Going All City (University of Chicago Press)
In the age of Banksy, hipster street art, and commissioned wall murals, it’s easy to forget graffiti’s complicated and often violent past in the United States. From the 1970s to the 2000s, cities across the US waged a war against it, complete with brutal police task forces. Who were the much-maligned taggers they targeted? Teenagers, usually, from low-income neighborhoods with little to their names except a few spray cans and a desperate need to be seen—to mark their presence on city walls and buildings even as their cities turned a blind eye to them.
Going All City is the mesmerizing and painful story of these young graffiti writers, told by one of their own. Prolific LA writer Stefano Bloch came of age in the late 1990s amid constant violence, poverty, and vulnerability. He recounts vicious interactions with police; debating whether to take undocumented friends with gunshot wounds to the hospital; coping with his mother’s heroin addiction; instability and homelessness; and his dread that his stepfather would get out of jail and tip his unstable life into full-blown chaos. But he also recalls moments of peace and exhilaration: marking a fresh tag; the thrill of running with his crew at night; exploring the secret landscape of LA; the dream and success of going all city.
Bloch holds nothing back in this fierce, poignant memoir. Going All City is an unflinching portrait of a deeply maligned subculture and an unforgettable account of what writing on city walls means to the most vulnerable people living within them.
Praise for Going All City:
“This vivid autoethnography provides a shattering account of life in the LA ‘gang hoods’—and the warmth and companionship that somehow survives the horrors. A remarkable picture, presented with insight and sympathetic understanding.”—Noam Chomsky
“Bloch unflinchingly peels back all the layers of artifice, hype, and sensationalism to reveal a stark portrait of struggling to survive and make meaning in a landscape of disorder and deprivation.”—Alex S. Vitale, author of The End of Policing
“Going All City is an amazing read that is impossible to put down. A cutting-edge geographical exploration of under-examined Los Angeles landscapes, this poignant, insightful book is unique within graffiti scholarship and expansive in our understanding of the city. Depicting the pain of a childhood spent in poverty, the ambiguity of race, and the subjective experience of policing and gangs, this is the remarkable story of just one of thousands of young people who have found power in the clandestine practice of graffiti.”—Susan Phillips, author of The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti
Stefano Bloch is a cultural and urban geographer and a semi-retired graffiti writer from Los Angeles. He is assistant professor in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona. Going All City is Bloch’s first book. He is on Instagram at @goingallcity.
Author photo credit Maria Celis