The Bay Area: Poetry, Song, and Deep Talk

Eddie Palmieri streamed through the piano keys as he played his most well known hits at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco. It was Sunday, December 4, and Eddie’s last gig at Yoshi’s after several nights of sets. It was also around his birthday—on December 15 he’ll be 74. I listened, danced, and enjoyed a musician I once saw around 35 years ago at the Hollywood Palladium with his famous Salsa orchestra, playing the same songs—and sounding just as good. I mean “Azucar,” “Muneca,” “Vamonos Pal Monte,” and more. With me were the poet Genny Lim and my longtime friend, Bay Area publicist Juliana Mojica. In the 1970s I was a huge Salsa music fan—the Fania All Stars, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Eddie and his brother Charlie, among others. Besides enjoying Salsa concerts in L.A., I saw some of these same musicians at the famous Village Gate in Manhattan. So listening to Eddie at Yoshi’s evoked some great memories. I returned to the Bay Area in late November to speak at the Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland, which had standing room only. The event also featured Hip Hop performers, poets, and Native ceremonial drummers. Many of my fans/supporters came by and we had a great time. Earlier I spent a couple of hours with lifers at San Quentin Prison in a writing project. I came courtesy of Brenda Rhoades of Sugar Beet Productions, who’s working on a film of prisoners who were given life sentences as juveniles. Some of the men had already done fifteen years or more. I must say their writings were excellent and compelling. I hope to continue to work with these men in the future. I also spent about three days in Marin County at the annual board meeting of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, founded by storyteller and drummer Michael Meade. Mosaic publishes books and CDs as well as organizes events, talks, conferences, and workshops on mythology, ritual, rites of passage, soul work, and much more across the U.S. and other countries. I’ve been working with Mosaic for eighteen years, including at their yearly men’s conference in Mendocino. It was great to see my many friends in this work at the meeting. On Monday, December 5 I spent most of the day at the Alameda County Juvenile Hall, organized by another long-time supporter, Amy Cheney of the Write to Read program. I spoke to three groups of youth, including a young women’s circle that proved to be emotionally powerful. That evening I did a presentation at the City College of San Francisco, Mission campus, which held another full house, including young people from the Youth Adelante program of East Palo Alto, CA. A rich discussion followed with deep talk, poetry, tears, and revolutionary ideas. On Tuesday, I spoke at the Arise High School, an Oakland Charter school in the Fruitvale neighborhood, to more than 200 students—again the attention and questions were amazing. And later that day, I was at 826 Valencia, a writing center in the Mission District of San Francisco, founded by writer Dave Eggers and catering to children and youth ages six to eighteen. I read from my children’s book, “America Is Her Name” and fielded some tough questions from the children. Also from their Spanish-speaking mothers. Overall my time in the Bay Area for several days over the past two months was overwhelmingly positive: I ended up selling more than 150 books and had packed houses at all my public events. I was interviewed on various radio programs and had print media coverage as well. Thanks to Juliana Mojica, George Galvis, Amy Cheney, Brenda Rhoades, Vickie Vertiz, and many others who helped make these events possible. c/s


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