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Bestselling Author, Poet & Poet Laureate of Los Angeles (2014 - 2016)

BIOGRAPHY

Luis J. Rodriguez believes a writer can change the world.

Through the power of words, this acclaimed poet, novelist, children’s book author and journalist saw his way out of poverty and despair.

Successful as a Chicano poet, Rodriguez thought he had put the streets and his own days as a gang member behind him—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in the national bestseller and New York Times Notable Book, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A This vivid memoir explores gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that haunts its participants. The book has been included on school reading lists nationwide but has often been the subject of controversy due to its frank depictions of gang life being named one of the nation’s 100 most censored titles by the American Library Association. Always Running was adapted as a play in 2019 by LJR and Hector Rodriguez. In 2012, Rodriguez published a sequel titled It Calls You Back: An Odyssey of Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.

Rodriguez is the author of several collections of poetry, including My Nature is Hunger: New and Selected Poems 1989-2004 and Borrowed Bones: New Poems from the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. A CD of his poetry with original music by Ernie Perez and the band Seven Rabbit titled My Name’s Not Rodriguez is available on Spotify. His new book of poetry, Todos los caminos llevan a casa (All Roads Lead Home) is bi-lingual and was published in Mexico City by Chicanx Sin Fronteras Editorial. He has won a Poetry Center Book Award, Paterson Poetry Prize, PEN/Josephine Miles Literary Award, the Joe Hill Labor Poetry Award of the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Labor Coalition, and was honored with a Lannan Fellowship for Poetry. Rodriguez was the 2014-16 Los Angeles Poet Laureate.

His bi-lingual books for children,  America Is Her Name and It Doesn't Have To Be This Way: A Barrio Story, have won several prizes including a Parent’s Choice Book Award. Rodriguez is also the author of Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times, a short story collection, The Republic of East L.A., a novel, Music of the Mill, and a collection of essays, From Our Land to Our Land; Imaginings and Musings of a Native Xicanx Writer. He co-edited Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams  with Denise M. Sandoval. He has also been a script consultant for TV shows.

Rodriguez has helped start several organizations—such as Chicago’s Guild Complex, a literary arts organization; Youth Struggling for Survival, a Chicago-based non-profit community group working with gang and non-gang youth; and the Increase the Peace Network urban peace collaborative. 

In addition, he is one of the founders of Tia Chucha Press as well as Tia Chucha’s Café & Centro Cultural—a bookstore, coffee shop, art gallery, performance space, and workshop center in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. In 2020 Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore was selected as a California Nonprofit of the Year by the California State Legislature.

Rodriguez’s honors include the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a California Arts Council Legacy Fellowship, the Sundance Institute’s Arts Writing Fellowship, a Lannan Fellowship for Poetry, the National Hispanic Media Coalition Impact Award, several Illinois Arts Council fellowships, and the Dorothea Lang-Paul Taylor Prize in Journalism with photojournalist Donna De Cesare for their coverage of Salvadoran gang youth in Los Angeles and El Salvador. He was one of 50 leaders worldwide selected as “Unsung Heroes of Compassion,” presented by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. In 2022 he was presented the Los Angeles TimesRobert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2023 Cinemills TV created a short documentary on Luis J. Rodriguez titled Triple OG From Lomas.

In an interview in Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen said “I met a fella named Luis Rodriguez, a writer and a poet... These are people I've known and worked with for a long time. These are the people trying to fill the holes that should long ago have been filled by government. Those are the people who give me optimism. They're relentlessly hopeful, and they face it all on the front lines on a daily basis.”

Rodriguez has been seen, heard and written about on TV, radio and print throughout his career. His writing has appeared in the New York TimesChicago TribuneLos Angeles TimesThe NationU.S. News & World ReportThe GuardianGrand StreetAmerican Poetry Review, Fox News Latino, Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America and more.

Rodriguez conducts workshops, readings, and talks in public and private schools, universities, prisons, juvenile lock-ups, migrant camps, homeless shelters, Native American reservations, and conferences and gatherings of all sorts. He addresses the complex but vital issues of race, class, gender, and personal rage through dialogue, story, poetry, and art.

Art is the heart's explosion on the world. There is probably no more powerful force for change in this uncertain and crisis-ridden world than young people and their art.”—Luis J. Rodriguez

Luis J. Rodriguez Website

Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and Bookstore

The Hummingbird and Cricket Hour podcast

Luis J. Rodriguez on Twitter

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