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30 L.A. writers choose L.A.’s best literary places

Authors, from left, Lisa See, Charles Yu and Steph Cha.
(Photo illustration by An Amlotte / Los Angeles Times; illustrations by Asia Pietrzyk / For The Times; photographs by Myung J. Chun, Dania Maxwell and Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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This story is part of Lit City, our comprehensive guide to the literary geography of Los Angeles.

When you think of the most “literary” places in Los Angeles and/or Orange County, what streets or neighborhoods come to mind? We put that question to several Southern California writers, along with these follow-up questions: What places in the city have most inspired you? Where do you encounter other writers, to share ideas or just socialize? Where do you like to hang out with your writer friends or just get work done? Here are their answers about how the place they live shapes their work.

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Lisa See

Best literary places: Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica — all Raymond Chandler territories.

Best places for literary inspiration: My family has lived and had businesses in Chinatown, Pasadena, Long Beach and elsewhere in the city since 1897 — so 125 years. In “On Gold Mountain,” I wrote about my family’s story on Ord Street, in the last remaining building of China City — a tourist attraction, developed by the same woman who built Olvera Street. I later used China City as the main location in “China Dolls.” The two sisters live in the Garnier Building, which is the oldest remaining building of the original Chinatown and now home to the Chinese American Museum. In “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane,” Haley, an adoptee from China, lives with her parents in Pasadena, goes to Westridge School, a private school for girls, and hangs out in the San Gabriel Valley.

Other books by See include “The Island of Sea Women,” “Shanghai Girls” and “Peony in Love.”

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Héctor Tobar

Best places for literary inspiration: Much of my novel “The Tattooed Soldier” is set in MacArthur Park, which is the center of the Guatemalan and Salvadoran communities of SoCal. “The Barbarian Nurseries” reaches a climax of sorts in South-Central LA and the Garment District, and in the very Mexican suburb of Huntington Park.

Other Tobar books include “The Last Great Road Bum” and “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free.”

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Susan Orlean

Best places to encounter other writers: We like to hang out in the unsurprising places like people’s houses or coffee shops. Though in the last two years there hasn’t been a lot of hanging out. I like walking around the Hollywood Reservoir; it’s exactly the right length, and because it’s flat, you’re not gasping for breath so you can talk very easily. If you’re looking for something a little more rigorous, I’ll meet friends at Fryman Canyon and do that walk. That’s a little more likely to have you panting, so it’s a little less well suited for long conversations.

Orleans’ books include “The Orchid Thief,” “The Library Book” and “On Animals.”

Author Susan Orlean
Susan Orlean
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

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Charles Yu

Best literary places: I think of Beyond Baroque and individual stores like Skylight, Book Soup and Vroman’s and Diesel and Dutton’s (RIP). I also used to go to the Barnes & Noble on Third Street Promenade a lot. Borders (RIP) in Torrance and in Westwood had good selections of literary magazines.

Best places for literary inspiration: Strip malls — I grew up in West L.A. and have spent a lot of time in strip malls.

Best places to encounter other writers: Coffee shops, mostly. I try to hide my screen from them because I feel self-conscious about being a writer.

Yu’s books include “Interior Chinatown” and “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.”

A guide to the literary geography of Los Angeles: A comprehensive bookstore map, writers’ meetups, place histories, an author survey, essays and more.

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Matthew Specktor

Best literary places: Los Angeles is so sprawling that I consider different neighborhoods as belonging to different writers. By no means exclusively, but: Echo Park = Kate Braverman, Malibu (+ Franklin Avenue) = Joan Didion, West Hollywood = Bret Easton Ellis, Long Beach = Myriam Gurba, Pasadena = Octavia Butler, Beverly Hills = Bruce Wagner, Walter Mosley = West Adams/Leimert Park, etc. It’s some of the places staked out earlier in the city’s literary history — John Fante’s Bunker Hill, Raymond Chandler’s Los Feliz — that somehow strike me as “most literary.”

Best places for literary inspiration: My book “Always Crashing in the Same Car” seems to circle around and around the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights. But I was raised in Santa Monica, back when it was still something of a working-class neighborhood (impossible to imagine today, but it was a bedroom community for the aerospace workers in the South Bay, rather than an island of the super rich). In some sense I am always trying to resurrect that Los Angeles: the coastal, but not fancy, worlds of Venice and Santa Monica as they used to be.

Best places to encounter other writers: Pre-pandemic ... back when my writer friends and I used to hang out in meatspace, we’d go to Musso & Frank or (if we were feeling upscale) the Tower Bar. I work mostly at home, but I wrote an entire (long) novel at Kings Road Cafe in West Hollywood. Someday I hope they’ll put up a plaque over one of the booths in the takeaway section accordingly. I was there every day for more than a year.

Specktor’s books include “American Dream Machine” and “Always Crashing in the Same Car.”

A basketball player leaps up to make a shot while other players look on
Basketball in Venice Beach.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

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Iva-Marie Palmer

Best literary places: The area around Griffith Park/Los Feliz due to the neighborhood’s overall character/vibe, as well as the vitality of Skylight Books. Not to mention the various apartments Aldous Huxley lived in. I also feel like there’s an arty vibe to Venice Beach — kind of the oddball/anything can happen confluence there.

Palmer’s books include “Gimme Everything You Got” and “Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook.”

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Bridgette Bianca

Best places for literary inspiration: My poetry is all about living in South-Central L.A. I’m inspired by everything from the line of cars at Burger Palace #3 on Florence and Western, folks selling their wares while you wait at the car wash on Crenshaw Boulevard, kids playing at St. Andrews Park and Jesse Owens Park, moms singing songs to their babies while walking through Superior and Ralph’s, teenagers giggling at Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Mall, and the old uncles cracking jokes and playing dominoes at the doughnut shops.

Bianca’s debut book of poetry is “be/trouble.”

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Michelle Huneven

Best literary places: All of Los Angeles is fair game, from Michael Jaime-Becerra’s El Monte to Mona Simpson’s Santa Monica. Jonathan Gold claimed Pico Boulevard. I recently had a student at UCLA who wrote about Armenians in Glendale. Los Angeles is an open book, just waiting to be filled in.

Best places for literary inspiration: In my second novel, “Jamesland,” the urban wilderness of the Los Angeles River and Griffith Park loosed their wildlife on my characters, changing their lives. My new novel, “Search,” takes place where I live — Altadena — as did parts of “Blame,” my third. I don’t need to look far afield for subject matter. I hope my next book will be about the eugenicist who invented marriage counseling — who once lived on my property.

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Best places to encounter other writers: I like to go to the Huntington and work in the library among all the scholars whose concentration and stillness are contagious and conducive to writing. A few writer friends work there too, and occasionally we’ll lure one another out for a brisk tramp around the gardens, or a cheering cup of tea.

Other Huneven books include “Round Rock” and “Off Course.”

Michelle Huneven
Michelle Huneven
(Courtney Gregg)

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Tod Goldberg

Best literary places: I often think of places that don’t exist anymore, or places that are personal to my own literary journey. Because for me the most literary place in Los Angeles is a bungalow in Santa Monica Canyon on E. Channel Road — on Peter Graves’ property, inexplicably — where I spent years in a writing workshop with my mentor Tom Filer. He called the workshop “Goat Alley.” It’s here where I read the books that would change my life, made literary friendships that would sustain me, and found the courage to write the stories that have meant the most to me over the years.

Best places for literary inspiration: In my first book [“Fake Liar Cheat”], I spent pages and pages writing about a now-defunct restaurant on Melrose called Intermezzo in hopes I’d get to dine there for free in perpetuity. But they closed shortly after the book came out, and I never got even a free Coke. The places that inspire me most, though, often don’t have names: Long stretches of desert highway, broken up only by car headlights far off the road. What are those people doing? Why are they there? Why aren’t they moving?

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Best places to encounter other writers: I have the benefit of directing the Low Residency MFA at UC Riverside, which meets twice a year (provided the plague cooperates) at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas resort in Rancho Mirage. I bring out two dozen guest writers/agents/publishers/producers, along with permanent faculty members, to teach our MFA students. For those 10 days twice a year, that hotel is literary Valhalla. I get to see all of my favorite writers and friends at once, but also, plans get made, problems get solved, deals gets made, all over beautiful desert sunsets. … It’s the off time, in the evenings, where a lot of L.A.'s finest writers have their fill of social interaction ... at least for six months. As far as getting work done, there’s only one place I’m actually capable of writing: Right here, at my desk, near to my espresso machine and chocolate-covered almonds.

Goldberg’s books include “The Low Desert” and “Gangsterland.”

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Marisa Urrutia Gedney

Best places for literary inspiration: The pollution in Southeast L.A. that has cancered my family for generations, the houses in Boyle Heights that my family grew up in that no longer exist.

Urrutia Gedney’s forthcoming book of poetry is “Altar of the Imagination.”

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A view of the ironwork and open space inside the Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles
The interior of the Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles, one of the oldest commercial buildings remaining in the city center.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

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Jennifer L. Holm

Best literary places: The Bradbury Building in L.A., of course, because of “Blade Runner.” Completely unrelated, I got to meet Ray Bradbury in his later years at San Diego Comic-Con.

Holm’s books include the “Baby Mouse” series and the “Squish” series.

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Steph Cha

Best literary places: As subject matter, all of L.A. feels literary to me. As for literary hubs, every independent bookstore.

Best places for literary inspiration: Koreatown and the San Fernando Valley, the places I knew best growing up.

Cha’s books include “Your House Will Pay” and “Follow Her Home.”

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Lynell George

Best literary places: The old “Venice West” scene of poets and painters was before my time but the remnants were the vivid backdrop of my junior high/high school years. I’m also pulled into the feeling of the eastern edges Wilshire Corridor; it has a Chandler-esque feel to me, the same way parts of old Hollywood does. At one point I did go and look for Nathanael West’s old apartment building to situate myself in the mood of his stories.

Best places for literary inspiration: I am inspired by sites that were formerly something else. Or old sites that live on in my memory. One of the most powerful is the old Ambassador Hotel site. I spent a lot of time there in the building’s last years photographing and talking to some of the old staff and trying to reanimate a lost Los Angeles. I also loved my old neighborhood in Southwest L.A., at the edges of the Crenshaw District and Hyde Park. I am always wanting to go back there in my mind. The Spanish stucco houses with the red terra-cotta roofs, yards full of fruit trees. We lived among many immigrants and migrants from the American South, Mexico, South America, Japan. I also have deep love for Echo Park and have since I was a child. Something about the hills, the light, the lake and the architecture. That has figured into my work. I lived there for quite some time, on a high hill, and found the view of a sweep of L.A. — from downtown to the ocean — inspiring. It was the perfect perch to keep watch on the city I write about.

Best places to encounter other writers: Definitely bookstores. I frequently run into author Naomi Hirahara at Vroman’s. I also run into my friend, the jazz historian and writer Steve Isoardi, there. And I loved meeting up at Union Station downtown and having dinner at Traxx in the station with my poet friend Marisela Norte, where we would people watch, catch up, and take dream journeys.

George’s books include “A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler” and “No Crystal Stair: African Americans in the City of Angels.”

Lynell George
Lynell George
(Noe Montes)

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Raphael Simon (a.k.a. Pseudonymous Bosch)

Best literary places: When I was a kid, Hollywood Boulevard was not just a symbol of the movie business, it was the location of my then-favorite bookstore, the late great Pickwick Bookshop, where I would read Roald Dahl books in the aisles. For me, this seedy street full of magic shops and Marilyn Monroe impersonators is still the most “literary” place in town.

Best places for literary inspiration: The Santa Monica Library. My first few books were written there, sitting side by side with my friend Margaret Stohl, the author of “Beautiful Creatures” (with Kami Garcia). I don’t know if it was the library or Margie that most inspired me, but I’m now at 12 books and counting.

Best places to encounter other writers: Twitter. Kidding! I mean, I may socialize with writers on Twitter, but I certainly don’t get any work done. More seriously, YALLWEST, the young adult book festival I helped create with Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz, is far and away the best place to meet kid-lit authors in SoCal.

Simon’s books include “The Anti-Book,” “The Secret Series” and “The Bad Books” series.

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Vickie Vértiz

Best literary places: Our literary communities are everywhere, but the ones that get most forgotten include Compton, Southeast Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and East L.A., South L.A., Leimert Park and Long Beach.

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Best places for literary inspiration: My poetry, essays and articles focus on individuals and families in Southeast Los Angeles, as an immigrant, and queer narratives in particular. I don’t see this work as fitting people in, but rather centering and celebrating the experiences of people like my family and myself. They are not a backdrop or just scenery. I write about an L.A. that doesn’t exist for a white gaze or that has to explain itself to anyone.

Vértiz’s collection, “Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut,” won the 2018 PEN America Literary Award for Poetry.

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David Yoon

Best literary places: Downtown L.A., home of the Last Bookstore. I grew up in Orange County and consider most of it to be literary in a melancholy, almost nihilistic sense. Something to do with the blank, faceless streets and temporary signage that winds up being permanent gives it the fleeting quality of a boomtown or a waystation.

Yoon’s books include “City of Orange,” “Vision Zero” and “Super Fake Love Song.”

The book tunnel at the Last Bookstore
The book tunnel inside the Last Bookstore in downtown L.A. calls to book lovers and looky-loos alike.
(Mark Boster/For The Times)

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Jervey Tervalon

Best literary places: Downtown L.A .because of the Last Bookstore. We have Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena, but the sheer size and vibrancy of the Last Bookstore speaks to the literary culture of L.A.

Best places for literary inspiration: I grew up in the largely Black Jefferson Park area of Los Angeles and it was the universe to me. I began to write about Black L.A. because I didn’t want to forget anything about it. There was affluence and there were folks struggling to get by. There were knuckleheads and there were hard-core intellectuals. My close friend was on Dorsey’s basketball team when it was one of the best in the nation and his true ambition was to read the Encyclopedia of Philosophy before he graduated from high school.

Best places to encounter other writers: The literary culture in Pasadena is focused on house parties and in the spring, LitFest Pasadena. Some of the happiest moments of my life were at Jonathan Gold’s house parties. The folks there were always chill and fun. My fave coffee house to write in is the Unincorporated Coffee Roasters. I see Black folk, Latinx and Asian writers and I see white folk there. And the cappuccino rocks.

Tervalon’s books include “Monster’s Chef,” “Dead Above Ground” and “Understand This.”

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Elise Bryant

Best places for literary inspiration: All of my books take place at least partially in Long Beach. In addition to writing books that center Black girls, I always want to write stories that have a diverse cast of characters and that is actually authentic to Long Beach — not some ideal fantasy. Our city is less segregated than other parts of the county, and there’s such a beautiful mix of people and cultures here. I don’t think my stories could take place anywhere else.

Best places to encounter other writers: My first two books have been released in a pandemic, so it was a very lonely experience at times. But a few L.A. authors reached out to me and made sure to offer support. Now I’m starting to see them in person, instead of in the group chat, as book events begin again and they feel like old friends.

Bryant’s books include “Happily Ever Afters” and “One True Loves.”

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Daniel Olivas

Best literary places: For two decades, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural has been the literary heart of Sylmar. The community has been badly underserved throughout the years, but this wonderful bookstore and cultural center has been part of the community for almost a generation.

Olivas’ books include “How to Date a Flying Mexican” and “The King of Lighting Fixtures.”

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Daniel A. Olivas, author of "Crossing the Border: Collected Poems"
Daniel A. Olivas
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

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Julie Buxbaum

Best literary places: Larchmont/Hancock Park, because I have author friends on almost every block in the neighborhood. At one point, there were four published writers living on my street. And that doesn’t include the TV writers!

Best places for literary inspiration: In my most recent book, “Year on Fire,” the characters commute every day from K-town to the Valley for school. I loved playing with the way the city transforms from block to block — leafy Hancock Park, the glitter and grime of Hollywood, the winding roads through Laurel Canyon — and the shifting light depending on time of day.

Best places to encounter other writers: I was devastated when the Hatchery closed, because I wrote at least two books there. “Tell Me Three Things” (my debut YA novel) was written entirely at Brick and Scones on Larchmont. Stu Gibbs has done an amazing job of bringing local writers together for drinks nights. Sarah Mlynowski, our favorite Canadian, loves to have lunch at Mile End and talk about how bagels are better from Montreal.

Buxbaum’s books include “Admission” and “The Opposite of Love.”

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Maryrose Wood

Best literary places: I think of the old studio backlot bungalows for writers. Give us a tiny room and leave us alone!

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Wood’s books include “Alice’s Farm, A Rabbits’ Tale” and “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place” series.

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María Amparo Escandón

Best places for literary inspiration: : Beaches, trails, walkable streets and neighborhoods.

Escandón’s books include “L.A. Weather” and “Esperanza’s Box of Saints.”

Two people at Griffith Park gaze at the view of downtown Los Angeles
Visitors take in the view of downtown Los Angeles from Griffith Park.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

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Stephan Lee

Best literary places: L.A.'s Koreatown is especially fascinating as a setting. It’s the most dense population of Koreans outside of Korea. I love going to an L.A. Korean restaurant and having a Latinx server who is totally fluent in authentic Korean dishes. I love seeing Koreatowns across America go from run-down pockets to destinations. I love seeing Koreatown depicted in all its complexity in books like “Stand Up, Yumi Chung!” and “The Last Story of Mina Lee.”

Best places for literary inspiration: The parking lot of In the Zone (the pop-up Britney Spears museum right across from the Grove), the press pen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre during a premiere, an early morning on Melrose where you find a signed photo of Divine in a cracked frame on the sidewalk, Uncle Joe’s Donuts shop in North Hills while I’m sneaking away from Korean church service.

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Lee’s debut novel is “K-Pop Confidential.”

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Antoine Wilson

Best places for literary inspiration: The beach. Specifically, the ocean and the horizon. I’m also inspired by the urban geography of Los Angeles in general, the businesses, the niches in which people thrive. Beverly Hills (in “Mouth to Mouth”). The Valley (in “Panorama City”). Santa Monica and the Westside (in “The Interloper”).

Best places to encounter other writers: I used to work at a shared writer space called the Office, which I loved. Sometimes I’ll work in a coffee shop, after a surf and before school pickup. Or in carpool line. The big annual reunion is the Festival of Books at USC.

Wilson’s books include “Mouth to Mouth” and “Panorama City.”

Wilson’s third novel, ‘Mouth to Mouth,’ is a taut, heady thriller narrated by a man who saved another man’s life and wouldn’t let him forget it.

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Michael Jaime-Becerra

Best places for literary inspiration: Before I was a published writer, there was a used bookstore in Pasadena called Cliff’s Books, which was open until midnight. That was a place you could just pick stuff off the shelves, explore writers, things that you heard about in class or that other writers had mentioned in an interview. Another place thats gone now was Acres of Books in Long Beach. There’s that scene at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where the ark is put into the giant warehouse and it gets lost among all this other stuff. Acres Books was like the book version of that. Room after room after room of used books.

Best places to encounter other writers: One of the great joys for me as a writer is going to lunch with friends who are writers. One place is no longer there, but the novelist Michelle Huneven first took me to the original Din Tai Fung on Baldwin in Arcadia many years ago, and I’ve been there with other writer friends over the years like Alex Espinoza, Susan Straight, Victoria Patterson, Carribean Fragoza. But the spot I most want to spotlight is Burritos La Palma over on Peck Road. The first time I went there with Carribean we went for a meeting because she was working on a project documenting local history. We had this amazing late lunch and I’ve been going there ever since.

Jaime-Becerra’s books include “The Estrellistas Off Peck Road,” “Every Night is Ladies’ Night” and “This Time Tomorrow.”

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Michael Jaime-Becerra
Michael Jaime-Becerra
(Elizabeth Vergara)

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Jean Chen Ho

Best places for literary inspiration: Driving the freeways, listening to music or having a conversation in the car … it’s not a “place” in the way you’re probably thinking of for this question, but the experience of being in a car, that liminal space between places, feels very L.A. to me.

Ho’s debut collection is “Fiona and Jane.”

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Rex Ogle

Best places to encounter other writers: I usually meet other writers on Facebook/social media, and then arrange lunch or coffee. We hang out in the park or take hikes at Runyon Canyon; hikes are a good time to talk about story concepts and exchange ideas. As for working, sometimes I hit up coffee shops, but I do most of my writing at home. Though for a while I was writing at the magnificent West Hollywood Public Library.

Ogle’s books include “Free Lunch” and “Blink.”

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Abdi Nazemian

Best literary places: The Hayworth address where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived because I always walk by it with my dog. I love thinking about him writing behind those walls. I also think of the Writers Guild, where I’ve spent countless hours writing alongside other writers, surrounded by scripts and books.

Best places for literary inspiration: My first two novels explored Tehrangeles, which really is a city within a city. I’m endlessly inspired by the Iranian immigrants who have created a vibrant community in this city, and it’s been an honor to tell stories about Iranian Americans finding their way in the world, especially queer Iranians like myself who have never seen themselves represented.

Nazemian’s books include “The Chandler Legacies,” “Like a Love Story” and “The Authentics.”

A woman walks by the silver and rug shop Ruben on Westwood Boulevard in Westwood
A rug and silver shop in Westwood, home to a vibrant Iranian community.
(Michael Owen Baker/For The Times)

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Aminah Mae Safi

Best places for literary inspiration: The Getty, LACMA, the Huntington, movies in the park, karaoke in K-town,early movie screenings, tattoo parlors on Sunset Boulevard, music venues like Whisky A Go Go and the Wiltern, Art Deco architecture, midcentury homes, the vast expanse of the Valley, the 2 bus route down Santa Monica we took as teens, the way the city is a thousand different cities all piled into one.

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Safi’s books include “Travelers Along the Way” and “This Is All Your Fault.”

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Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Best places for literary inspiration: My poetry is inspired by my family’s history in Boyle Heights and our current life in San Gabriel. I’m inspired by the multicultural mix of the SGV. I love that there are vibrant Native American, Black, Mexican, Central American, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese cultures in this area and that they influence one another.

Best places to encounter other writers: We try to find central locations to hang out like the For Love Cafe and Blu Elephant cafe in central L.A. Since COVID, my friends and I often meet for walks at the Descanso Gardens. Last Bookstore had great events too. Other Books, Tuesday Night Cafe and Avenue 50 Studios are also places I used to go for events.

Bermejo’s books include “Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge” and “Things to Know for Compañer@s: A No More Deaths Volunteer Guide.”

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