| The Power of Creativity
"I think poetry is a very healing art,"
says Luis Rodriguez in an interview with Scott Simon of National Public
Radio. Rodriguez should know. Poetry helped him escape a violent, dead-end
life in the streets.
you start creating things, when you start using words in creative, unique,
interesting ways, you start realizing that you can overcome some of the
most basic troubles you may be in, because creativity is, as I say, all
powerful... it's inexhaustible and it can do almost anything," says
Luis Rodriguez, who will bring his way with words to North Carolina for
a series of residencies.
Rodriguez, born in the U.S. of Mexican parents, spent his childhood in
California, where he became involved in gangs, drugs, alcohol, and crime.
In South Central Los Angeles, according to Rodriguez, he and fellow gang
members saw no future outside their community. "We were kind of confined
to a world. The sense was you couldn't get out of this world. You were
supposed to conform to the poverty, the factories, to whatever people
said - this was our lot. And I don't - and I didn't really believe that,
and I think poetry allowed me to see that," he says.
His passionate belief that poetry could change lives led him to start
"Youth Struggling for Survival," a movement that strives to
turn young people away from violence and find meaning in life. He rejects
the notion that youth who have committed crimes are unredeemable. In an
article in Social Justice, Rodriguez writes, "I've read poetry
to incarcerated youth, including murder(er)s and rapists. I have seen
the glow in their eye, the power in their voice when expressing something
deep within themselves." He concludes, "We simply cannot afford
to write off any of our youth."
Rodriguez has an impressive list of published work, including Always
Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, which he wrote in a desperate
attempt to get through to his son when he became involved in gangs in
Chicago, where the Rodriguez family had moved. It is a personal account
of his own gang-oriented youth and how he escaped it. The book won a Carl
Sandburg Literary Award and a Chicago Sun-Times Book Award and was chosen
as a New York Times Notable Book for 1993.
His books of poetry have garnered no fewer awards. In addition, he has
won an Hispanic Heritage Literary Award, a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest
Writers' Award, a Lannon Foundation Literary Fellowship, the Dorothea
Lang/Paul Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke
(with Donna DeCesare), a National Association for Poetry Therapy Public
Service Award, and fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council.
On the Road in North Carolina
Now Rodriguez is bringing his expertise and experiences to North Carolina
for Word Wide, ten one-week residencies sponsored by the North Carolina
Literary Consortium (NCLC). Besides Council funding of the project, participating
sponsors are putting up funds and are fundraising locally.
"My approach is to share my story to begin honoring and opening up
participants to their own story," says Rodriguez. Those participants
will be diverse in race, age, and gender. For example, some of the programming
planned for one of his weeks of residency includes an after-school project
for at-risk teenagers at the Greensboro Public Library; readings and smaller
hands-on class sessions at Rowan County's five public high schools; outreach
programs for Mexican immigrants coordinated by Hispanos Unidos and Sacred
Heart Catholic Church in Salisbury; workshops and readings coordinated
by Mitchell Community College Writer-in-Residence Joseph Bathanti at the
Fifth Street Homeless Shelter, My Sister's House (a residence for battered
women), Barium Springs Home for Children (a facility for at-risk youth),
and the Iredell Correctional Facility; public readings at several different
venues in a four-county area; and teacher education workshops.
The NCLC estimates 10,000 people will be exposed to Rodriguez directly,
and hopes that radio and television and the Internet will increase that
There will be a number of by-products of what promises to be a rich experience
for those thousands of people. "We are discovering Latin American
writers and storytellers who live in the state in the planning process,"
says Debbie McGill, literature director at the N.C. Arts Council. "We're
glad to have the opportunity to embrace Latin American writers more fully
in the state's literary community. Writers and readers will have the opportunity
to cross ethnic and cultural barriers through the medium of literature.
Now that's exciting," says McGill.
As Mr. Rodriguez takes his show on the road, he will be mentoring Latin
American writers living in North Carolina. Thus, the project will serve
as a model for future residency work.
But with all the talk of numbers and future relationships, it all comes
back to the individual for Rodriguez. He says simply, "I believe
in showing how everybody's life has value."