Friday, October 10, 2014

A Storyteller and Hero: James Foley/News L.A.'s New Poet Laureate: Luis J. Rodriguez

Guest Post 
by Luivette Resto           

Journalist James Wright "Jim" Foley (1973-2014)

It has been over a decade since I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with an MFA.  Yet, it was there in the musty hallways of Bartlett Hall that I met and had my first conversation with James Foley. He was pursuing his fiction degree while his best friend and my compadre, Yago S. Cura, was focused on poetry. We were all young and “aspiring” at the time. We survived New England winters, anticipated the fall, and complained about the lack of graduate courses that explored the politics of writing. We even petitioned one year along with other likeminded graduate students who knew that writing wasn’t just for the self. That it was about telling stories. Documenting what others were afraid to document.
            For Jim, Amherst wasn’t going to be his only stop on his journey to tell others’ stories. He continued on this courageous and compassionate path and became a teacher and mentor. One masters wasn’t enough for him. In 2008 he earned his Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University. His ability and drive to voice what others couldn’t or weren’t allowed made him a freelance journalist for the Global Post. After graduate school many of us went our separate ways, but as fate would have it, Yago and I ended up in Los Angeles and the bonds of musty Bartlett Hall and anti-climactic thesis defenses never weakened. Knowing how inseparable Jim and Yago were in grad school, I had to ask “How’s Jim doing?”
            Unfortunately, in 2011 during one of our catch-up conversations Yago informed me of Jim’s captivity in Libya. A website with a counter had been created, and Jim’s family pleads to Secretary of State Clinton for their son’s release on CNN. And we did what poets do when one of our own storytellers gets silenced. We held a poetry reading in his honor to raise awareness. Avenue 50 Studio graciously allowed usinto their space as some of LA’s finest poets, SA Griffin, Billy Burgos, Dennis Cruz, Annette Cruz, and Jeff Rochlin, spoke out for Jim, a man they had never met proving that sympathy has no boundaries.
            Jim came home from Libya after 44 days.
            As poets we felt relief when saw the counter turn to zero and Jim’s broad smile on TV, standing next to his family. His time in Libya didn’t deter him from his passion to document what many of us weren’t aware of in the U.S.
            In 2012 he entered Syria and was kidnapped on November 22. For two years I would ask if any word had surfaced about Jim, and Yago would say, “No, not yet. But hey no news is good news, right? All we can do is hope and pray.” A miracle happened in 2011, and we held onto the idea that miracles can strike twice.
            On August 19, 2014, that two year-old question was finally answered in a brutally public way. There on the afternoon newsfeed was Jim’s face looking back. The war came home for me in that instant. I couldn’t feel anything for a few weeks. I refused to watch the video. That is not the image I want to have of Jim. That wasn’t his legacy. I reached out to my grad school classmates after ten years. We consoled each other with virtual hugs and Jim stories. And once again we will gather in Los Angeles, but this time to send Jim home in the only way many of us can---through poetry.

            On November 23, 2014, at 2pm at Avenue 50 Studio, almost two years since his kidnapping in Syria, La Palabra Poetry Reading Series will hold a poetry tribute with the original poets from three years ago plus many more poets and musicians. At the end of the reading, Iris de Anda will lead everyone one in a healing prayer as we send Jim our intentions of gratitude.

Photos from the 2011 reading at Avenue 50 Studios to free Foley from Lybia. 
Yago S. Cura

Rafael Alvarado

SA Griffin and Luivette Resto
Poets Help Bring Foley Home in 2011

Reading to celebrate the life of James Foley will be November 23, 2014 at Avenue 50 Studios, 2-4 pm.


In Poetry News:
A new Los Angeles poet laureate was announced Thursday by Mayor Eric Garcetti: bestselling author Luis J. Rodriguez.

No comments: