"Going All City," Stefano Bloch's memoir about growing up in 1990s Los Angeles, is a surprising and intimate look inside the life of a graffiti writer. Bloch's childhood was chaotic and unstable: His mother was a drug addict, his father was gone, his stepfather was usually in prison, his older brother was a gang member. The family was often homeless, and they sometimes went days without food. Graffiti was young Stefano's passion. It kept him grounded, gave him a goal, kept him out of gangs. But it was incredibly dangerous, nights spent walking through bombed-out neighborhoods, dodging cops and gangs, in order to leave his distinctive mark — his name, Cisco, in enormous rounded letters — on light poles, bus shelters, underpasses and walls. His descriptions of how he created the graffiti — the way he controlled the paint spray, the little tilt and sway of his body as he wrote — are pure poetry.

Bloch and his friends were threatened, beat up, shot and arrested, and Bloch nearly died after being hit by a car while dashing across a freeway. Somehow, he came out of these dire circumstances to become an ethnographer, and he writes this memoir with the perspective of an academic, telling the story in a measured way, with context that gives it scope and meaning.

He survived, but he lost many friends along the way. "Being 'writers' gave us something to live for," he writes. "And for some of my friends, it was something to die for."