WICKER PARK — Kevin Coval moved to Wicker Park in the mid-1990s with a dream to become an artist.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to pursue learning how to become a writer,” he said. “I couldn’t have had a better community to fall into unknowingly.”
A couple decades later, Coval is a prolific author, poet and organizer. The Uptown resident has published a handful of books, including “A People’s History of Chicago,” “1989,” “The Number” and “This Is Modern Art.”
In his latest book, “Everything Must Go: Life and Death of an American Neighborhood“, Coval returns to his roots, using poetry to explore the causes of gentrification in Wicker Park during the 1990s and 2000s.
“I was living through a pretty significant transition,” he said. “Seeing it in front of me made me want to record that process of gentrification, and honor the people who helped to rear me in a lot of ways.”
Coval said his the poems in this book only “scratch the surface” of the history of Wicker Park.
“I was 20, 22 when this book was taking place. … I was also playing a role in gentrification,” he said. “This moment in Wicker Park is just another cycle in a long tradition of all these neighborhoods changing.”
A professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Coval said he approaches each of his poems and books as potential teaching tools to be used in classrooms.
“This book is ultimately making a kind of critique, but it’s also trying to celebrate, uplift and memorialize the people and places I loved,” he said. “I hope that makes people think about their own lives, and who and what and where they want to honor, and take a moment to walk through their neighborhood and say, ‘Yeah, I love that.'”
Coval said he hopes the book encourages readers to pay attention and appreciate the “minutiae” of their lives.
“The characters that exist in our neighborhoods, those are my heroes,” he said. “The dudes at the tire shop on Division Street. Those dudes are heroes to me.”
Everything Must Go was published by Haymarket Books. Learn more about Coval and his work on Haymarket’s website.
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