The Sealey Challenge: Wild Hundreds

Nate Marshall's WILD HUNDREDS, in front of a sea of yellow flowers.
Wild Hundreds

Nate Marshall’s Wild Hundreds is a South Side song, poetry that could, I think, come only out of our side of Chicago. It reaches back to Chicago’s past—and famed writers of bygone days, who’ve given us nicknames and notoriety—while telling an inherently contemporary (and timeless) tale of the Wild Hundreds, Roseland and its environs.

Wild Hundreds takes place not so very far from where I grew up in Hyde Park, and yet also worlds away. We share that Sox cap, and some of us have watched white flight in our neighborhoods (in my case, that was in the suburbs—my neighborhood in Hyde Park wasn’t white to begin with), but our daily realities tend to be very different.

Marshall brings that other Chicago to stark and beautiful light, reminding us of the joy and the beauty to be found in the Wild Hundred even as he catalogues the sorrow and the white supremacy. (I, too, was warned about Mount Greenwood, though I am white: as the daughter of an old activist, I was told to avoid the streets, don’t look too close, don’t draw their eyes, lest they realize you don’t belong. And I am white, and look like them.)

But Wild Hundreds isn’t just a catalog of grief, and of white supremacy throughout the city, exploding in Mount Greenwood. (And through the ages! Columbus is here, too!) It’s a love song to people and place, a celebration of family and Harold’s Chicken and the places and things and spaces that make Chicago’s South Side home. It’s rough and it’s stark and it’s beautiful, full of life and vibrancy in the face of adversity (and our white supremacist society, which seems a lot bigger than just Adversity).

It’s hard to really review Wild Hundreds: it means worlds to me, and I think it’s stunning, stark and beautiful and heartrending and loving, a catalog of South Side life. It’s a reminder of the faces and the names behind the homicide numbers, of the importance of those closed schools. (Eve Ewing has a book about them, by the way.) I love Wild Hundreds. I will read it again, and again. I’ll be reading Finna soon, too. It is Chicago poetry, and South Side poetry, and I think it will stand alongside Sandburg and Algren and Brooks, soon enough.

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