The Institute Letter Spring 2015

I gave a copy of the preprint of my paper to Robert Oppenheimer, who, as Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, was my host. A week later I met him at an Eastern Physics Meeting at the University of Maryland, my home institution. When I asked him if he had read my paper, he replied, “Greenberg, it’s beautiful!” I was elated. After a pause, he completed his assessment of my paper by saying, “But I don’t believe a word of it!”

In his 1951 poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes, writer and social activist, famously questioned the outcome of a “dream deferred.” Does such a dream dry up, fester, stink, crust and sugar over, or sag like a heavy load, he pondered. Then, foreshadowing the hundreds of race riots that would take place in the 1960s and 1970s, he ends his poem with an emphatic query: Or does it explode?




What is real about this ethnography—what hasn’t been altered or rendered anonymous—are the events that I describe and the voices of my collaborators. Their voices bring to life the activities that take place on Chicago’s street corners. Their voices bring dimension to people’s identities and life struggles. Their voices paint a portrait of the variegated desires that stem from imagining life anew.