A Win for the Harper High Series

Last year at  this time I was hanging out at Harper High School (with these two remarkable social workers, Crystal Winfield-Smith and Anita Stewart) working on a two-hour series for This American Life on the violence in Chicago. I’m accustomed to working on my own, but one of the joys of this project was its deeply collaborative nature. At Harper, I was joined by two other reporters: Linda Lutton, who covers education for WBEZ and, I dare say, is probably the best education reporter in the country (listen to her much-talked about anatomy of gang life in the first hour), and by Ben Calhoun, a young producer at This American Life, who cut his teeth as a journalist here in Chicago and has an uncanny ability to take what seems like familiar material and make it feel fresh and revelatory (listen to his account of Harper’s budget woes at the end of the two hours). Julie Snyder, who’s the equivalent of a managing editor at TAL, guided the project with her usual creative flair and journalistic rigor, and pushed us to find stories that would poke and prod our assumptions about the violence. And Robyn Semien, a young producer, helped shaped the series. I’m proud to say the show recently received the Third Coast Audio Festival’s Gold Award for best radio documentary. Now of course, I can’t end this post without a big shout out to Ira. You want a sense of his genius. Listen to the last few minutes of the two hours. It’s short, but as powerful as anything else in the program – and in two minutes of radio time puts the two hours of reporting in context.  (We just learned that the series also won a Columbia-duPont Journalism Award.)



Chicago is one of America’s most iconic, historic, and fascinating cities. For Alex Kotlowitz, an accidental Chicagoan, it is the perfect perch from which to peer into America’s heart.

Separated by a river, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor are two Michigan towns that are geographically close, yet worlds apart. St. Joseph is a prosperous, predominately white lakeshore community while Benton Harbor is impoverished and predominately black. When the body of Eric McGinnis, a black teenage boy from Benton Harbor, is found in the river that separates the towns, relations between the two communities grow increasingly strained as longheld misperceptions and attitudes surface. 

There Are No Children Here chronicles two years in the lives of two boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah, struggling to survive in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect. 

© 2018, Alex Kotlowitz. All rights reserved