This week L.A. Letters examines the unfolding debate at Cal State L.A. and discusses why Ethnic Studies and events like Black History Month remain important.
Originally I was going to write about the “Writing from California” series of readings at the Central Library this weekend but when I ran into the students on campus protesting last week, my plans changed.
This week L.A. Letters spotlights Luis Rodriguez’s distinguished career and also highlights the larger community of writers from Boyle Heights to Pacoima and Sylmar that count him as their mentor.
Best selling poet, journalist, fiction writer, children’s book author, publisher, and bookstore proprietor Luis Rodriguez is running for governor in California in 2014.
Considering Rodriguez’s groundbreaking literary career over the last 30 years, he’s undoubtedly already proven himself as a community leader.
Rodriguez is making an extra big push for his campaign in mid-February, and one of the events includes Rodriguez and a cadre of the city’s stalwart Chicano and Chicana poets reading at four different Metro stops along the Gold Line, from East L.A. to Union Station.
Dubbed “The Luis Rodriguez Poetry Locomotive,” this event has generated a great buzz in the poetry scene.
Before discussing more about the poetry locomotive, an idea from the great poet Adrienne Rich puts Rodriguez’s work in proper context.
“Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.”—
This week L.A. Letters showcases four African-American poets that have made major contributions to the city’s literary community.
Over 900 people came out last Saturday to the opening at the Craft & Folk Art Museum to see Timothy Washington's “Love Thy Neighbor.” Fever about the Black Art scene in Los Angeles has been steadily building since Kellie Jones' landmark exhibition, “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960 - 1980” was held at the Hammer Museum in 2011.
This week L.A. Letters showcases this community further and discusses four African-American poets that have made major contributions to the city’s literary community, even if they no longer live in Los Angeles or are not officially associated with local spaces like Leimert Park.
The first L.A. Letters of 2014 looks at three early iconic books focused on Los Angeles.
"Reminiscences of a Ranger" by Major Horace Bell was published in 1881; "Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853-1913," by Harris Newmark was published in 1916; and "The California I Love" by Leo Carrillo was published in 1961.
As old as these three volumes are, they will be relevant forever because they paint vivid early portraits of the state and city.
Picking up where last week left off, this week L.A. Letters presents more notable books from 2013, as well as a few new developments and notes on the last year in literature.
One of the biggest themes in recent years is the emergence of more and more creative enclaves across Southern California.
As much as neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, Leimert Park, and Venice drive the creative landscape, there are dozens of hidden pockets bursting with activity.
The expansion of creative sites adds new life to unexpected pockets, like Pacoima, Alhambra, Whittier, Downey, La Puente, Northridge, North Long Beach, Laguna Beach, a few of these lesser known sites will be noted along with the books listed below.
Books and love for Los Angeles form the backbone of this column, along with California history, urban studies, architecture, and poetry with some selected fiction. This week L.A. Letters looks at the past year in books.
This week in LA Letters…..
Making book lists inevitably misses many deserving titles.
To cover all the bases, I have decided to make two lists: ten books presented this week, and another ten will be discussed next week.
Some of the books have a shorter explanation because they have already been covered in previous columns, which you can find in the linked pages.
All but two of the books below were published in 2013.
This week L.A. Letters examines Alhambra, the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley.
Nestled between Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Gabriel, San Marino, El Sereno, City Terrace and Monterey Park, Alhambra is one of the oldest suburbs in Los Angeles County, dating back to the arrival of the transcontinental railroad and the boom of the 1880s.
Its placement between Monterey Park and Pasadena also reflects the current mix of Chinese, Latin, and old school Americana that come together to make the spirit of Alhambra.
The proximity to Pasadena and Monterey Park is an excellent starting point for discussing Alhambra.
Just a few years younger than Pasadena, Alhambra was incorporated officially in 1903, though it began as an early boom town in the 1880s.
Benjamin Wilson, aka Don Benito, is the father of Alhambra; his life story is another article in itself.
A new biography on Wilson was recently published by Angel City Press.
Atlantic Boulevard was also originally named Wilson Avenue after him.
Across America, in Boston, Brooklyn, Oakland, Seattle, and San Diego, and across Los Angeles, on Main, Spring, and Broadway, preserved historic buildings are being reused, redeveloped, re-purposed for the 21st century.
The preservation movement has organically come to rise across America and worldwide over the last 50 years.
This week L.A. Letters unpacks the politics of preservation via two books published by the University of California Press: “California Vieja” and “Tokyo Vernacular.”
The discussion also examines a historic site of Japanese-American history, now slated for demolition, in Huntington Beach.
History has shown some sites saved and some demolished, the decision is almost always dictated by dollars.
"In urban terms," writes Ada Louise Huxtable, "preservation is the saving of the essence and style of other eras, through the architecture and urban forms, so that the meaning and flavor of those other times and tastes are incorporated into the mainstream of the city’s life. The accumulation is called culture."
Preservation is a powerful force and, along with nostalgia, it is often used to sell the city.
This phenomenon is captured in the 2006 book “California Vieja” by scholar Phoebe Kropp.
Preservation is among the major themes addressed, along with how early boosters used the Spanish past to sell California.
The author examines culture and memory in four iconic California venues: El Camino Real, Balboa Park, Olvera Street, and Rancho Santa Fe.
Eagle Rock-born Renaissance woman Marjorie Light is a one-woman art festival that DJs, teaches, and performs.
The Filipina musician, writer, DJ, educator, performer is at the vanguard of the Northeast L.A. arts community.
Graduate of Eagle Rock Elementary and High School, and then Pitzer College, Light reps Eagle Rock with flying colors.
Aside from her college years, she has lived almost all of her 30 years in the famed district below the big rock.
This week L.A. Letters honors Light, Eagle Rock and Filipino/a history in Southern California.
Considering last week’s catastrophic storm in the Philippines, it’s important to take a moment to recognize the incredible contribution that the Filipino community has made here in Southern California and, for that matter, America.
Filipino sailors were the first Asians in North America in the 16th Century; they were sailing with the Spanish Conquistadors.
The international reputation awarded to the Beat Generation and San Francisco Renaissance poets looms so large that the Bay Area is often the only region on the West Coast considered by the East Coast poetry establishment.
Thoughts on Los Angeles are often reduced to Hollywood, corporate culture and the primary poet associated with L.A. remains Charles Bukowski. Bill Mohr’s HOLD OUTSpublished by the University of Iowa Press, fills in the blanks with a multigenerational account of Southern California’s literary landscape from 1948 to 1992 that connects the dots between the Cold War, Beat Generation, Civil Rights era, the small press movement, punk rock and spoken word.
Recent studies of Los Angeles poetry have included books on Bukowski, the Watts Writers Workshop and the Venice Beats, but Mohr’s volume is the only one I’ve seen to connect the movements mapping out the cultural topography with specific writers, readings, bookstores and literary magazines.
This week L.A. Letters salutes the World Stage, reinforces its importance and draws the connection between other community arts organizations like Tuesday Night Café, Sunday Jump, Punk Hostage Press and Espacio 1839.
On numerous occasions in this column I have written about the World Stage and its central place in Leimert Park, and the literary landscape of Los Angeles and West Coast poetry.
See the Departures Leimert Park section for more history of the neighborhood along with my previous poem and articles.
In the last five years two legendary Leimert venues closed their doors for good: 5th Street Dicks and Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn.
Although both closed primarily because the original owner/founders had passed, the inflation of the last few years has made it much harder for community arts organizations to flourish or make ends meet, as market rates continue to climb.
Babe’s & Rickey’s was the last surviving club from Central Avenue, and lasted in Leimert for almost 20 years after moving there in 1996 from Central.
DT•LAB presents: POSTMODERN METROPOLIS WALKING TOURwith Mike The Poet Sonksen Join KCET Columnist & 3rd-generation Angeleno, Mike the PoeT for a Downtown LA Walking Tour starting from the LAst Bookstore. A Walking Poem Performance, the Tour includes folklore on the Historic Core, architecture & literary history with stops along Spring Street & the Central Library.
This week L.A. Letters explores two exceptional new books: “Urban Tumbleweed” by Harryette Mullen, and “Never Built Los Angeles” by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell.
Mullen’s is a book of cutting edge poetry, and “Never Built” is an art book dealing with Los Angeles architecture and urban history.
Their common bond is that they both take place in Los Angeles and offer an alternative vision, pregnant with hope and what really could be.
"Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary," published by Graywolf Press, is Harryette Mullen’s new book of poems, written from her daily habit of walking around her neighborhood and surrounding areas.
Many of the poems were written in Santa Monica, Venice, West L.A. and Westwood, where she is Professor of English and African-American Studies at UCLA.
Mullen adapts the Japanese tanka poetry form for her own purposes and uses it masterfully.