'S Street Rising'

Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Library

'S Street Rising'

Ruben Castaneda shares his book detailing his experiences as a Washington Post reporter during DC's crack epidemic

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw neighborhood library was proud to host a talk on Tuesday, Oct. 21 by Shaw’s own Ruben Castaneda, author of the book S Street Rising. As a Washington Post journalist during the devastating crack epidemic of the early '90s, Castaneda covered the crime beat.

Multiple generations of D.C. residents sat in rapt attention listening to stories about the way things used to be. Castaneda should know—he was out on the corners not only as a Post writer, but also as a crack user.
In S Street Rising, the author describes a city that has, for better or worse, died out. To a packed house, Castaneda painted a picture of drug wars, prostitution and daily murders.

I moved into D.C. in the late '90s, when the last traces of battle-scarred streets were rapidly disappearing. In the two years between when I moved to D.C. in 1998 and when I started working at DC Public Library in 2000, Washington had 744 homicides. By comparison, between 1990 and 1992, there were 1,399 homicides. This is a decrease of almost 50 percent in only two years. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we’ve escaped those staggering numbers. But I do wonder about life back then. Is it possible to look back on those times, if only superficially?

I understand the tendency to want to put the '90s behind us. It’s more pleasant to focus on the positive things happening now. I have trouble squaring the image of Shaw today with that of the bombed-out war-zone depicted in S Street Rising. But there is value in looking back.

As Castaneda spoke to a packed auditorium at the library, I was struck by a question: Is it possible to bridge the gap between Not in my neighborhood and Yes, in your neighborhood? The answer is that it takes the voice of someone who was there. Tonight’s turnout demonstrates that today’s Shaw residents — many of whom, like me, did not live here then — are interested.

Let S Street Rising be a window into that world. A window you’ll want to shut behind you, but worth the view.

(Thank you to Janna Tanner for organizing this amazing event!)
- Casey Danielson
    Author Ruben Castaneda speaks at Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library