Think bold and big—your actions will follow

I’ve had a great time these past few weeks. I’ll try to summarize, but let me just say how great my family, friends, supports, publishers, agents, and even acquaintances have been. Alignments are coming together in the world, but in my life they are very strong right now. First, my friend Mike Sonksen – Mike the Poet – came to the Associated Writing Program Conference in Chicago where we chatted for a while. He wrote a wonderful piece about his travels, which I include here. More on the AWP conference later, but first I must include a great piece by Reed Johnson of the Los Angeles Times that appeared on March 11 while I was in Chicago. I’m honored by this and send my gratitude: On February 22, I did a keynote talk in the “How Arts Works” Conference in Oakland, CA, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. We must fight for the arts in our schools, our neighborhoods, our homes… a society without arts is a society without the blooming creativity that is innate in all people and all communities—a creativity we need more than ever in this digital age. I’m thankful I was able to share the Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore story to a potent group of artists, organizers, and thinkers. Soon after, I took a plane to Alabama where I spent time speaking to students at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, as well as participants of the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research annual conference being held there. You may recall that Tuscaloosa suffered a horrendous tornado in what is now known as the “2011 Super Outbreak,” the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded that hit the Southern, Midwest, and Northeast regions of the United States. Around 360 tornados struck 21 states last year—with 346 people killed, some 240 in Alabama alone. In Tuscaloosa the most destructive tornado was a mile wide and cut a swathe of some 70 miles. There are now empty blocks and blocks of land that once held homes. I saw strip malls that are still damaged and boarded up. Fortunately, the university was not damaged, but the devastation was all around, in particular through the poorest areas of the city. The following week—beginning February 29—I landed in Chicago to take part in the largest gathering of writers, professors of writing programs, and publishers in the country: The Associated Writing Programs annual conference. This year was their largest yet, some 10,000 participants. Tia Chucha Press for the first time cooperated with ScapeGoat Press (thanks Ben and Linda) to have a table. We also had an official Tia Chucha Press reading with TCP poets Diane Glancy, Michael Warr, Luivette Resto, and Jose Antonio Rodriguez. In addition, I was part of a panel on the Chicago Poetry scene—I was there during the 1980s and 1990s explosion of poetry performance that included the birth of Poetry Slams. The panelists were Kurt Heintz, Sharon Mesmer, Paul McComas, and our moderator, Tim Brown. This panel was recorded by Kurt and can be heard on: And I did a reading and had a great public conversation with Dagoberto Gilb at the Grand Ballroom at Chicago’s Hilton for AWP, moderated by John Phillip Santos for the Macondo Foundation. I thank Macondo Foundation for setting this up and taking care of my wonderful stay. Dago was great as always, and there was a powerful exchange with the audience. One of the highlights was an offsite reading at Jak’s Tap & Restaurant for the Guild Complex during that week. This was to honor three Tia Chucha Press poets who were there at the beginning—Michael Warr, Patricia Smith, and myself. Other Tia Chucha Press poets read as well—Mary Hawley, Richard Vargas, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Luivette Resto, and our new TCP poet Melinda Palacio (her book, “How First Is A Story, Waiting” comes out in the fall). The place was packed, and many old friends (and family members, including my son Ramiro and his mother Camila) came to listen. Everyone did powerful readings. Despite the late hour when we finished, almost everyone stayed. I was also privileged to speak at a number of schools—the John Hancock High School, the Marguette School, the William Penn School, and Steinmetz High School. At the invitation of my friend Amanda Klonsky of Free Write, I also had an engaging talk with young men at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago. And I addressed a small group of gang intervention workers and their charges for BUILD at the San Lucas Church in Humboldt Park—where in the year 1999-2000 I helped found the Humboldt Park Teen Reach with BUILD, YMCA’s Street Violence Prevention Program, and Youth Struggling for Survival. I also did a quick but important reading with Michael Warr at Weeds, hosted for years and years by my friend Gregorio Gomez (this was one of my regular hangouts when I was active in the Chicago poetry scene). I did take two days to go to New York City, courtesy of Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster, for a reading and ceremony of the National Book Critics Circle Awards. My newest memoir, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addictions, Revolutions, and Healing” was a finalist. I was honored to be among this august group of thirty finalists in categories such as fiction, poetry, biography, autobiography, and more. I didn’t win, but I won just by the recognition, by being included. I want to thank all the NBCC nominees who fought for my book. And my congratulations go to all the winners. My visit also included a wonderful time with my granddaughters Amanda and Anastasia (who live in Sterling and Hanover, IL respectively) that included a nice car trip with Grandma Camila. I have nothing but love for my growing family. I must say how proud I am of my son Ramiro, who is going to college, working in gang prevention projects at Leif Ericson Elementary School in Chicago, and being a great human being. I also spoke at a Network for Revolutionary Change gathering at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum next to the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. Director Lisa Lee did a talk on the revolutionary legacy of Jane Addams and Chicago. Also speaking was Sheilah Garland-Olaniran who gave an important account of organized and unorganized labor struggles in the United States. Moderated by Alma Montes and Peter Vargas, the floor was opened up to the audience, which was around 70 people, including Native American activists, undocumented migrants, labor leaders, anti-war activists, artists, students, poets, and more. The message—we are revolutionaries, we are responsible and serious, and the time is now to think big, think bold, and carry out teachings and actions that encompass the highest conscious, connective, and revolutionary ideas. For more about the Network, please go to: c/s

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