The last two weeks have been busy in Los Angeles literature. Each of the last two weeks have been capped off by two major events: The 2nd annual Blk Girrrl Bookfair and the 5th annual Litfest Pasadena.
Last weekend was the 2nd annual Blk Girrrl Bookfair. The founder, Tika Lark, a L.A. poet, community activist and independent journalist, founded the Bookfair as a “free, radical feminist bookfair that actively beats down anti-blackness, colorism, patriarch, classism, nationalism, ableism and oppression in the literary and arts world.”
This year’s event, two days instead of last year’s one, at Cielo Gallaries in South Central met this mission. Exhibitors included independent bookstores ( Tia Chucha – Sylmar, Siete- East L.A.), literary presses (Writ Large, Kaya), literary organizations (Antenna, a language justice and language expirmentation collaborative focused on writing, art, and book making, translation, interpreting and language justice) and more, that all promote, on some level, self-expression for all through the literary arts, with an emphasis on the importance of non-traditional values.
There were also panel discussions. The one I attended was titled “Starting Your Own Publishing Project”. The panelists were Jessica Caballas of Writ Large; Natasha Dean, author of Grace and host of the L.A. reading series “Dirty Laundry Lit”; Hiram Sims, Community Literature Initiative and World Stage Press; Neelanjana of Kenya Press; and Jen Hofer of Antenna. They sunk into the discussion about how to get people involved in publishing/editing their own literary journals, presses, etc. to encourage people of color to get involved in publishing, but the principals and advice apply to anyone. Unfortunately I had a previous engagement on Sunday, so I couldn’t attend day 2.
Plus, situated in a prominent corner, before the Celo’s kitchen, sat the womyn writing circle Los Lunas Locas, typewriters out, ready to type poems for anyone who wanted them.
Then this past Saturday was the 5th Annual LitFest Pasadena located in the Theatre District. It was a long day of panels and poetry readings, along with a Pasadena focus on the literary community. Diversity shown through with poetry readings by African- Americans such as Nikki Blak taking back the narrative of her black body, and Hiram Sims who read a touching poem about how his baby girl needed him as he tried to write a poem. There was a poetry reading of three local MFA poets from UCI and Long Beach State. Alina Nguyen reading powerful poems about her Vietnamese heritage, her parents and growing up in Lincoln Heights. Panels on “Writing in the Time of Black Lives Matter” featuring Jervey Tervalon, S. Pearl Sharp, Hiram Sims, Lisa Teasley, among other; “LGBTQ Writers Having Their Say” featuring L.A. novelists Nole Alumit and poet Brandi Spaethe; and “Indie Publishing: How It Survives and Thrives” featuring the editors Marible Banuelos and Dean Audrey Vergara from Riverside Community College’s lit journal Muse; Loretta McCormick editor-in-chief of University of Wisconsin – Madison’s lit journal Cream City Review; founder of L.A. independent press Writ Large Press Chiwan Choi and Hiram Sims, founder/publisher of World Stage Press in Lemert Park among many others.
At “Indie Publishing” the discussion revolved around how to obtain enough funding and support to provide a necessary societal service, in a part of the publishing industry that has almost literally no funding streams. Loretta McCormick discussed how Cream City nearly had to fold when she arrived and all the budget cuts Governor Scott Walker had made to the University of Wisconsin system. Hiram Sims discussed how he’s continuing to integrate World Stage Press as a community institution in Leimert Park and South Central by bringing the writers they publish into a high school English class to perform and give out 10 free copies to students, after these same students and their class spent the previous week reading and discussing the writer’s work.
All in all, two jam packed weekends in L.A. Lit.