Luis J. Rodriguez

Season 3: Raising the bar for.. The Social Order

Luis J. Rodriguez has emerged as one of the leading Chicano writers in the country with fifteen published books in memoir, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, and poetry. Luis’ poetry has won a Poetry Center Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, and a Paterson Poetry Book Prize, among others. His children’s books— América Is Her Name and It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way —have won a Patterson Young Adult Book Award, two Skipping Stones Honor Awards, and a Parent’s Choice Book Award. A short story collection, The Republic of East LA, and a novel, Music of the Mill, came out in 2001 and 2005, both from Rayo Books/Harper Collins. A poetry collection, My Nature is Hunger appeared in 2005 from Curbstone Press/Rattle Edition (other poetry books have also been published by Curbstone Press and Tia Chucha Press). Limited-edition hand-made art books and broadsides of Luis’ poems have also been made by C & C Press of Pajaro, CA for sale to collectors, universities, libraries, and other institutions, including “Seven,” “Two Women/Dos Mujeres,” “Perhaps,” and “Making Medicine.”

Luis is best known for the 1993 memoir of gang life, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. (paperback by Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster). Now selling more than 400,000 copies, this book garnered a Carl Sandburg Literary Award, a Chicago Sun-Times Book Award, and was designated a New York Times Notable Book. It became a stage play by the Cornerstone Theater Company at the Mark Taper Auditorium in the L.A. Public Library from 2003-2005 to 6,000 high school students, and at the Ivar Theater in Hollywood for a limited six-day run in 2005. Written as a cautionary tale for Luis’ then 15-year-old son Ramiro—who had joined a Chicago gang—the memoir is popular among youth and teachers. One Los Angeles Public Library official said Always Running is the most checked out book in their vast library system—and also the most “stolen.” Despite its popularity, the American Library Association called Always Running one of the 100 most censored books in the United States

His latest book is the long-awaited sequel to Always Running, entitled It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster), released in the fall of 2011. There is also an e-book from Simon & Schuster and an audio book of It Calls You Back from Dreamscape Audio Books.

Yet for all the controversy, Luis has gained the respect of the literary community. Among his awards, he’s received a City of Los Angeles Arts Fellowship, a Sundance Institute Art Writers Fellowship, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Lannan Fellowship for Poetry, an Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, an Algonquin West Literary Award from West Hollywood, CA, a National Association for Poetry Therapy Public Service Award, a California Arts Council Fellowship, an Illinois Author of the Year Award, Illinois Arts Council fellowships, a North Carolina Writer’s Residency, and the 2001 Premio Fronterizo, among others.

Luis is also known for helping start community organizations-like Chicago’s Guild Complex, one of the largest literary arts organizations in the Midwest; Humboldt Park Teen Reach in Chicago; and Tia Chucha Press, one of this country’s premier small presses. He is a founder of Youth Struggling for Survival, a Chicago-based not-for-profit working with gang and non-gang youth. He helped start Rock A Mole (rhymes with guacamole) Productions, which produces music/arts festivals, CDs, and films in Los Angeles. And he is co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural—a bookstore, performance space and workshop center in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, which also sponsors the “Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung” Literacy and Performance Festival. In addition, Luis is a renowned gang intervention specialist in Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities as well as Mexico and Central America. His 2001 book “Hearts & Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times” (Seven Stories) summarizes three decades in this area.

Because of this, Luis is has become a leading gang expert testifying through affidavits, phone testimonies, and court appearances in more than 60 cases, mostly deportation cases to Mexico and Central America. His thirty years of urban peace and gang intervention work was utilized in the development of the Community-based Gang Intervention Model with around forty other L.A. gang peace advocates and interventionists, which the L.A. City Council approved in February 2008, and is now sent across the United States and other countries. He’s also now a trainer for the Advancement Project’s gang intervention academy.

For his community work, Luis has been recognized by Inner City Struggle of East L.A. with its “Spirit of Struggle”/Ruben Salazar Award; the “Local Hero of Community Award (with Trini Rodriguez and Enrique Sanchez) from KCET-TV of L.A. and Union Bank of California; “Hero of Nonviolence” Award from Rev. Michael Beckwith and the Agape Christian Center in Culver City, CA; and a “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” Award, presented by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

On top of this, Luis has spent more than thirty years conducting workshops, readings, and talks in prisons, juvenile facilities, homeless shelters, migrant camps, universities, public and private schools, conferences, churches, Native American reservations, and men’s conferences throughout the country. He’s also traveled to Canada, Europe, Japan, Mexico, Central America, South America, and Puerto Rico doing similar work among disaffected populations. International cities where he’s read, talked, and done workshops include Tokyo, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Guatemala City, San Salvador, Managua, Lima, Buenos Aires, Caracas, London, Paris, Milan, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Montreal, Toronto, Sarajevo, and others.

Luis has been part of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation’s Men’s Conferences, youth events, poetry events, men-women summits, and more since 1994 with Mosaic founder and mythologist Michael Meade and other teachers. At these conferences, the complex but vital issues of race, class, gender, as well as personal rage and grief, are addressed with dialogue, ritual, story, poetry, drumming, and dance involving people of all walks of life, including those in urban street gangs. He also created a CD of his poems called “My Name’s Not Rodriguez” for Dos Manos Records with original music by Ernie Perez and the band Seven Rabbit, released in the summer of 2002. And he’s founder in 2009 of Barking Rooster Entertainment, which plans to create new content for films, books, CDs, TV, radio, and the Internet.

On top of this, Luis’ work has been widely anthologized, including in “Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: Stories of Crime, Love, and Rebellion” (2011 PM Press, Los Angeles); “Letters of a Nation: A Collection of Extraordinary American Letters” (1997 Broadway Books), “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry” (1999 Thunder’s Mouth Press), and “Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam” (2001 Three Rivers Press). He’s also appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Nightly News with Brian Williams,” PBS-TV’s Jim Lehrer News Hour, Discovery Channel’s Health Network’s “Life Force,” PBS-TV’s “Making Peace,” National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air,” CNN’s “What Matters,” and Head Line News’ “Leaders with Heart,” among other programs.

Articles on Luis Rodriguez and reviews of his works have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, La Opinion (L.A. leading Spanish language publication), Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, Associated Press, L.A. Weekly, The Face Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus Review, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, People Magazine (En Espanol), and many more publications, including in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Venezuela, Japan, Germany, Italy, and more.

Luis’s poems and articles have appeared in college & high school textbooks throughout the U.S. and Europe. He’s been a daily newspaper writer, a weekly newspaper writer, freelancer, and he’s done radio productions/writing for L.A.’s KPFK-FM, California Public Radio, Chicago’s WMAQ-AM’s All-News radio, and WBEZ-FM. He’s also been a recurring honorary co-host with Dominique DiPrima on KJLH-FM’s “Front Page” talk show in L.A. And his writings have appeared in The Nation, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report, L.A. Weekly, Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, American Poetry Review, The Bloomsbury Review, San Jose Mercury, Grand Street, Utne Reader, Rock & Rap Confidential, Fox News Latino, National Public Radio’s Latino USA, The Huffington Post, The Progressive, and others.

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