Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book


Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Luis J. Rodriguez  

Pen Name: None

Genre:

Born: July 9, 1954 in El Paso, Texas

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Illinois Connection

Rodriguez moved to Chicago in 1985 and lived there until 2000.

Biographical and Professional Information

Luis Rodriguez is a poet, lecturer, and journalist. He has published articles, reviews and poetry in numerous journals and newspapers. His work has won several awards, and he is recognized as a major figure of contemporary Chicano literature. His best-known work, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., is the recipient of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, among others, and has been the subject of controversy when included on reading lists in California, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas schools due to its frank depictions of gang life. Rodriguez has also founded or co-founded numerous organizations, including the Tía Chucha Press, which publishes the work of unknown writers, Tía Chucha's Centro Cultural, a San Fernando Valley cultural center, and the Chicago-based Youth Struggling for Survival, an organization for at-risk youth.


Published Works Expand for more information


Titles At Your Library

Poems across the Pavement
ISBN: 0962428701

Tia Chucha. 2014

Tia Chucha Press started twenty-five years ago in Chicago with the publication of Luis J. Rodriguez’s first book, Poems Across the Pavement. As founder/editor of the Press, Rodriguez has since published more than fifty poetry collections of quality crosscultural U.S. poets, as well as anthologies, chapbooks, and a CD. Tia Chucha Press is now a project of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles, which Rodriguez helped create in 2001 with his wife Trini.

We are honored to announce the 25th Anniversary Edition of Poems Across the Pavement—close to twenty poems of an emerging poet that began a prolific writing career.

The Concrete River: Poems
ISBN: 0915306425

Curbstone Books. 1995

1991 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence

The Concrete River
is a collection of poems by poet laureate of Los Angeles Luis Rodríguez. They illuminate the gritty idiosyncrasies of immigrant life in urban barrios spanning Los Angeles to Chicago to Harlem. Rodríguez lends powerful voices to those struggling to keep the gas on, to find work, and to keep love.

Populated by a vibrant cast of characters, ranging from the drugged, to the eccentric, to the heartbroken, Rodríguez’s poems protest capitalism, violence, and exploitation while reveling in the potential of compassion.

Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.
ISBN: 0743276914

Touchstone. 2005

The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new cover.

Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.

By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.

Achieving success as an award-winning poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.

At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.

Amrica Is Her Name
ISBN: 1880684403

Curbstone Books. 1998

Set in the Pilsen barrio of Chicago, this children's picture book gives a heartwarming message of hope. The heroine, Amrica, is a primary school student who is unhappy in school until a poet visits the class and inspires the students to express themselves creatively-in Spanish or English. Amrica Is Her Name emphasizes the power of individual creativity in overcoming a difficult environment and establishing self-worth and identity through the young girl Amrica's desire and determination to be a writer. This story deals realistically with the problems in urban neighborhoods and has an upbeat theme: you can succeed in spite of the odds against you. Carlos Vzquez's inspired four-color illustrations give a vivid sense of the barrio, as well as the beauty and strength of the young girl Amrica.

Trochemoche: Poems by Luis Rodriguez
ISBN: 1439502366

Paw Prints 2008-06-26. 2008

TROCHEMOCHE means helter-skelter in Spanish, and this book expresses the turmoil of the barrio and the various themes that drive Luis J. Rodrguez's poetry. Drawing on more than ten years of poems, Rodrguez writes powerfully and passionately about urban youth, family, and the plight of neglected communities, while exploring the rich cultural roots of his Chicano ancestry.

It Doesn't Have to Be This Way/No tiene que ser asi: A Barrio Story/Una historia del barrio
ISBN: 0892392037

Lee & Low Books Inc. 2004

Monchi likes to write poems, hang out with his cousin, and tell stories to his uncle. Then one day, a member of the local gang tells him it's time to join up. Monchi is scared but excited. The older boys give him the handshake, girls talk to him, and even teachers are afraid of him. But when a tragic event changes everything, Monchi must make an important decision. There is no easy answer to his dilemma, but the love and respect of his uncle help him find a way out. Written in both English and Spanish, It Doesn't Have to Be This Way is a compelling tale of a young boy's encounter with the world of gangs.

The Republic of East L.a.: Stories
ISBN: 1435297881

Paw Prints 2008-06-05. 2008

From the award-winning author of Always Running comes a brilliant collection of short stories about life in East Los Angeles. It is a life brimming with hope and vitality, the depiction of which reaffirms Luis J. Rodriguez as not only one of America's keenest urbanists but as a writer with a perfect blend of humanist empathy and poetic soul.

Behind this famed enclave's notorious gang violence its well-documented and stereotyped poverty rates, and the supposed desperation of those who live in East L.A. without any hope of escape, lies one resounding element: real people, with real strength, in very real predicaments.

Whether hilariously capturing the voice of a philosophizing limo driver in his late twenties whose dream is to make the most of his rap-metal garage band in "My Ride, My Revolution," or the monologue-styled rant of a tes-ti-fy-ing! tent revivalist named Ysela in "Oiga," Rodriguez squeezes humor from the lives of people who are not ready to sacrifice their dreams due to circumstance. In so doing, he allows readers to enter into the hidden and hope-filled chambers of an individual's spirit, only to artfully balance this with the more serious intonations of life's grimmer realities.

In "Finger Dance," Rodriguez pays tribute to the slow death of a violent and harsh father who, in his last days, is rendered physically and mentally helpless. In "Pigeons," we are shown a world where Mexican-Americans ironically and hypocritically distrust Mexicans, while in "Sometimes You Dance with a Watermelon," we meet a mother who finds momentary relief from her life with a good mambo, a hot sun, and a juicy piece of fruit.

In these stories, Luis J. Rodriguez gives eloquent voice to the neighborhood where he spent many years as a resident, a father, an organizer, and, finally, a writer: a neighborhood that offers more to the world than its appearance allows. The Republic of East L.A. is unforgettable fiction from a true talent.

Hearts and Hands: Making Peace in a Violent Time
ISBN: 1583222634

Seven Stories Press. 2001

Hearts and Hands deals with many of the difficult issues addressed in Luis Rodríguez’s memoir of gang life, Always Running, but with a focus on healing through community building. Empowered by his experiences as a peacemaker with gangs in Los Angeles and Chicago, Rodríguez offers a unique book of change. He makes concrete suggestions, shows how we can create nonviolent opportunities for youth today, and redirects kids into productive and satisfying lives. And he warns that we sacrifice community values for material gain when we incarcerate or marginalize people already on the edge of society. His interest in dissolving gang influence on black and latino kids is personal as well as societal

his son, to whom he dedicates Hearts and Hands, is currently serving a prison sentence for gang-related activity. With anecdotes, interviews, and time-tested guidelines, Hearts and Hands makes a powerful argument for building and supporting community life.

Music of the Mill: A Novel
ISBN: 0060560770

Harper Perennial. 2006

In a stunning literary achievement -- with a power and scope reminiscent of John Steinbeck -- Luis J. Rodriguez captures the soul of a community in this epic novel about love, family, workers' rights, industrial strife, and cultural dislocation

As the World War II cultural and industrial boom birthed a new California, a mighty steel industry rose with the potential to make modest dreams real for the workers willing to risk their lives in the mill's ferocious heat.

For the Salcidos, the Nazareth mill became an engine for survival. Luis J. Rodriguez chronicles the simultaneous evolutions of this American family and the enormous enterprise that drove them -- from optimistic and cohesive units questing for stability and prosperity to disintegrating entities whose dreams have long since lost their luster.

Spanning six decades, the novel conveys the drama, resilience, and humor of working-class life during a little-known era in American history.

My Nature is Hunger: New and Selected Poems, 1989 – 2004
ISBN: 1931896240

Curbstone Books. 2005

Award-winning Latino author Luis J. Rodríguez stuns with My Nature is Hunger. The collection features 26 new poems that reflect Rodríguez’s increasingly global view, his hard-won spirituality, and his movement toward reconciliation with his family and his past, as well as selections from his previous books, Poems Across the Pavement, The Concrete River, and Trochemoche.


Awards

-- Always Running, La Vida Loca, The Gang Days in L.A.

Carl Sandburg Literary Award, 1993

Chicago Sun Times Book Award, 1993Other Awards:

Poetry Center Book Award, San Francisco State University, 1989

PEN Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence, 1991 & 2003

National Association for Poetry Therapy Public Service Award, 1997

Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, 1998

Patterson Prize for Books for Young Adults, Foreward magazine's Silver Book Award and Parents' Choice Books for Children Award. 1999

Illinois Author of the Year, Illinois Association of Teachers of English, 2000

Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award presented by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Wisdom in Action, 2001