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Natalie


Y. Moore

Natalie Y. Moore

She // Her // Hers

[ID: Natalie, a Black woman with dark loose curls, stands outside with greenery in the background. She is wearing a sleeveless dress with a black scoop neck and aqua-blue drop earrings. She has a slight smile and is wearing purple-reddish lip gloss.]

Author, Journalist, and Playwright
Chicago, IL
2021 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by Anonymous.
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Natalie Y. Moore is the author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, winner of 2016 best nonfiction awards from the Chicago Review of Books and Buzzfeed. Moore is coauthor of The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of an American Gang and Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation. She contributed to Southside, a 2018 collection of stories about the criminal justice system in Chicago, published by the Marshall Project in collaboration with Amazon Original Stories. For the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Chicago riots, she cowrote a thirty-minute audio drama with Make-Believe Association. Her play The Billboard, about abortion and reproductive justice, will be produced by 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, IL, in fall of 2021 and published by Haymarket Books.

She is a reporter at WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR member station. Her enterprise reporting tackles race, housing, economic development, and food injustice. She writes a monthly column for the Chicago Sun-Times. Her work has been published in a range of publications, including Essence, Ebony, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian. She is the 2017 recipient of the Chicago Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award. In 2010, she received the Studs Terkel Community Media Award for reporting on Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. In 2009, Moore was a fellow at Columbia College’s Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media, which allowed her to take a reporting trip to Libya.

Portrait photo by Katherine Nagasawa.

natalieymoore.com

[Excerpt]

The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, 2016.

I am a child of Chatham.

I grew up in black segregated Chicago. Not in a neighborhood decimated by the 1968 riots, blight, poverty, white flight and boarded-up buildings. My South Side black cocoon was a solid black middle-class neighborhood. Judges, teachers, lawyers, doctors, city, postal and social workers live in Chatham. The neighborhood has an assorted housing stock: ranches, Georgians, sturdy bungalows, bi-level chic mid-century moderns. An unusual showstopper mansion, modeled after the White House and built with Robin’s egg blue bricks imported from Italy, stood on display around the corner where I grew up. Our family of five lived in a four-bedroom brick Cape Cod with an unfinished basement prone to flooding. The lower level had dark wood paneling, a bar and milk crates crammed with dusty records from my parents’ era – from a Redd Foxx comedy album to the Ohio Players to Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet.”

When we were growing up, ice cream trucks jingled in the summertime. We girls jumped double-dutch rope – despite my occasional double-handed turns – on the sidewalks in front of our homes. We rode our 10-speed bikes to buy Jay’s Salt N Vinegar potato chips, Now and Laters candy and dill pickles at the nearby Amoco gas station. We rotated having crushes on David, who lived around the corner and rode his bike incessantly up and down the streets. Pajama parties meant Jason and Freddy horror flicks on loop. We avoided the loose Doberman pinschers that would escape the gate of that big blue mansion. We jumped through lawn sprinklers in our swimsuits in backyards while our parents barbecued. We played makeshift baseball in the alley with tennis racquets. We blew out candles on pound cakes at our birthday parties. We had the kind of dramatic childhood fights that resulted in the silent treatment or smack talking. Posters of Michael Jackson, bedecked in the yellow “Human Nature” sweater, decorated our bedroom walls. We walked the track and swung on swings at Nat “King” Cole Park, named after the Chicago-born crooner. The park’s basketball courts hosted some of the city’s best street players in the 1970s and 1980s. Former Illinois U.S. Senator Roland Burris lived around the corner from our house (in gospel powerhouse Mahalia Jackson’s former residence) and he exemplified the cliché “it takes a village” by cajoling my parents to let me attend his alma mater, Howard University.

In our backyard, before the term “organic” entered mainstream culinary lexicon, my dad harvested vegetables. On Saturday mornings, my younger brother, sister and I pulled weeds to clear the way for him to plant cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, collard greens, eggplant, tomatoes and radishes. Every year he gently reminded me that Chicago weather wouldn’t allow him to grow my favorites – watermelon and strawberries. My mother drove a red Camaro for the better part of the 1980s. Not fire-engine or candy-apple red. More like the color of smeared red lipstick.

It would be years before I realized that I grew up in kind of a cozy racial cocoon of black middle-class vivacity in a city otherwise torn by racial division.