S Street Rising


S Street Rising

Ruben Castaneda
S Street Rising
(Bloomsbury USA, July 2014)

Read about S Street Rising in the Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction

S Street Rising was chosen as Nylon’s sole DC representative on its state-by-state list of best nonfiction books


During the height of the crack epidemic that decimated the streets of D.C., Ruben Castaneda covered the crime beat for the Washington Post. The first in his family to graduate from college, he had landed a job at one of the country’s premier newspapers. But his apparent success masked a devastating secret: he was a crack addict. Even as he covered the drug-fueled violence that was destroying the city, he was prowling S Street, a 24/7 open-air crack market, during his off hours, looking for his next fix. Castaneda’s remarkable book, S Street Rising, is more than a memoir; it’s a portrait of a city in crisis. It’s the adrenalin-infused story of the street where Castaneda quickly became a regular, and where a fledgling church led by a charismatic and streetwise pastor was protected by the local drug kingpin, a dangerous man who followed an old-school code of honor. It’s the story of Castaneda’s friendship with an exceptional police homicide commander whose career was derailed when he ran afoul of Mayor Marion Barry and his political cronies. And it’s a study of the city itself as it tried to rise above the bloody crack epidemic and the corrosive politics of the Barry era. S Street Rising is The Wire meets the Oscar-winning movie Crash. And it’s all true.

“…A tense, unflinching chronicle…S Street Rising is a gritty and utterly convincing street-level portrait of a dark chapter in the city’s history, reflected in the dark mirror of Castaneda’s own addiction.”
Washington Post book review

“At the height of the DC crack epidemic, the author was a crime reporter for the Washington Post. He worked nights, and he was also a crack addict–sometimes covering homicides on the very street where one of the women who served as a go-between to his dealers had shelled out forty bucks for a score on his behalf only hours before…Unlike most addict-memoirists, who douse the page with their personal messes like junkies writing their names in blood on the ceiling, Castaneda makes himself a character in the larger DC parable of power, crime, and urban blight…Castaneda remains the old-school reporter, who’s most comfortable with the life stories of victims and perps, uncovering the poignant details of their existence, be it high or low, with a craft and compassion that puts him in the front ranks of journalists working today…As its narrative strands weave more tightly together, S Street Rising becomes a powerful, propulsive, narcotically fueled cri de coeur for an entire city. Just as riveting are the asides and anecdotes spun out from the central plot, like the hilarious saga of two DC cops who flew to Tanzania to pick up a murder suspect named Mowatt: “The temperature in Tanzania felt about a thousand degrees. But Mowatt was still dressed like a D.C. gangster, in jeans, a long-sleeved Polo shirt, and Timberland boots. He spoke some half-assed Jamaican. The two lawmen asked Mowatt to pose with them for a photo.”…A book this unflinching is every bit as cathartic for the reader as it is for the writer.”
–Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight, in BookForum

“Former Washington Post reporter Castaneda takes on DC’s (and his own) crack era in this memoir/social history. It’s hard to find a better perspective: Castaneda writes as a recovering crack addict as well as the Post’s crime reporter from 1989 until 1997, when DC was still known as the Murder Capital. (He covered local court issues, police brutality in particular, until 2011.) The author follows several stories: his own as he struggles to balance addiction, and eventually recovery, with his career; that of The New Community Church in the war-torn neighborhood where Castaneda once purchased drugs; and that of Lou Hennessy, onetime DC police commander of homicide. It’s a story about healing and redemption as much as it is about the enormous toll this powerfully addictive drug took on the city, but none of these people or places emerge unscathed. VERDICT ­Castaneda puts his years of reportorial writing to quality use—this work is a page-turner. Recommended for readers especially interested in the war on drugs or DC and for fans of David Carr’s The Night of the Gun or HBO’s The Wire.”
Library Journal

“Castaneda’s page-turner, told with easygoing charm and great skill, is an unstinting unveiling of who got away with what and when and how Castaneda followed the action and found himself.”

“An engrossing portrait . . . . Castaneda writes movingly of the unlikely wellsprings of solidarity and hope in communities that society has written off.”
Publishers Weekly

“Dramatic . . . Explosive and informed by good reporting.”
–Kirkus Reviews