Luis Rodriguez, award-winning author and poet, will read selections from his works today at 4 p.m. at Campbell Hall. Admission to the event is free.
Rodriguez is the author of five books, including two children’s books. He is best known for his memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., which documents his experiences as the son of immigrant parents and his struggle to escape a life of poverty and gang membership in Los Angeles. Rodriguez says he wrote the memoir as a cautionary tale to his 15-year-old son Ramiro, who had joined a Chicago gang.
“[Rodriguez] was really down and out, just going nowhere with his life, but then had a reawakening and made something out of himself,” said Maria Herrera-Sobek, professor of Chicano and Chicana studies. “He’s a living model for all of us.”
Rodriguez has also authored three books of poetry. His poetry has won several awards, including the Poetry Center Book Award in 1989, the P.E.N. West/Josephine Miles Literary Award in 1991, and ForeWord magazine’s Silver Award for Poetry Book of the Year in 1999.
“I don’t think he should be ghetto-ized the way he is when people classify him as a major Chicano writer,” said Roman Baratiak, manager of the Films and Lectures division of Arts & Lectures. “You don’t say Tom Wolfe is a major white writer; you just say he’s a major writer. Rodriguez should be classified the same way.”
In 1994, Rodriguez helped found the Chicago-based Youth Struggling for Survival (YSS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to working with troubled children. In 2000 he was among 50 people selected by the nonprofit group Wisdom in Action to receive the Unsung Heroes of Compassion award in 2000, presented to him by the Dalai Lama.
Baratiak says that the amount of time Rodriguez will be spending in the area makes his visit unique.
“Most writers come to campus, do their presentation and maybe talk with a college class,” Baratiak said. “Rodriguez is going to be visiting Isla Vista and Santa Maria schools over the next two days. He will also be going to a youth facility in Guadalupe, where he will speak with incarcerated children, many of whom are current or former gang members.”
Herrera-Sobek said she believes Rodriguez can be an inspiration to troubled youth.
“Not only did he save himself, but he’s dedicated his life to helping others,” Herrera-Sobek said. “He’s committed to steering youth away from gangs, and because he’s lived that life and was able to get out of it, he is a very good role model to people who feel there’s no escape from their situation.”