Luis J. RodriGuez is a celebrateDPOET, novelist, nonfiction writer and children’s book author. But it’s his classic memoir of gang life, Always Running, that has made him a Los Angeles icon.
Always Running has been a near-constant presence on the American Library Association’s 100-most-banned-and-challenged books list. In California it’s been yanked from schools in Santa Rosa, San Jose, Fremont and Santa Barbara — an irony, since literacy-challenged kids from all over the state have cited Always Running as the first book they had enough interest in to read in its entirety.
Rodriguez was jumped into the San Gabriel Valley gang Lomas at age 11, shot heroin at 15 and was in and out of various lockups from his teenage years onward. After becoming active in the Chicano movement in the early ’70s, he gradually began to leave la vida loca. At age 25, he discovered he could write. “Art was my lifeline,” he says.
When, years later, his then-15-year-old son, Ramiro, drifted toward gang life, Rodriguez wrote Always Running, hoping the cautionary tale would wave the kid away from danger. It didn’t. Although Rodriguez’s writings have often rescued others, Ramiro is now serving 14 years for attempted murder.
Rodriguez teaches poetry writing to former and wannabe gangsters and gives readings and workshops in juvenile facilities, schools and prisons, where he tells guys of all ages that real men are good fathers, treat women decently, work, feel, cry. He is the founder of Tia Chucha Press, which publishes minority poets, and the co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural, a Sylmar bookstore and performance space. In addition to his more predictable awards, he was named an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” by the Dalai Lama.