Eve Ewing is a poet, sociologist, artist, changemaker, bibliophile, among many other wonderful roles, capacities, and values. She was one of the several generous cultural workers who donated work for our annual fundraiser. Ten lucky donors received copies of her book of poetry, Electric Arches, and we’re sure they are much better for it being in their lives. She took some time to tell us more about her and her work
1. Who are you, where do you work, and why do you do what you do as an organizer for education activism?
My name is Eve, and I am a writer and sociologist from Chicago. I work at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, although I think it would be more accurate to say I work in whatever spaces and places where people are having conversations about art, black liberation, feminism, joy, afrofuturism, and Chicago.
I do a lot of different things depending on the day, but one mode in which I am trying to pursue educational transformation is as a writer. I wrote a book coming out this year about school closures and racism, called Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. The book represents my attempt to provide a cohesive framework for us to have a conversation about school closings and the impact they have on communities, a conversation that bridges the interests of policymakers, educators, organizers, and concerned citizens. I also write for public outlets and on social media about education policy issues and, more broadly, issues in Chicago that indirectly shape our students’ lives and experiences (like housing and gentrification(.
I also consider my artistic practices to be part of an educational project. I wrote a book of poetry called Electric Arches which is intended to invite people into a space of dreaming or imagining alternate realities for the city. I also co-wrote a play called No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks which is intended to be a community-accessible way of talking about artists as educators and active community members. That is a recurring theme in my work– the idea that a poet is, to quote Sesame Street, a person in your neighborhood! I co-organize an event called the Chicago Poetry Block Party which is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a big block party that is designed to bring poetry into a neighborhood setting where people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy it. I see cultural organizing as an important part of education organizing because it’s one way we can manifest our principles about what learning communities can and should look like: accessible, intergenerational, connected to lived experiences, joyful.
2. What five books have been essential to your formation as an education activist?
I actually don’t identify as an activist so much as an organizer, although I don’t feel strongly about what people call me since I know everyone has their own definitions. But I love talking about books so let’s get to that part.
So Much Reform, So Little Change, by Charles Payne. This book made me understand early on that the over-simplified silver bullet solutions people come up with for education “reform” will always be woefully inadequate as long as they ignore the context in which the struggle is taking place.
To Teach: A Journey in Comics, by Bill Ayers. I just love this little book because when I started out teaching, it was the best representation (to me) of how I felt about the practice, and it made me feel really seen. It’s an accessible and celebratory book by a very kind mentor of mine.
Teaching to Transgress, by bell hooks. This was the first book I read that brought together an understanding of radical education with black feminism, and it basically blew up my whole world for that reason. It has so many fundamental truths about education in it and also introduces some important historical points about the history of black education in this country.
Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde. This book is not specifically about education but it helped to shape a lot of my worldview and sense of the possible and my general ethical stance.
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I return to this book over and over because of the passage where Douglass describes his experience of learning to read and write. I keep it in my heart at all times to remind me how radical black education is at its very heart, to remind me that reading and writing are insurgent acts, and to remind me of how my ancestors struggled and how my work is a continuation of that struggle.
3. What are three things you love about what you do?
I love reading so much. I can’t believe it’s my job to read. It’s a dream come true.
I love going around to different communities and just seeing kids and teachers in action. I love children so much. I love watching them learn, I love heir humor and their insights and their levity, and I love the thousand moments of innovation and understanding that make up a regular day in a a child’s life.
I love my city and how many people are determined to make it better. I love my comrades and how hard their work. I love that even when it all seems impossible, I am not alone.