“instead of retiring, I’m refiring…”

Writers including Peggy DoBreer, Hazel Harrison, Angela Franklin, Tanya Ho Kong, Jessica Ceballos y Campbell participating in a conversation with Luis Rodriguez at Avenue 50 Studio

“Instead of retiring, I’m re-firing,” said Luis Rodriguez, 2014 Los Angeles Poet Laureate and founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural. Rodriguez was a Poets & Writers guest speaker at Avenue 50 Studio, where he had been invited by Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, Director of Poets & Writers California Office and Readings & Workshops.

I knew Luis through Macondo Writers Workshop, but I had not heard him talk about his life journey, which includes a stint as a gang member, addiction, homelessness, and more. During his talk and discussion session, Luis had many gems to offer. Since he’s so easy to google, I didn’t want to repeat the content of his journey. Instead, I scribbled some quotes that he embedded in the conversation as he talked about the current phase in his life as a writer and activist:

  • Instead of retiring, I’m re-firing
  • I feel that there’s more clarity in my words
  • There’s always something missing in literature, and it’s our job to share the stories
  • I’m scared, excited, and emboldened 
  • What keeps me going is attachment – not detachment 
  • I am a product of many failures and achievements 
  • My fire is more focused – not suicidal or homicidal

The gathering felt significant to me for other reasons. Three years ago, shortly after my family and I moved to Los Angeles, I had attended one of my first LA Poets & Writers roundtables at the same spot, Avenue 50 Studio. Back then, Jamie was one of the few writers I knew in LA; I had applied for many Voices Breaking Boundaries’ grants through P&W’s Los Angeles office. During my first two years in LA, I made a point to attend every P&W roundtable in different corners of LA county. As a result, I not only heard inspiring speakers, but I also connected with the rich network of writers in and around LA County. Also, in February 2018, Jamie invited me to speak about VBB’s newest Borderlines edition, and about my On Belonging project.

Because I’ve been busier this past year with the release of Black Wings, I haven’t had time to attend P&W’s quarterly meetings, but I had kept my calendar clear on November 13, so I could hear Luis talk about his work and life. Yesterday, I reached Avenue 50 Studio without a map—a signal that I’m not such a newcomer any more. And once I entered, I recognized more than half the writers in the circle. I found a seat next to Charlie Jenson, Director of UCLA Writers’ Program where I began teaching online courses this past summer. Behind me was Cody Sisco who interviewed me this past August for BookSwell, a podcast that he and his team air every two weeks. Others in the group included: Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, co-founder of Women Who Submit, another network that I joined soon after I got to LA, Altadena Poet Laureate Hazel Harrison, poet Tanya Ko Hong and many more writers from all around the city.

After lunch with Jamie, I walked to my car that I had parked—unintentionally—by the back entrance of the Airbnb home where René, Minal, and I had stayed during summer 2016 as we scoured Pasadena for a rental home. This morning’s meeting and lunch at Highland Park was a reminder of how much has changed since my family’s move to southern California. Back then, I did not know about LA’s dynamic literary community, or about neighborhoods, and communities. There’s plenty more for me to learn, and I’m happy with the discoveries that I’ve made so far.

July 2016: Minal at the Highland Park Airbnb where we stayed while searching for a place to live. The owners went out of town for a weekend and hired Minal to caretake their 3-legged cat.