From Rags to Literature

Luis Rodriguez

“[A] Poet Laureate is expected to compose poems to the city, host a number of readings as well as classes or workshops in public libraries, and serve as cultural ambassador.”

For the past few years the city of Los Angeles has experimented with a new position–the Poet Laureate. Poet Laureates hold a two year office and serve as the official ambassadors to Los Angeles’ poetry and literary culture. Poet Laureates are supposed to inform the community about the arts through poetry and literature. This year marked the start of Los Angeles’ second Poet Laureate term. Luis Rodriguez was one of the most qualified applicants for the position, but he was still humbly surprised when he received the call.

“I thought, they’re probably not going to pick me…I was quite amazed. I also understand the responsibility. I want kids to recite poetry. I’ll do anything to get poetry exploding in Los Angeles.””

Rodriguez’s involvement with poetry and literature started at a young age when he was living on the streets. After joining a gang at age 11, abusing drugs, and getting kicked out of school, Rodriguez saw the Los Angeles Central public library as his refuge. He would spend his days there, reading.

“In the end books saved my life.”

Now, years later Rodriguez is an accomplished author with 15 books of his own. He hopes to give young children the options he didn’t have while growing up through his organization Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore.

“Gang kids show up, and they’re welcome. They are young people that need a relationship to options. The option can’t be, ‘I’m going to prison’ or ‘I’m going to be a heroin addict.’ They need to know they have gifts and callings. That’s what they need to tap into. That’s the work that I do – tap into their own capacities – build them up from there, so they don’t feel like they’re trapped in their crazy life.”

This post was inspired by an NBC News article titled “Luis Rodriguez: From L.A. Gangs To City’s Poet Laureate” written by Kristina Puga. All quotes were also taken from this source. For more information on Luis Rodriguez please visit his website here.

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