Earlier this month, New York magazine published an excerpt from renowned journalist Alex Kotlowitz’s new book An American Summer. Like previous works of his, such as the book There Are No Children Here and the film The Interrupters, An American Summer is focused on violence and black life in Chicago. (“Kotlowitz aims to tell unforgettable stories about the afterlife of homicide, how it penetrates the minds, bodies and communities of those it touches. He succeeds,” wrote the Times.) So was the excerpt, which told the story of the murder of Ramaine Hill, a Chicago man who was shot in 2013 after having testified against a man who had shot him years before.
Yesterday Nicholas Jackson, editor of Pacific Standard, tweeted that the excerpt appeared to have disappeared, which indeed it had:
(Splinter isn’t linking the story or the tweet for the same reason the story turned out to have been taken down.)
In response to an inquiry from Splinter asking why the story had been memory-holed, a spokesperson for New York—which unpublished a xenophobic essay calling Priyanka Chopra a “global scam artist” this past December and replaced it with an editor’s note after it provoked widespread, justified outrage—provided an on the record statement that concealed more than it revealed.
“In consultation with Alex Kotlowitz, the author of ‘Ramaine Hill Bore Witness,’” the statement read, “New York Magazine decided to remove the story from its website.” A spokesperson for Knopf, Kotlowitz’s publisher, was more forthcoming:
The family featured in the excerpt, upon seeing their names online, became concerned about possible ramifications around their safety given the public and easy access of the internet. There are no questions of plagiarism or accuracy. Alex asked the magazine if they’d be agreeable to pulling the excerpt from the website out of respect for the family’s concerns.
In response to follow-up questions, the spokesperson said that future editions of the book will be altered to protect their anonymity:
Alex has strong relationships with the subjects of the book. In light of the family’s concerns about the excerpt on the internet, last week Alex decided to pre-emptively change their names in future editions of AN AMERICAN SUMMER to provide them anonymity moving forward.
By publication time, this spokesperson had not responded to a question asking if there were any plans to address these concerns given that the book is already in stores and libraries all over the country, as well as digital archives. Neither Kotlowitz’s agent nor a family member of Hill’s had returned messages. This story will be updated if we hear from any of them.
In response to further questions, New York’s spokesperson said, “I would just add to the statement I sent yesterday that we removed the story in consultation with Alex Kotlowitz due to worries about safety of people in the story. We did not include an editor’s note due to the reasoning behind the decision (worries about safety).”
The story remains easily accessed and readily available, as will the book, whatever changes are made in future editions. While it makes sense to attempt to limit any damage they could cause, the answers to the larger questions here—how they were published as is, and just what they can be done about it now—remain unclear.