How Chicago’s cultural history inspired ‘Energy Never Dies’ by Ayana Contreras

Author Ayana Contreras came to campus on Feb. 9 to speak about her recent publication, “Energy Never Dies.” Photo of Contreras courtesy of Owsiany.

Claire Owsiany | Contributing Writer

Wednesday, Feb. 9, record collector and author Ayana Contreras came to University of Dayton to talk about what influenced her recent publication, “Energy Never Dies: Afro-optimism and Creativity in Chicago.” Contreras’ book illustrates a culmination of archival practice with pieces that inspired her and will continue to inspire future generations. 

Contreras was invited to Dayton by Shazia Rahman, author and UD English professor.

Rahman said, “I brought her to campus because I wanted our campus community to hear about her book detailing Black history in Chicago. Often we don’t think about the good that art and music can do for a community. Ayana helps us understand that.”

Contreras is many things: an avid record collector, music director and director of content at Vocalo Radio 91.1FM in Chicago (affiliated with NPR), host and producer of Reclaimed Soul (airs on Vocalo and WEBZ), columnist for Downbeat Magazine and recent author of “Energy Never Dies: Afro-optimism and Creativity in Chicago.”

Published in 2021, “Energy Never Dies” demonstrates the effects of Chicago’s artistic archives in today’s Windy City. Contreras includes cultural art, music, media and advertising that Black Chicago has to influence the culture today. Contreras focuses on a few artistic archives that she has dug up over the years, from advertisements for Afro Sheen and pages from Ebony and Jet magazines to rare vinyl records and pictures and Black Soul music that inspired her to collect records.

Contreras spoke about the lack of appreciation for the black community in Chicago, and when talking about the Ebony and Jet: Hue magazine. 

“Glamorous images of black people in 1970 were sometimes hard to find… but seeing those things was another surface- just an advertisement in Ebony and Jet served the community in giving people affirming images,” Contreras said. 

While speaking about the journey of her career and writing a book, Conteras said, “What kept me going was understanding that things will work out, even if not in the timeline or the way I want to, they will work out.”

She is inspired by the images that she showed and how they reflect the creators’ true creative being. 

Contreras’ book takes the history of black Chicago and conveys the influence it has on today’s culture, emphasizing the inspiration on creativity and pride. It seeks to inspire the youth and future generations to  their cultural background and to appreciate what came before them. 

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