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Author and former Los Angeles poet laureate Luis J. Rodriguez believes so strongly in the redemptive power of well-chosen words that he regularly ventures behind bars to encourage inmates to write.
He visits adult prisons in California and as far away as Cuba and Japan. In his new book, “From Our Land to Our Land,” he recalls being caught in a tense confrontation between inmates and the warden in a Chihuahua, Mexico, prison. Fearful for his safety, Rodriguez writes how he calmed the situation with “the only weapon I had”: He recited poetry in Spanish.
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The author of 17 books including the bestselling memoir “Always Running,” Rodriguez sees his craft as a way to bring people together in an increasingly chaotic and divisive time. That theme resonates throughout the essays and stories collected in “From Our Land to Our Land.” “I’m trying to use those pieces to speak to America,” he said in a recent interview.
His town square
Poet and novelist Ocean Vuong shared the stories behind “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” during his Jan. 27 book club visit at the Montalbán Theatre.
He told Times arts writer Carolina Miranda that he wrote the first draft of his bestselling novel by hand — and in a closet. It was the only quiet space in his home.
“It was perfect. ... I cleared out the closet. I put a lamp in there. I put on my headphones, and it was kind of like a cockpit,” Vuong said. “It’s really good. I highly recommend it.”
Vuong also spoke about his goal to be inclusive in his work. “One of the greatest hopes as an artist is to create a town square where people get together and talk about this book and they talk about the questions and they bring their own life to it.”
A place where reading is the cure
In a new essay, author Louise Steinman introduces an inspiring book club for readers with aphasia who turn to Anton Chekhov and other literacy masters to rebuild language skills impeded by the communication disorder.
“For the 10 to 12 participants who come together every week to discuss a work of literature, the Aphasia Book Club is a lifeline,” she says.
The group meets weekly at the Echo Park branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. “You’ll never find more motivated readers than those who can no longer take reading, or the ability to discuss what they’ve read, for granted,” says public services librarian Francie Schwarz.
Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about Southern California’s book clubs, from the Nipsey Hussle Marathon Book Club to the Long Beach Book Club Project. Do you belong to another book club? Send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us about your club and what you’re reading right now.
Here is an excerpt from “Love Poem to Los Angeles” by our February book club author, Luis J. Rodriguez:
I love L.A., I can’t forget its smells,
I love to make love in L.A.,
it’s a great city, a city without a handle,
the world’s most mixed metropolis,
of intolerance and divisions,
how I love it, how I hate it,
can’t stay away,