A Reading List for Showtime’s THE CHI

The Chia new drama series created by Lena Waithe and produced by Common—just premiered on Showtime. The show, set on the South Side of Chicago, portrays people living in an area fraught with gun violence.

Most striking about the show is the range of characters it contains: while they span age groups and economic strata, all are interconnected in ways that are both touching and surprising. In watching this very contemporary look at my city, I wanted to suggest contemporary books that would accompany this very relevant series as it begins, but much of what I found is older titles that touch on the themes in the show.


Chicago on the Make: Power and Inequality in a Modern City, by Andrew J. Diamond

Riffing on the title of the Nelson Algren classic, historian Diamond explores how racial inequality, built into Chicago’s foundation, continues to harm its residents. (2017)







Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith

Smith’s universally lauded 2017 poetry collection might not be set in Chicago, but its overarching themes of the African American struggle amid daily violence and American atrocities both past and present affect many characters in The Chi. Through it all, the poet evokes hope in beautifully crafted lines—much like the promising opening of The Chi.


The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

Though not set in the southside of Chicago, Cisneros’ portrayal of a predominantly Latino neighborhood on the city’s westside mirrors the slice of life aspect The Chi has going for it. Vignettes as chapters could easily be scenes in the show or even episodes onto themselves.







A People’s History of Chicago, by Kevin Coval

Coval has been active in the Chicago poetry scene for years and through his Louder Than A Bomb Poetry Slam series, he has showcased many voices from the southside. His poetry collection published just last year aims to break down the negative assumptions of Chicago while also serving as a testament to the city’s rich and violent history.


There Are No Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz
Published in 1991, Kotlowitz expanded on a series he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. This now-classic document of life in Chicago’s housing projects follows Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, their mother LaJoe, and their struggles to survive  gang violence, drug abuse, underfunded schools, and crushing poverty. (For a more recent take on Chicago public housing, keep an eye out for Ben Austen’s High Risers, out next month.)





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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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