Good Kids Bad City
Kyle Swenson
Contributed by Greta Venegas

Biography of the Author

Kyle Swenson is an American author and journalist working as a staff writer for The Washington Post (The Washington Post, 2019). In 2007, Swenson graduated from Kenyon College with a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature. Before joining The Washington Post in June 2017, Swenson worked for the New Times Broward Palm Beach (WashPostPR, 2017). His reporting on the criminal justice system has won several awards, including the Sigma Delta Chi Ward and the Salute to Excellence from the National Association of Black Journalists. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists in 2015. His first book, Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America was published on February 12, 2019.

Context of the Book

The book, Good Kids, Bad City, was published on February 12, 2019 by Picador. According to Swenson, the work is nonfiction and is based on hours of interviews with Rickey, Wiley, and Kwame — former inmates who are also the book’s main characters, as well as other subjects. Therefore, the book’s scenes, dialogue, and even the interior thoughts of the individuals were all taken from actual interviews. The author also remarks that notes taken from his reporting, from 2011 to 2014, were key in developing the book’s plot. To shape the historical accounts, as well as the legal theory behind the narrative, the author used sources like Kenneth Kusmer’s A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930, and Elizabeth Hilton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America.

According to Whitaker (2019), the book addresses the failures of America’s criminal justice system, particularly when dealing with African American men, and tells the reader about the lives of the three defendants after their wrongful convictions — and that of their lone accuser, Edward Vernon, a 12-year-old boy who had acted as a key witness for the police. The book also showcases Cleveland’s history, one that has been fraught with racial tensions and systemic discrimination, as well as providing insight into the shortcomings of America’s government institutions and the struggles people go through when living in racially-divided communities (Anderson, 2018). It was published at a time when issues such as corruption, racial discrimination, police brutality, and bad governance — which are some of the main themes the book addresses — were at the forefront of popular culture.

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