5 Questions with Jill Leovy

ghetoosideJill Leovy kicks off 5 Questions for the 2015 event season at City Lights. Jill is the author of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America (Speigel & Grau) and will be in conversation with Oscar Villalon, managing editor of ZYZZYVA this Tuesday.

Event: Tuesday, February 10 @ 7PM at City Lights Bookstore. Jill Leovy in conversation with Oscar Villalon, discussing her new book, Ghettoside.

About the Book: On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes.

But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift.

Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.

jill loevyGhettoside is fantastic. It does what the best narrative nonfiction does: It transcends its subject by taking one person’s journey and making it all our journeys. That’s what makes this not just a gritty, heart-wrenching, and telling book, but an important one. From the patrol cop to the president, everyone needs to read this book.”—Michael Connelly

About the Author: Jill Leovy is an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times. In 2007, she started the blog The Homicide Report, which documented every homicide in Los Angeles County.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?


Jill Leovy: I have never been to City Lights. I’ve been told it is in a basement, but I’m not sure this is true. I have high hopes of finding some books I didn’t know I needed while I’m there. There is nothing like the serendipity of stacks. I recently read a book by Michael Cook, the Near East historian, that I found randomly on the shelf at Left Bank Books in Seattle. It turned out to be one of those books one can’t do without, a milestone book, and I would never have read it were it not for the simple device of a physical shelf, and some leisure time in a store, with stairs and stacks and twists and turns. Who knew that I needed to read a book by a Near East studies professor? Turned out I most certainly did.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

JL: I almost never listen to music and know next to nothing about it. To hear music when I write sounds dangerously cinematic to me. I try very hard not to dramatize when I write, and even to anti-dramatize–to focus on the mundane whenever some satisfying arc starts to take shape in the narrative. Close readers of Ghettoside will notice that the plot actually peters out about halfway through the book. I’m very suspicious of story-telling, at the same time that I recognize its necessity, and how it stands as a means of interrogating the world when all else fails. I wrestle with contradictions in this area.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

JL: I can’t remember. I read books as a child that were inappropriate for me, and that I thought I understood, but did not … at all. I re-read many things for this reason. I recently read Peter Pan for the first time, and was glad I had never read it as a child. It is a book for adults …

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

JL: I’m not a writer. I’m a reporter.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no Wi-Fi).

JL: All I can think about it is survival gear–tent with rainfly, plastic tarp, water filter, etc. I’m very literal.


Jill will be at City Lights this Tuesday, February 10th at 7Pm, in conversation with Oscar Villalon. For more about Jill Leovy, check the Homicide Report.

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