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CWP | Writer as Witness


Fax: 202-885-2938
Battelle Tompkins, Room 237

Burgtorf, Michael R
Sr. Administrative Assistant

4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016-8047

2016 Writer as Witness Colloquium

Ruben Casteneda - S Street Rising

S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in D.C.
By Ruben Castaneda

Bender Arena,
Wed., Sept. 7.
8:00 p.m.

On behalf of the Department of Literature and the College Writing Program, we welcome you to American University. To set the stage for your first year here at AU, we have chosen a book that we call our "community text" for you to read before you arrive in August.You and your classmates will discuss the book and write about it in your College Writing class. The College Writing Program and the Campus Store will also sponsor an essay contest to honor the best writing inspired by the community text.

The dialogue we develop around the challenging themes that define our community texts unifies our students and faculty in an intellectual experience. When we ask tough questions, explore controversy, listen to one another respectfully, and sharpen our claims, we illustrate how writing is a social act at the heart of an academic community. Welcoming our text’s author to campus to discuss their work is an essential part of that shared intellectual experience.

We’re delighted to announce this year’s choice: Ruben Castaneda’s S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in DC.  A former reporter for the Washington Post, Ruben Castaneda has won several journalism awards, including recognition for feature writing from the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Front Page Awards. We will bring Mr. Castaneda to campus this fall for the nineteenth annual Writer as Witness Colloquium on Wednesday, September 7 at 8:00 p.m. in Bender Arena. He will address the American University community and meet with students and faculty to discuss the book, as well as the craft, artistry and research that went into its creation.

In S Street Rising, Castaneda weaves an incisive narrative of Washington during the apex of the crack epidemic in the late-80s and early-90s.Through provocative – and even uncomfortable – moments, readers are given an unblinking account of the challenges this epidemic created for the D.C. community, city officials, law enforcement, and even Castaneda himself.The Washington Post calls S Street Rising "A tense, unflinching chronicle" and "a gritty and utterly convincing street-level portrait of a dark chapter in the city’s history, reflected in the dark mirror of Castaneda’s own addiction." But Castaneda’s account is not without redemption; as Publisher’s Weekly notes, "Castaneda writes movingly of the unlikely wellsprings of solidarity and hope in communities that society has written off." S Street Rising was a finalist for the 2015 International Latino Book Awards for English-language biography, and was named one of the best books of 2014 by the website Brightest Young Things.

Previous Writer as Witness Texts

2015: Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid, by Jessica Alexander

2014: The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media, by Brooke Gladstone

2013: Notes from No Man's Land, by Eula Biss

2012: The End of Country, by Seamus McGraw

2011: The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel

2010: The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy, by Lisa Dodson

2009: True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, by Farhad Manjoo

2008: The Devil's Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea

2007: The Ponds of Kalambayi, by Mike Tidwell

2006: Love in the Driest Season, by Neely Tucker

2005: Fragments of Grace, by Pamela Constable

2004: Newjack, by Ted Conover

2003: First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung

2002: Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol

2001: Bad Land, by Jonathan Raban

2000: Almost a Woman, by Esmeralda Santiago

1999: My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese

1998: There Are No Children Here, by Alex Kotlowitz


Read Writer as Witness 2015 winner Lauren Bowring's essay, "The Change of Body Image in Ghana due to Westernization of Media."

Once you’ve read S Street Rising and have heard Ruben Castaneda speak on Wednesday, September 7, you’ll have the opportunity to contribute your voice to the Writer as Witness Program.

Open to all College Writing students. Sponsored by the College Writing Program and AU Campus Store.

For more information, please contact John Hyman, Director of the College Writing Program, at

Students with globe.

AU Store Discount
& Library Resources

Coming Soon: AU Library Resources for S Street Rising!

The AU Campus Store will be offering S Street Rising at a discount. Copies will also be available for purchase at the Campus Store during New Student Orientations, when you’ll have your first opportunity to talk with classmates about the text.