Books for the News

A Social Autopsy of Chicago’s Heat Wave

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The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article on Steven Simoncic’s new play, Heat Wave—a “drama detailing Chicago’s 1995 summer meltdown that killed more than 700 people.” Based on Eric Klinenberg’s book of the same name, the play remains true to its source by detailing, more than just a natural disaster but “the social fault lines that the heat wave revealed.” The Tribune‘s Louis R. Carlozo writes:

As the 100-degree days piled up, so did the corpses. Emergency rooms overcrowded to the breaking point; public officials bickered over whether heat or chronic health ailments caused the deaths. Yet as the heat broiled, no one disputed that temperatures inside many upper-floor apartments reached 125 degrees or more. While city denizens from Lincoln Park to Hyde Park cranked their air conditioners, or else cleared out of town during ComEd’s power outages, many with disabilities and the poorest of the poor had no place to go, no one to turn to. They suffered, and succumbed, in silence.…

Quoting Simoncic the article continues:

“As I read Eric’s book and ruminated on my drafts—which I did for two and a half years—I started to get protective of the victims. And I became [ticked] off for them. These people died and nobody noticed. Part of the reason for the book, and the play, was to tell the stories of those who were silenced, whose stories weren’t told.”

Especially relevant in light of recent events like hurricane Katrina, Heat Wave offers a revealing look at the failure of some of America’s most trusted social institutions in the face of disaster.
Check out the article online to view an additional multimedia piece that includes an interview with Simoncic, excerpts from the play , and news footage from the 1995 disaster.
Also, see this interview with Klinenberg about the book.