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L.A.'s poet laureate Luis Rodriguez reflects on the end of his term

Brittany Martin

On October 9, Luis Rodriguez will wrap up his term as Los Angeles’ poet laureate—and it has been a whirlwind. The job typically calls for 20 public appearances a year, but he decided to make it 110 last year, and even more in 2016. When 40 public libraries asked him to give readings, he agreed to all of them. Most importantly, he made it his mission to make poetry relevant to young people far outside any ivory towers.

“When I was 15 years old I was homeless in the streets of Downtown L.A. and the library was my refuge,” Rodriguez told the LA Times. “Now here I am 40-some years later as poet laureate, and I get the beauty of that.”

The 62-year-old author was appointed to the role by Mayor Garcetti in 2014. His personal biography took him from a troubled youth spent in Watts and East L.A. to a young adulthood of drugs and gangs. Along the way, he found that reading gave him an escape from his life on the streets and, eventually, it also gave him a career and a new path in life. 

In 1993 he wrote a memoir, Always Running, La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. It quickly entered the canon of books about Los Angeles. He then moved on to focus on his poetry, publishing several collections, including My Nature is Hunger, The Concrete River and Poems Across the Pavement. Rodriguez also founded Tia Churcha Press, a publishing imprint, bookstore and cultural center in Sylmar.  

During his term as the city’s second poet laureate, he visited not only schools and libraries but music festivals and prisons, always encouraging his audiences to read the great authors and then find their own voices. 

A poet laureate’s job, Rodriguez is quoted as saying, “is not just to bring poetry to the community, but to draw it out of the community.”

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