do to help.
What Harvey shared with us was just a taste of the stories that were told during the quarter and, ultimately, through the course of the project. By the end of 2012, students had collected hundreds of transcripts and narratives; in 2013, “How Long Will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence” premiered at Steppenwolf. The play was also brought directly to the affected communities in Chicago’s South and West Sides. The public performances included an open discussion with cast members and the audience, which gave people the opportunity to tell their own stories.
In October 2013, the “How Long Will I Cry?” book was published by Big Shoulders Books, a nonprofit organization dedicated to distributing free anthologies by and about Chicagoans whose voices might not otherwise be shared. Due to the high demand, the 7,500 books that were printed were all given away in less than a month. A second printing is planned for early 2014, and details can be found on the Big Shoulders Books website. Journalist Rick Kogan reviewed the book for the Chicago Tribune and called it, “a stunning, stay-with-you-forever new book [that will] alter the ways in which you think. I guarantee that after you read this book, the next murder that screams across the headlines and television news will affect you more deeply than ever before.”
Books have been given away to libraries and schools, churches and prisons. A series of readings were held in the fall to support the book’s release, and attendees shared what the story has meant to them. Teenagers who normally do not read outside of school said they are reading the book. One high school student even said that it is the first book he has ever finished. A woman said she is learning how to read because of it. I hope that the book will help change Chicago by raising awareness about youth violence in the city, why it is happening and what needs to be done to eliminate it. And, of course, I hope that it makes people realize that everyone’s story deserves to be heard.