Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

La Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

La Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez

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California State University, Northridge

Aspiring writers and poets at California State University, Northridge had the opportunity to learn from the ultimate mentor this spring. None other than the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, Luis J. Rodriguez, a lifelong Angeleno and self-proclaimed "Valley Guy," is serving as scholar-in-residence this semester and teaching a literature course in the Department of Chicana/o Studies.

The class, "The Heartbeat at the Periphery: How Marginalized and Oppressed Literature is Moving the Culture," focuses on works by people of color and labeled as "other" in the United States, including Chicana/o, Native American, African-American and LGBTQ writers, Rodriguez said. The graduate-level class includes undergraduates and graduate students.

"I link literature to real life, to the world we're in -poetry and its various rhythms, and its impact on people's lives," Rodriguez said. "Most of the time, young people are not exposed to great literature any more. Often, the canon is narrowed to white writers. My goal is to connect this great literature to the real world."

As his CSUN students explore authors such as Luis Alberto Urrea and Audre Lorde and exercise their own writing muscles in the class, Rodriguez said he's seen their writing improve.

"I want them to be activists about this new kind of literature," he said. "I'm encouraging them and challenging them, so they're more able to use language in a powerful way-language that connects to their own lives."

Chicana/o Studies major Mayra Zaragoza said she jumped at the chance to take a class with Rodriguez who has served as her mentor at Tia Chuchas Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar. The center is popular with CSUN students and includes the headquarters for Rodri-guez's Tia Chucha Press.

"[The class] is a great opportunity for young writers because he is very honest when it comes to helping anyone who wants to go into the field," said Zaragoza, 25, a junior. "He is Chicano, and when you think poet, you don't necessarily think Chicano.

"Him being here is such an honor and a privilege for us because his story is very unique," she said. "He went from being in a gang to turning his life around through poetry and writing."

Brought up in Watts and East Los Angeles, Rodriguez is a community activist and vocal advocate for the power of words to change lives. …

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