Luis J. Rodriguez is an award-winning poet, children’s book author, memoirist, youth & arts advocate, community activist, and 2014 Los Angeles Poet Laureate. He was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Mexican Immigrants. He faced racism, poverty, and discrimination throughout his adolescent life that would lead first to involvement with gangs and drug abuse, and later inspire his writing and social activism. Rodriguez has authored 15 books in various genres, including collections of poetry such as My Nature is Hunger: New and Selected Poems 1989-2004 and Borrowed Bones: New Poems from the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. He has won a Poetry Center Book Award, Paterson Poetry Prize, and PEN/Josephine Miles Literary Award, and was honored with a Lannan Fellowship for Poetry. In addition to his other accolades, Rodriguez is a National Book Critics Award nominee, and the recipient of the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, Lila Wallace- Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a California Arts Council fellowship, and several Illinois Arts Council fellowships. He was one of 50 leaders worldwide awarded the title “Unsung Heroes of Compassion,” presented by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. In an interview in Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen praised Rodriguez as one of those “people who give me optimism. They’re relentlessly hopeful, and they face it all on the front lines on a daily basis.”
Rodriguez has also been honored for his work as a journalist with the Dorothea Lang-Paul Taylor Prize in Journalism, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian (UK), Grand Street, American Poetry Review, Fox News Latino, Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He is also a script consultant for the FX series, Snowfall.
Rodriguez helped found a number of organizations—such as Chicago’s Guild Complex, Rock a Mole Productions, Youth Struggling for Survival, Tia Chucha Press, and Tia Chucha’s Café and Centro Cultural—a bookstore, coffee shop, art gallery, performance space, and workshop center in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. He is (also) on the steering committees of the Poor People(‘)s Campaign and the US Justice Party.
Rodriguez’s national bestselling memoir, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. is a New York Times notable book and recipient of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award. The memoir explores gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that haunts its participants. Jonathan Kozol called Always Running “an absolutely unique work: richly literary and poetic, yet urgent and politically explosive at the same time… A permanent testament to human courage and transcendence.” The New York Times Book Review journalist Gary Soto praised the memoir as “vivid, raw… fierce, and fearless… Here’s truth no television set, burning night and day, could ever begin to offer.”
Luis J. Rodriguez’s visit is made possible through the generous support of the Chelsea Community Foundation and the Friends of CDL.