Pattis Award Winners

Chicago's Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City

Chicago's Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City

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From an acclaimed historian, the full and authoritative story of one of the most iconic disasters in American history, told through the vivid memories of those who experienced it

Between October 8-10, 1871, much of the city of Chicago was destroyed by one of the most legendary urban fires in history. Incorporated as a city in 1837, Chicago had grown at a breathtaking pace in barely three decades, from just over 4,000 in 1840 to greater than 330,000 at the time of the fire. Built hastily, the city was largely made of wood. Once it began in the barn of Catherine and Patrick O'Leary, the Fire quickly grew out of control, twice jumping branches of the Chicago River on its relentless northeastward path through the city's three divisions. Close to one of every three Chicago residents was left homeless and more were instantly unemployed, though the death toll was miraculously low.

Remarkably, no carefully researched popular history of the Great Chicago Fire has been written until now, despite it being one of the most cataclysmic disasters in US history. Building the story around memorable characters, both known to history and unknown, including the likes of General Philip Sheridan and Robert Todd Lincoln, eminent Chicago historian Carl Smith chronicles the city's rapid growth and place in America's post-Civil War expansion. The dramatic story of the fire--revealing human nature in all its guises--became one of equally remarkable renewal, as Chicago quickly rose back up from the ashes thanks to local determination and the world's generosity and faith in Chicago's future.

As we approach the fire's 150th anniversary, Carl Smith's compelling narrative at last gives this epic event its full and proper place in our national chronicle.

Louis Sullivan's Idea

Louis Sullivan's Idea

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A visual compendium revealing the philosophy and life of America's renowned architect

The story of Louis H. Sullivan is considered one of the great American tragedies. While Sullivan reshaped architectural thought and practice and contributed significantly to the foundations of modern architecture, he suffered a sad and lonely death. Many have since missed his aim: that of bringing buildings to life. What mattered most to Sullivan were not the buildings but the philosophy behind their creation. Once, he unconcernedly stated that if he lived long enough, he would get to see all of his works destroyed. He added: "Only the idea is the important thing."

In Louis Sullivan's Idea, Chicago architectural historian Tim Samuelson and artist/writer Chris Ware present Sullivan's commitment to his discipline of thought as the guiding force behind his work, and this collection of photographs, original documentation, and drawings all date from the period of Sullivan's life, 1856-1924, that many rarely or have never seen before. The book includes a full-size foldout facsimile reproduction of Louis Sullivan's last architectural commission and the only surviving working drawing done in his own hand.

Refugee High: Coming of Age in America

Refugee High: Coming of Age in America

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Lit Hub's Most Anticipated of 2021

A year in the life of a Chicago high school that has one of the highest proportions of refugees of any school in the nation

"A wondrous tapestry of stories, of young people looking for a home. With deep, immersive reporting, Elly Fishman pulls off a triumph of empathy. Their tales and their school speak to the best of who we are as a nation--and their struggles, their joys, their journeys will stay with you." --Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

Winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Award

For a century, Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a home to immigrant and refugee students. In 2017, during the worst global refugee crisis in history, its immigrant population numbered close to three hundred--or nearly half the school--and many were refugees new to the country. These young people came from thirty-five different countries, speaking among themselves more than thirty-eight different languages.

For these refugee teens, life in Chicago is hardly easy. They have experienced the world at its worst and carry the trauma of the horrific violence they fled. In America, they face poverty, racism, and xenophobia, but they are still teenagers--flirting, dreaming, and working as they navigate their new life in America.

Refugee High is a riveting chronicle of the 2017-8 school year at Sullivan High, a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric was at its height in the White House. Even as we follow teachers and administrators grappling with the everyday challenges facing many urban schools, we witness the complicated circumstances and unique education needs of refugee and immigrant children: Alejandro may be deported just days before he is scheduled to graduate; Shahina narrowly escapes an arranged marriage; and Belenge encounters gang turf wars he doesn't understand.

Equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring, Refugee High raises vital questions about the priorities and values of a public school and offers an eye-opening and captivating window into the present-day American immigration and education systems.

Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City

Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City

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Sun Ra (1914-93) was one of the most wildly prolific and unfailingly eccentric figures in the history of music. Renowned for extravagant performances in which his Arkestra appeared in neo-Egyptian garb, the keyboardist and bandleader also espoused an interstellar cosmology that claimed the planet Saturn as his true home. In Sun Ra's Chicago, William Sites brings this visionary musician back to earth--specifically to the city's South Side, where from 1946 to 1961 he lived and relaunched his career. The postwar South Side was a hotbed of unorthodox religious and cultural activism: Afrocentric philosophies flourished, storefront prophets sold "dream-book bibles," and Elijah Muhammad was building the Nation of Islam. It was also an unruly musical crossroads where the man then known as Sonny Blount drew from an array of intellectual and musical sources--from radical nationalism, revisionist Christianity, and science fiction to jazz, blues, Latin dance music, and pop exotica--to construct a philosophy and performance style that imagined a new identity and future for African Americans. Sun Ra's Chicago shows that late twentieth-century Afrofuturism emerged from a deep, utopian engagement with the city--and that by excavating the postwar black experience of Sun Ra's South Side milieu, we can come to see the possibilities of urban life in new ways.
Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood

Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood

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A New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book
A Best Book of 2021 by BuzzFeed and Real Simple

A "beautiful, tragic, and inspiring" (Publishers Weekly, starred review) memoir about three Black girls from the storied Bronzeville section of Chicago that offers a penetrating exploration of race, opportunity, friendship, sisterhood, and the powerful forces at work that allow some to flourish...and others to falter.

They were three Black girls. Dawn, tall and studious; her sister, Kim, younger by three years and headstrong as they come; and her best friend, Debra, already prom-queen pretty by third grade. They bonded--fervently and intensely in that unique way of little girls--as they roamed the concrete landscape of Bronzeville, a historic neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Black folks who fled the ravages of the Jim Crow South.

These third-generation daughters of the Great Migration come of age in the 1970s, in the warm glow of the recent civil rights movement. It has offered them a promise, albeit nascent and fragile, that they will have more opportunities, rights, and freedoms than any generation of Black Americans in history. Their working-class, striving parents are eager for them to realize this hard-fought potential. But the girls have much more immediate concerns: hiding under the dining room table and eavesdropping on grown folks' business; collecting secret treasures; and daydreaming about their futures--Dawn and Debra, doctors, Kim a teacher. For a brief, wondrous moment the girls are all giggles and dreams and promises of "friends forever." And then fate intervenes, first slowly and then dramatically, sending them careening in wildly different directions. There's heartbreak, loss, displacement, and even murder. Dawn struggles to make sense of the shocking turns that consume her sister and her best friend, all the while asking herself a simple but profound question: Why?

In the vein of The Other Wes Moore and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Three Girls from Bronzeville is a piercing memoir that chronicles Dawn's attempt to find answers. It's at once a celebration of sisterhood and friendship, a testimony to the unique struggles of Black women, and a tour-de-force about the complex interplay of race, class, and opportunity, and how those forces shape our lives and our capacity for resilience and redemption.