Hate Mail and Love Letters

luis

I've been getting my usual rash of hate mail following a weekend appearance in the New York Times. The last time I wrote an op-ed for them, I was actually called a commie. It's a thankless task--the assignment being to write about the economic situation in Chi. So this time I was called a racist for quoting a black student ("It's getting awful white up in here"--it was seen as anti-white sarcasm). Sorry about that. And I was called to task a bunch of times for being stupid--my definite problem sometimes. The article seems to claim that Cabrini Green housing complex is in the wrong place. I deeply apologize for that! That is just muddled editing on my part--the housing communities near my college are south of the loop, and that got jammed in with a lame use of Cabrini Green as an example of the projects from a different part of the piece. 600 words gets pretty tight. They got too close and created a James Frey-like weirdness. Still, the points I tried to make were real: black folks get bulldozed by the urban renewals of Chicago, whether we like to admit it or not. I am always amazed at the vitality of the correspondents. It gives me faith in America that we are ready to smack down everybody we don't like as soon as they say something we don't admire. This should keep all us word-mongers on our toes. Though I don't like being insulted, and I definitely dislike being threatened (like the patriots who write whenever I do a piece about Mexicans, telling me I have earned a "traitor's fate" for somehow betraying America), I do like the process of democratic opinion flying around, stinging everybody. The discussion feels holy and whole to me. Even when it's irritating. Still, believe it or not, I am not a big fan of controversy. I want to be pals with the world. I want to write poems. I want to plant geraniums in colorful little pots. Op-ed writers have to be better wrestlers than me. So why do I keep writing controversial books? I'll tell you one thing--the next time I write about Chicago, I'll watch my editing carefully, and I'll have a city map spread out on the desk!

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Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

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