The goal of Big Shoulders Books is to disseminate, free of charge, quality works of writing by and about Chicagoans whose voices might not otherwise be shared. Each year Big Shoulders Books aims to make small but meaningful contributions to discussions of injustice and inequality in Chicago, a practice helped in large part by DePaul University students. Our publishing courses give both English graduate and undergraduate students a chance to gain invaluable hands-on publishing experience, editing texts through a directed sequence of publishing classes as well as electives.

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Rafael Torch (1975-2011) was a prize-winning essayist whose work appeared in such publications as the Antioch Review, Indiana Review, North American Review and Crab Orchard Review, the latter two of which have named literary awards in his honor. He earned his Masters of Arts in the humanities from the University of Chicago, where his thesis, an early draft of The Garcia Boy, was the recipient of the Catherine Ham Memorial Award for Excellence in graduate work. During his teaching career, he worked at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, the Latin School of Chicago and The Meadows School in Las Vegas.

This book tells the story of a brilliant young writer whose life was cut short by tragedy. In 2011, the award winning essayist Rafael Torch died from a rare form of cancer at age 36, just as his career was beginning to take off. Thanks to the work of students in the creative-writing program at DePaul University, his gripping memoir is now published for the first time


The son of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, Torch struggled with addiction before he became a teacher at a high school in a largely Latino community on Chicago’s Lower West Side. His unflinching memoir focuses on the murder of a star student at that school—a symbol of the overwhelming challenges sons and daughters of immigrants face as they attempt to find a place in larger society. What does it mean to be an American? And how does a person gain (or fail to gain) that identity?


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“I should have given him the hard evidence of my life, which was there in my eyes staring at him if he just looked at me seriously for one moment, deeply and without shame. He would have seen it: a ferocious alcoholism, the cocaine, the fistfights, broken noses, guns, my mother crying because she woke at the sounds of sirens in the middle of the night thinking, ‘He’s dead,’ the ruined and forlorn jail cells in which I learned the hard way. Free. I would have given it for free. We could have moved past all the personal innuendos of history and the uncomfortable formalities of personal revelation. I suppose I could have and should have, but I just didn’t do it because I didn’t know how to say it then. And I didn’t really know who he was yet. It was he who allowed me to see who I was. But he had to die for me to see, to witness and perceive.” —Rafael Torch, The Garcia Boy  





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