Luis J. Rodriguez has filled his single life with more than most could squeeze into four lifetimes. Rodriguez’s first memoir, Always Running, the July California Book Club selection, gives readers a look at an East Los Angeles adolescence tangled with gang warfare, drugs, and loss. “It’s the first major account of the Chicano barrio gang experience from an actual participant,” Rodriguez writes in the introduction of the 2020 version of the book. “This story had to be told.”
Rodriguez’s passion for writing and poetry and his depiction of how creativity became a vehicle of redemption for him provide the book with its arc. He published Always Running at the age of 38—it debuted in 1993, when he was on the cusp of becoming a public figure. The memoir concludes at a point in time before he forges an impressive life as an adult. “I went from victim to perpetrator to witness to revolutionary,” Rodriguez writes of his evolution. “I have a duty to take those lessons and experiences to as many people as will listen.” Just as they emerge in Always Running, creativity, peace, and literacy endure as themes in his life.
His second memoir, It Calls You Back, published in 2011, recounts his battles with addiction during early adulthood and as a new father, searching for and finding inspiration.
In 1989, while living in Chicago, four years before Always Running came out, Rodriguez published a collection titled Poems Across the Pavement. During a time when few Latinx voices were published by mainstream presses, he founded Tia Chucha Press, where he edited and championed poetry collections by Chicago writers. The press grew and morphed, and now several accomplished U.S. poets—including Patricia Smith and Terrance Hayes—can trace their work back to Tia Chucha. Today, it is the publishing wing of Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore, a café, literary community, and creative space in northeast San Fernando Valley, a region that had no similar space at the time it was created. Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore was selected as a 2022 Bookstore We Love in Alta Journal’s recent bookstore guide, for its commitment to work by Latinx and Indigenous artists.
In 2014, Rodriguez’s lifelong dedication to poetry and accessibility was rewarded when Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti appointed him the city’s second poet laureate. In a two-year term, he read at hundreds of events, far exceeding the requirements of the job. “Let’s make poetry a revolutionary and healing act,” Rodriguez wrote on the Los Angeles Public Library’s blog, in a post introducing himself as the laureate. “Let’s make poetry an everyday, every occasion, thing.”
And Rodriguez has brought his ideals of community and peace into the political realm as well. He has twice run for governor of California, first in 2014 and again in the 2022 primary. He earned endorsements from the Green Party and the Justice Party for his progressive proposals. These included plans to address wealth disparity, the effects of climate change, mass incarceration, and the militarization of law enforcement. Rodriguez earned the most votes of any independent candidate in the 2014 California gubernatorial primary. That year marked his third time running for public office. He first campaigned at just 22 years old, seeking a Los Angeles school board seat.
Rodriguez’s career also includes the publication of more than 10 books of poetry, stories, and memoir; a vibrant stint as a journalist in Chicago and Los Angeles; and over four decades as an advocate for peace. He has worked in gang intervention in El Salvador and introduced governments to models for gang-violence prevention in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom. This year, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books awarded him the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement.
Always Running is an origin story that offers readers a rare glimpse of how a beloved activist and leader grew into his tremendous influence.•
Join us July 21 at 5 p.m. Pacific time, when Rodriguez will appear in conversation with CBC host John Freeman and special guest Rubén Martínez. Until then, visit the Alta Clubhouse to let us and your fellow California Book Club members know what you think of the book. Register here.
WHY I WRITE
Rodriguez writes an original essay about finding refuge in books at L.A.’s downtown Central Library. —Alta
Jackie DesForges writes of Anna Dorn’s second novel, “You don’t need to believe in astrology to enjoy Exalted, although you do have to understand what it feels like to look for meaning in places where you know it probably doesn’t make sense to look.” —Alta
EXCESS OF RICHES
A range of authors is creating a golden age of Texas fiction. —Texas Monthly
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