Streetwise Revisited: Memoirs and Biographies

Follow us throughout the fall for posts which highlight library resources and information that supports the Tiny: Streetwise Revisited exhibit at the Central Library and its community programming.

Memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies are a common way for people to write their own personal history or the history of others. Here are a few books written by and about people who are currently or who have been homeless at some point in their lives.


Pitch Black: Don’t Be Skerd by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton is the result of Anthony, who resides under the New York City subway, meeting Youme, a book artist.  They strike up a conversation on the subway one day and find out they are both artists.  Part of Anthony’s life makes up this slim but powerful graphic novel.  Here’s a peek into Anthony’s life that happens countless times every single day: “People don’t see me. As far as they’re concerned … I don’t exist.”  There are ups and downs in Anthony’s life and I recommend, no I actually dare you, to read this book.

Published in 2008 this best-selling book was later made into a movie starring Jamie Foxx the-soloistand Martin Downey, Jr., The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez is about more than just music. Try to picture Nathaniel Ayers, a former classical bass student at Juilliard, located at Lincoln Center Plaza in New York City.  Then see him, homeless and battling schizophrenia playing his violin on the Skid Row streets of Los Angeles. Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, can’t walk past Nathaniel because his playing is so beautiful.  They get to know each other in fits and starts.  Nathaniel’s repertoire includes a lot of classical music and, oh yeah, he has fears and dreams.  Don’t we all?  Lopez, the book’s author, has quite the journey in getting to know and trying to help Anthony.  After reading the book, Google “Where’s Nathaniel Ayers now?” to get the latest updates.

undocumentedUndocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League by Dan-El Padilla Peralta is one of many books by people who ultimately found their way against the odds to attend college.  Dan-El Padilla Peralta left the Dominican Republic legally with his family but they found New York City a harder place to live than they imagined.  His father’s visa expires and he must return home.  The rest of the family lives in a downtown shelter and the local library was Dan-El’s safe haven.  It was there that he met a young volunteer who instilled in Dan-El the desire and will to work on being the best student possible.  This friendship and Dan-El’s hard work leads him to Princeton…and the story doesn’t stop there.

So possibly these three books are not appealing to you?  I’m an optimist so here’s a few more to check out: A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen, Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless (With Kids) in America by Rebecca Kennedy, and Original Voices: Homeless and Formerly Homeless Women’s Writings.

Hope you come to the Central Library to the Level 8 Gallery to see the Tiny: Streetwise Revisited exhibit, up through November 3. Get ready to learn about Erin Blackwell, whose street name was Tiny, and see part of her life through powerful documentary photography. Make sure to visit Level 9 where there’s a display through October of most of these books.  My dream is that they all get checked out and read!

Learn what life on the streets is really like from those who have experienced it firsthand in these nonfiction works. This list was created by a librarian at The Seattle Public Library for the “Streetwise Revisited: A 30-Year Journey” exhibit, September 15th through November 3rd, 2016 at the Central Library: Streetwise Revisited: Home is Where My Heart Is — Homelessness Written, Voiced and Seen

~posted by Marion S.

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