Sunday, October 10, 2010

ALOUD: Writing in Latino and Beyond

Olga García Echeverría

I’m going to say it aloud so you all can hear me--if you haven’t heard of ALOUD or attended one of their previous events, then you’re missing out on one of Los Angeles’ best literary and artistic treats. ALOUD, curated and directed by Louise Steinman at the Central Library, began in 1993 with the reopening of the downtown Library. The library had been shut down due to the horrific arson fire of 1986 that destroyed nearly half a million volumes. With the help of the Library Foundation and community and corporate leaders, the downtown Central library rose out of the ashes, undergoing a historic renovation and birthing new library programs such as ALOUD.

Since its inception, ALOUD has held more than 1,000 readings, lectures, performances and dialogues featuring key figures in a variety of fields, such as the arts, humanities, politics, science, etc. Usually free to the public, the events are held in the beautiful Mark Taper Auditorium, where one can sit back in a comfy seat and share an intimate and dynamic evening with such literary gems as Eduardo Galeano, Rita Dove, Leslie Marmon Silko (mark your calendar--she'll be there on Oct 20th) and Edwidge Danticat (mark your calendar again--she’ll be there Oct 26). Aside from these literary greats, ALOUD has also featured young, up and coming artists. I love that the same place that hosted Cornel West also featured local writer Erika Ayon, for example. Listening to Erika read poems about growing up and selling oranges in South Central Los Angeles was refreshing, for it reminded me that literary and artistic spaces (especially well-funded ones) should represent us all. Did I mention FREE admission?

On Thursday, October 21st at 7:00 PM ALOUD is hosting Writing in Latino/a: A National Conversation. Sure to be stimulating and memorable, the event will be moderated by Ilán Stavans, editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. On the panel are Susana Chávez-Silverman, Rubén Martínez, and Luis Rodriguez. Aside from reading their work, the authors will be discussing questions about Latino literature, Latino readership, language usage such as Spanglish, and much more. To attend the program, please reserve (FREE) online at or by calling 213 228-7025. Bios on the participating artist are included at the end of this bloga.

This past week I got a chance to email-chat with Maureen Moore, the Cultural Programs Coordinator of ALOUD. Here she is answering a few questions about the ALOUD series.

What in your opinion makes the series unique?

ALOUD is unique because it provides residents of Los Angeles the opportunity to access live conversation and ideas from a range of authors, speakers, artists, panelists, scholars, and journalists speaking about rich topics from everything like urban agriculture to interfaith dialogue to contemporary fiction to the science behind memory and even performances that incorporate music, singing, and spoken work. I do not know any one place in Los Angeles that brings this caliber of writers and artists to the public in a free public forum like ALOUD, which is housed in the city's most democratic cultural institution, the library. Each program is also podcast and available for free via our website which gives people who don't live in the city an opportunity to hear the programs.

Another unique component is that most of the programs are in a conversation format, where the featured speaker is in dialogue with a local interlocuter. The audience is also given the opportunity to participate in the conversation. This format enriches the experience and sets it a part from a traditional reading or lecture.

Los Angeles is a huge, fast-paced city. As city dwellers, we interact with fellow Angelinos daily, yet it can sometimes be a challenge to really connect with people in meaningful ways. What does ALOUD give us in this respect?

In this digital and technological world where much of our social interaction is limited to interfacing through a computer, ALOUD provides a forum for people to connect with others live in an intimate, safe space while learning about different worlds, engaging with creative and intelligent minds, and hopefully taking that home and sharing it with their community.

How does ALOUD maintain its vibrant heartbeat in today's financial/political climate where so much art programming is being slashed or eliminated in our public schools and community spaces?

ALOUD is a cultural program of the Library Foundation, whose work is to support and fund programming for the city's 73 branch libraries. Despite the recent slash in library operating hours and massive budget cuts at the library by the city, The Library Foundation is committed to continuing to offer this enriching series to the public, as well as to continue funding branch programs that range from live homework help, adult literacy to technology and computer aides. Now more than ever people need access to ideas and creativity, and ALOUD has been able to maintain such offerings in this climate.

How are the topics of focus for the ALOUD series selected?
ALOUD is a curated program that tries to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity not just of Los Angeles but of the literary world in at large, featuring established non-fiction and fiction writers to featuring panels that bring together voices from similar fields. ALOUD strives to engage both speaker and audience member alike.

I'm looking forward to "Writing in Latino: A National Conversation." What can the audience expect from this panel?

This will be a very special evening, because the editor of the Anthology of Latino Literature will be in conversation with three authors included in the anthology who are also local Angelinos. Our city's culture is steeped in Latino culture and so many of us can identify with the duality of being raised bi-cultural and also bilingual. How do these experiences shape both our personal and national identity? What role does Spanglish play in this? The authors will read from their work and converse together and also with the audience.

What has been the general public response to your program?
Since working for the Library Foundation and specifically, on the ALOUD series, the type of feedback I've heard from the public who attend these programs is phenomenal. People have shared how listing to a panel on interfaith dialogue broadened their understanding about Islam, how attending a program about the history of water in Los Angeles made them feel connected to the city and their fellow Angelinos, how experiencing Natalie Merchant's literary-inspired musical concert was something they'd waited for all their life. It is really gratifying to help facilitate these experiences and to do so in such an important setting, the library.

Writing in Latino: A National Conversation
October 21st, 7:00 PM
Directions/Parking: Unless otherwise indicated, ALOUD programs take place at the Los Angeles Central Library's Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071

Artists' Bios

Ilan Stavans, a native of Mexico City, is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. An award-winning writer and public television host, his books include Growing Up Latino, The Hispanic Condition and Spanglish. The Washington Post has described him as "Latin America's liveliest and boldest critic and most innovative cultural enthusiast." He is the recipient of numerous honors-including an Emmy nomination, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Latino Literature Prize, the Antonia Pantoja Award, and Chile's Presidential Medal. For many years he was host of the PBS show La Plaza: Conversations with Ilan Stavans.

Susana Chávez-Silverman grew up bilingually and biculturally in California, Spain and México. Her work is at home in both Spanish and English and the space(s) in-between. She has published Killer Crónicas: Bilingual Memories (2004) and Scenes from la Cuenca de Los Angeles y otros Natural Disasters (2010). She has published numerous essays on U.S. Latin@ authors and Spanish-language poetry, and is co-editor of Tropicalizations: Transcultural Representations of Latinidad (1997), and Reading and Writing the Ambiente: Queer Sexualities in Latino, Latin American and Spanish Culture (2000). She teaches at Pomona College in Claremont, CA.

Rubén Martínez is an author, teacher and performer. He is the author of a trilogy of books on immigration and globalization: The Other Side: Notes from the New L.A., Mexico City and Beyond; Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail and The New Americans: Seven Families Journey to Another Country. He holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature & Writing at Loyola Marymount University. He has been active in the spoken word and performance scenes for over two decades, and as a musician has recorded with such acts as Los Illegals, Concrete Blonde and The Roches.

Luis Rodriguez, an accomplished Chicano poet, is also known for Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., a memoir that explores the motivation of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that claim its participants. Always Running earned a Carl Sandburg Literary Award and was designated a New York Times Notable Book; it has also been named by the American Library Association as one of the nation’s 100 most censored books. Luis has also published childrens’ books in both English and Spanish. He was one of 50 leaders worldwide selected as “Unsung Heroes of Compassion,” presented by the Dalai Lama. Luis is currently working on a new memoir.

*Picture of Mark Taper Auditorium respectfully borrowed from

*Pictures and bios of authors taken from ALOUD website


Kathleen Alcala said...

Looks like a fabulous program!

Louise said...

Gracias, Olga! Louise

JM said...

Why isn't Sandra Cisneros in this anthology?

lori lane said...

It does look like a great program! It is important to have an avenue for our many cultures to speak, and have a method of getting our voices across. There is a new film out called GhettoPhysics. It speaks a lot of what u r saying, and is a movie that all cultures need to check out. It gives a voice to the workers, and the treatment and manipulation of people, via capitalism. It has some derogatory terms, that if U can overlook and hear the message, it'll give a healthy spin on what is going on in the systems...