Skip to main content
Cover for Energy Never Dies

Energy Never Dies

Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago

Ayana Contreras


List Price: 19.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (12/14/2021)


From Afro Sheen to Theaster Gates and from Soul Train to Chance the Rapper, Black Chicago draws sustenance from a culture rooted in self-determination, aspiration, and hustle. In Energy Never Dies, Ayana Contreras embarks on a journey to share the implausible success stories and breathtaking achievements of Black Chicago's artists and entrepreneurs. Past and present generations speak with one another, maintaining a vital connection to a beautiful narrative of Black triumph and empowerment that still inspires creativity and pride. Contreras weaves a hidden history from these true stories and the magic released by undervalued cultural artifacts. As she does, the idea that the improbable is always possible emerges as an indestructible Afro-Optimism that binds a people together.

Passionate and enlightening, Energy Never Dies uses the power of storytelling to show how optimism and courage fuel the dreams of Black Chicago.

Praise For Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago

"Best 184-page love letter to Chicago." --Chicago Reader

"This is a beautiful and hopeful ode to Black Chicago: its music, dance, creativity, innovation, hustle, history, connections, generations and more." --Ms. Magazine

"Contreras's Chicago is a place where the dreams of the driven come true. Her world, elaborately described with poetic language, is not only a nice place to visit but one where those of us who envision a brighter and better Chicago must take up residency if we want our visions to become manifest." --Chicago Magazine

"This book reads like an excellent DJ’s set on a night out: filled with hits and some satisfying B-sides and a unique blend that only a real master could muster." --TRiiBE

"[Contreras is] a sharp connector of local history, with a knack for weaving seemingly disparate threads of Black Chicago into a fresh portrait." --Chicago Tribune

"Contreras puts virtually every aspect of Black Chicago culture, music, business breakthroughs, and more on the table, then shows exactly how they are all interconnected. She writes the book as the Black experience is actually lived--this guy knows that guy, but the other guy used to work for the two of them. And none of it would’ve happened were it not for a certain audacious manner of hope and optimism found in Black Chicago."--Lee Bey, author of Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago's South Side

"In Energy Never Dies, Ayana Contreras crafts an intensely intimate and loving portrait of Black Chicago that that will illuminate, even to lifelong South and West Siders, the distinctiveness of our cultural history and worldview. This book offers urgently needed blueprints for extending the work and actualizing the dreams of the Great Migrants."--Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, coeditor of L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema

University of Illinois Press, 9780252086113, 192pp.

Publication Date: December 14, 2021

About the Author

Ayana Contreras is a radio host/producer at Chicago Public Media, a founder/blogger at, and a columnist and reviewer at DownBeat Magazine.