Creative Writing from California’s Lancaster Prison
Release Date: APRIL 2020
Make a Poem Cry is an anthology of poems from one of California’s high-security prisons brought to us through the creative writing classes of Luis J. Rodríguez, sponsored by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. Rodríguez, who is Tia Chucha Press’s founding editor, and formerly incarcerated writer Kenneth E. Hartman have selected work penned from 2016 to 2018. These are poems, essays, stories, and more mined from the depths of familial, racial, and economic violence. They are imaginings for how to address trouble and crime without punishment, dehumanization, and violence in return. Here’s restorative/transformative justice in action. Here’s redemption in the flesh. Here are voices and viewpoints needed for a just and equitable world for all.
Funded by the Arts for Justice Fund, the project is part of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural’s “Trauma to Transformation Program.”
About the Editors
Convicted of murder at 19, Kenneth E. Hartman was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. After serving 38 years, former California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. commuted his sentence and Hartman was paroled in 2017. He’s presently a freelance writer who’s also working as a development coordinator and prison programs specialist for a Los Angeles-area nonprofit involved in prison rehabilitation programs. His 2009 memoir Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars won the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award. Hartman edited Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough, a collection of prisoner writings about life without the possibility of parole sentences, winner of a 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award. His work has appeared in the New York Times and Harper’s.
For 40 years Luis J. Rodriguez has taught creative writing as well as conducted poetry readings, lectures, and healing circles in prisons, juvenile lockups, and jails throughout the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America, and Europe. He’s the founding editor of Tia Chucha Press and co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. He has 15 books in poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction, including the best-selling memoir “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.”
"There are few places left where putting pen to paper remains the dominant mode of formal communication, but so it is inside the jails and prisons of this country. Whether it’s sad letters to family members, or desperate pleas to heedless courts and government functionaries, or long, passionate missives to lovers on the other side of the fences, the average man or woman in prison talks to the rest of the world through words written on paper.”
—Kenneth E. Hartman, from the preface
Book Features/ Appearances
Tia Chucha Press is one of the country’s leading small cross-cultural presses, focused on socially engaged poetry and literature that matters.
Tia Chucha Press began in 1989 with the publication of Luis J. Rodriguez’s first book, the 19-poem collection “Poems Across the Pavement,” designed by Jane Brunette of Menominee/German/French descent, who has remained as TCP designer ever since. With Jane’s artistic skills for covers and inside pages, and Luis as founding editor, the press began publishing the best collections of the thriving Chicago poetry scene – home of the Poetry Slams – featuring poets such as Patricia Smith, David Hernandez, Michael Warr, Lisa Buscani, Tony Fitzpatrick, Cin Salach, Carlos Cumpian, Elizabeth Alexander, and more.
In 1991, TCP became the publishing wing of the nonprofit Guild Complex Literary Arts Center in Chicago, run by Michael Warr and co-founded in 1989 by a collective of artists, writers and activists, including Luis J. Rodriguez. Northwestern University Press of Evanston IL also became TCP’s distributor to the book trade.
Luis remained as editor and began to publish nationally renowned writers such as Kyoki Mori, Diane Glancy, Linda Rodriguez, Melvin Dixon, Ricardo Sanchez, Virgil Suarez, Terrance Hayes, A. Van Jordan, and Alfred Arteaga, among others. Luis worked with an editorial committee that included Reginald Gibbons, Mary Hawley, Michael Warr, Quraysh Ali, and others. A chapbook series of Chicago poets and anthologies were also developed in the 1990s and early 2000s as well as a CD of Chicago performance poets called “Snake in the Heart.”
By 2005, TCP was transferred to Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, becoming its publishing wing. TCP developed a growing list of new poetry books, including from emerging writers such as Patricia Spears Jones, Richard Vargas, Luivette Resto, Linda Susan Jackson, Susan D. Anderson, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Melinda Palacio, and Mayda Del Valle. An anthology of the best of Tia Chucha Press appeared in 2005: “Dream of a Word: The Tia Chucha Press Poetry Anthology” edited by Quraysh Ali and Toni Assante Lightfoot.
Besides Luis, many other TCP poets have gone on to greater achievement: Patricia Smith was national and international poetry slam champion and was later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for a non-poetry book; Terrance Hayes won the National Book Award for a later collection of poetry; and Elizabeth Alexander became President Barack Obama’s inaugural poet in 2009. Other TCP poets have won recognition such as a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers Award, a Carl Sandburg Book Award, a Paterson Poetry Prize, a Lannan Fellowship in Poetry, and a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
In 2012, TCP published its first non-poetry book, “Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a Community,” edited by Denise Sandoval and Luis J. Rodriguez with a companion documentary of the same name, written and directed by John F. Cantu. Click here to watch the documentary.