L.A. poet laureate Luis Rodriguez closing out his reign as he began: Always running

By Steve Lopez

headshotThe poet laureate of Los Angeles had just taken a seat at a Pacoima cafe when he was approached by two young men.

“Excuse me, but are you Luis Rodriguez?” asked Jorge Ruiz, who was with his brother, Giovanni.

A clerk had pointed out the author of “Always Running, La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.,” Rodriguez’s powerful story of how he descended into gang life and then rose out of it through a love of books. The 1993 memoir became an L.A. classic and launched a career, and the two youngsters were determined to meet the author.

“That was the first book I ever read,” said Ruiz, who was unabashedly star-struck. “I just had to say thank you.”

The Ruiz brothers, students at Los Angeles Valley College, said they read “Always Running” several years ago in middle school.

“Honestly, I always hated reading,” said Jorge, who changed his ways after devouring that book. “Wow, I was blinded for so long, what a shame.”

Rodriguez, author of 15 books, hears this sort of thing frequently from admirers. He thanked the Ruiz brothers and wished them luck, and a few minutes later it was time for him to go to work. The celebrated writer is still always running, his passion and prose an inspiration to hordes of local readers and writers, me included.

Rodriguez, 62, was chosen for the two-year appointment in October of 2014 by Mayor Eric Garcetti. He is the city’s second poet laureate, a job that offers a tiny stipend in return for roughly 20 public events and a handful of other duties each year. Rodriguez wanted to go above and beyond.

“Last year I did 110,” he said. “I haven’t counted all of the events this year, but it’s more than that.”

Danielle Brazell, general manager of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, calledRodriguez a social justice poet and said that “in countless appearances, he inspired vibrant communities across L.A.”

Rodriguez has visited schools and prisons, and appeared at music festivals and museums, book fairs and student leadership conferences. He’s done all of this in addition to writing a book of poetry, assembling an anthology of work by local poets, traveling the country on a speaking tour and pitching in at Tia Chucha’s, the Pacoima bookstore and cultural center he and his family opened 15 years ago.

In May, with just several months left in his term, Rodriguez was informed that 40 libraries had asked if he could squeeze them in before signing off. Would he consider working in at least a few of them?

Rodriguez didn’t like that idea.

“I told them I’d do all 40,” he said.

Rodriguez was down to the last half dozen when he visited Pacoima on a recent evening.

“I love being out there,” he said. “I love talking to kids.”

That is no doubt because he was lost as a kid, so much so that his parents kicked him out of the house.

“I didn’t blame them,” said Rodriguez, who was a drug addict and gang member.

Though he was seriously messed up, he had a thing for the written word. Language first stirred his soul at the age of 10, when he was hospitalized with a hernia and came upon a children’s book of Bible stories. Then it was “Charlotte’s Web” that reeled him in. Read Rest of Article Here



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