An Interview with Luis J. Rodriguez

(Spanish version)

Among countless literary awards and fellowships, best-selling author Luis J. Rodriguez received an “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” Award, presented by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His first non-fiction book ALWAYS RUNNING, a first-hand account of gangbanging in East L.A., is used in classrooms throughout California, despite the fact that the American Library Association in 1999 called it one of the 100 most censored books in the United States. In the 1960s, he joined his first street gang at the age of 11 in San Gabriel Valley. He dropped out of high school at age 15 and was also kicked out of his home and became homeless. Under strict conditions set forth by his mother, he was allowed to return home, but had to live in the family’s garage, which had no running water or heat using a can to urinate in.

At the same time, Luis became politically involved in the Chicano Movement and was part of the infamous walkouts staged by students demanding equality in education. Luis efforts in community organizing were recognized especially when at age 18 he faced a six-year prison sentence and letters of support were written on his behalf. It was then that he made the choice to dedicate his life to serving the public on behalf of the Mexican American people. His first book of poetry POEMS ACROSS THE PAVEMENT was published in 1989 at the age of 35. Now with fourteen published books in memoir, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, and poetry, Luis has a new highly anticipated book called IT CALLS YOU BACK (Simon & Schuster) to be released October 2011. In a recent interview with Reader’s Services’ Elvira Carrizal-Dukes, Luis Rodriguez shared insights about his personal experiences, his previous work, and his new upcoming book. Continue reading

Book Trailer of the Week

After a brief hiatus, the Book Trailer of the Week is back with this captivating clip for Laura Hillenbrand’s new biography Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  Winner of the 2010 L.A. Times Book Prize for Biography, Unbroken tells the enthralling tale of Louie Zamperini, a 1936 Munich Olympics track star and a WWII Army Air Corps bombardier who endured 47 days in a life raft and two years in Japan’s most brutal POW camps after his B-24 crashed in the Pacific.  Broken and haunted upon his repatriation, Zamperini eventually experienced a spiritual rebirth, and now at 93, he works with the Japanese to promote forgiveness and healing.  Inspiring, heart-wrenching, and simply unforgettable, Unbroken is Seabiscuit-author Hillenbrand at her best.  Don’t miss it.

Book Trailer of the Week

Today is Presidents Day, and we celebrate with this Book Trailer of the Week for Ron Chernow’s landmark biography Washington: A Life.  In this fascinating clip, the National Book Award-winning author tours in person several of the same landmark locations he visits in the pages of his richly nuanced portrait of America’s first President.  A 2010 NY Times Notable Book, Chernow’s carefully researched page turner brings Washington to vivid life as “a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods” while recounting how he rose from humble beginnings to become the father of our nation.  A unique, groundbreaking biography not to be missed.  Happy Birthday, George!      

Fragments of Marilyn Monroe

This Vanity Fair article includes some fascinating excerpts from Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe, which reveal Ms. Monroe as a young woman with a “fierce determination to master her art,” and “for whom writing and poetry were lifelines, the ways and means to discover who she was and to sort through her often tumotuous emotional life.”

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia and Alice, Alice, Alice

What do you do when the whole world wants you to stay a child forever? When your juvenile self is more real and  lovable to everyone you meet than the adult you?

Such was the real life plight of two very different women: Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Maureen McCormick, better known respectively as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Marcia Brady”. Both were cemented in the public consciousness at a very young age: Hargreaves was 10 when Alice in Wonderland was written, McCormick 13 when The Brady Bunch became a hit. Both spent their adult years trying to distance themselves from their fictional alter egos, with varying degrees of success. Continue reading

A Little Birthday Cash

Johnny Cash a San Quentin, 1969.

Johnny Cash performing at San Quentin State Prison, February 1969. Click on the photo to watch footage from the show.

On February 26, 1932, he was born to poor Southern Baptist sharecroppers in the tiny town of Kingsland, Arkansas.  In 1950, he was stationed in West Germany to eavesdrop on Soviet radio traffic for the U.S. Air Force.  By 1956, he was perched atop the Billboard charts with his song “I Walk the Line” and well along the road to becoming an American legend.  He was Johnny Cash, and today would have been his 78th birthday. 

Over a career that spanned nearly 50 years, Cash’s distinctively deep baritone and “freight train” rhythm resonated with fans of country, rock, blues, folk, and gospel music and carried him to the pinnacle of musical success.  He won 17 Grammy Awards, sold over 90 million records, hosted a successful primetime T.V. show, and was inducted into both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.  But along with these great heights there also came devastating lows.  Cash’s struggles with drugs and alcohol cost him his first marriage, wreaked havoc upon his health, and saw him jailed for smuggling amphetamines across the U.S.-Mexico border.  Through it all, however, Cash remained true to his humble roots while singing both to and for the downtrodden, downhearted, and down-and-out.  He was a rebel, a reformer, and above all, a relevent artist who continued to reach new audiences up until his death in 2003 from complications with diabetes. 

Continue reading

The Suicide Index

suicideindexphotoWickersham, Joan. The Suicide Index. 2008. (155.937 Wicke.J)

When Paul Wickersham killed himself in 1991, he not only ended his own life, but also shattered the lives of his wife and two adult daughters, irrevocably altering their futures, as well as their pasts. Every former notion, thought, and memory of the man that they had known and loved so well is called into question by the final act of his life. Now, 16 years after the fact, his daughter Joan, attempts to make sense of the man, and the action that has come to define him. Rather than tackle the memoir as a straight chronological narrative, Wickersham tells the story in the form of an index. Imposing this formal, orderly structure on such a chaotic and emotional event allows her to bring a level-headed objectivity to the story and enables her to clearly organize the labyrinthine and erratic nature of her thoughts and feelings about her father’s suicide. Wickersham recreates her father’s life by skipping backwards and forwards through time, gradually unpeeling layer after layer of the man, searching futilely for a motive which she knows she will never find. As the details of the suicide and her family history unfold, painful truths about abuse, failures, and betrayals kept hidden for years are revealed, and to her credit, Wickersham never backs away from the conflict, confronting it head-on with an unflinching intimacy. Despite the heavy subject matter, the book never gets bogged down in despair. Wickersham’s beautiful writing is fluid and concise throughout, and she occasionally finds room for humor amid the darkness. This book will appeal to fans of biographies, memoirs, and psychology texts, as well as anyone personally touched by suicide. Wickersham puts a bold human face to an oft hidden topic.  (Andy R. Reader’s Services)