Jamie Kalven is a writer and human rights activist. He is the author of Working With Available Light: A Family’s World After Violence and the editor of A Worthy Tradition: Free Speech in America by Harry Kalven, Jr. He has reported widely on public housing and police abuse issues.
The first phase of my writing career was devoted to a single project. My father, Harry Kalven, Jr., a professor of law at the University of Chicago, died in 1974. At the time of his death, he was working on a massive book on the American tradition of freedom of speech. I spent more than a decade completing his manuscript and preparing it for publication. Titled A Worthy Tradition: Freedom of Speech in America, it was published in 1988 by Harper & Row.
In the fall of 1988, my wife Patricia Evans was sexually assaulted and severely beaten while running on Chicago’s lakefront in mid-afternoon. Several years later, I began working on a narrative account of the impact of this act of cruelty on her, our family, and our community. Titled Working With Available Light: A Family’s World After Violence, this book was published in 1999 by W. W. Norton.
Since the early 1990’s, I have devoted much of my time and energy to social initiatives in inner city Chicago neighborhoods. I was one of the founders of Vigil Against Violence. I co-directed a program for the Resource Center in which volunteers from across the city joined together with residents of inner city neighborhoods to transform vacant lots into gardens, parks and playgrounds. And I explored the possibilities of job creation for ex-offenders and street gang veterans through “grassroots public works.”
Over time, my work came to be centered on Stateway Gardens, the public housing development between 35th and 39th Streets on South State Street that had the distinction of being identified on the basis of the 1990 census as the single poorest community in America. In the mid-1990s, at the request of residents, I assumed a formal role as advisor to the Stateway resident council and participated in negotiations with HUD, various city agencies, and private real estate developers. (More recently, I have taken a similar position as consultant to the Horner Residents Committee at the Henry Horner Homes on the West Side.)
As I emerged from writing Working With Available Light, I began publishing from Stateway. During the last five years, as South State Street has been largely razed as part of the City’s “Plan for Transformation,” my colleagues and I have worked to develop human rights monitoring strategies in the setting of public housing; among them, the web publication The View From The Ground.
In 1997 my wife and I were the subjects of a PBS documentary--part of a series on grassroots nonviolence initiatives titled “Making Peace.”
During 1997-98 I was a fellow of the Open Society Institute.
Since 1999, I have been a board member of the Family Violence Prevention Fund.