Last night I attended an amazing event, Write to the City, Los Angele's first Slam on Gentrification, held at Gallery 727, 727 So. Spring St. PM Press, an exciting press out of Oakland, Ca, along with Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), which fights to improve housing in the Figueroa Corridor just south of downtown, sponsored the reading. The event was aptly held on Spring Street, once the Wall Street of the West then abandoned mostly to homeless now being gentrified. Gilda Haas, Executive Director of SAJE, welcomed us, then introducing mc Gary Phillips, crime novelist of the Ivan Monk series.
The readers spoke of how the city of Raymond Chandler is being gentrified out of existence. The crime writing children of Chandler are speaking out along with organizers recounting true stories from the streets. Who has the right to live in the city now? There were three sets of readers andin each set writers read first followed by organizers. The reading was electrifying before a rapt audience crowded into the space.
Set I started with Larry Foundation, organizer in Southcentral Los Angeles and author of fiction books Angry Nights, Common Criminals, and his latest, Fish, Soap and Bonds, about three homeless in Los Angeles. Foundation's piece talked about a homeless man who slept in a dumpster near a downtown apartment building until gentrification came when he came to a tragic end in a trash compactor. Next Jervey Tervalon, author of the brilliant novel Understand This, read a section from the latest novel he's writing about a single mother struggling to survive with her baby. Crime writer Denise Hamilton followed with her vignette about a reporter trying to interview transvestite homeless camping out near the Los Angeles River.
Next Davin Corona, Director of Organizing at SAJE, told of a black paraplegic living in a downtown slum building whose health is attacked by the worsening conditions in his building until he is forced out, finally dieing on the streets. Last in Set I, Lydia Avila from East L.A. Community Corporation, told of how the taco trucks are under attack in East Los Angeles with police giving citations and one taco truck owner, stressed by the attack on her business, died from a heart attack. In this first set both writers and organizers showed how gentrification actually kills people as well as how hard it is just to survive now in the city.
Between sets DJ's played music a little too loudly as the crowd got drinks, bought books and milled around out on Spring Streets.
In Set II the readers gave an excellent historical context to current gentrification. Crime novelist Gar Anthony Haywood read his essay how gentrification doesn't just pull down buildings and drive out people but also destroys communities going back to his grand father's time. Poet Luis Rodriguez wowed the audience with his powerful rant telling how for decades working people's communities have been destroyed in East L.A. to build a hospital, freeways, a jail and have also been destroyed in Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium--Rodriquez come off as one angry almost Biblical prophet.
Next Sara Paretsky, famous author of V. I. Warshawski crime novels, read a section from a Warshawski novel where her heroine, evicted from one neighborhood in Chicago, moves to a second only to watch that neighborhood get gentrified showing how the housing problem is nationwide. After Paretsky, Aqulina Soriano from Philipino Worker's Center first shared how old Philipinotown near downtown Los Angeles had workers' hotels which were destroyed and then sang her song about recovering people's history. Lastly, Leonardo Vilchis from Union de Veccinos told how in Boyle Heights the neighbors themselves, mostly women, in the housing project organized successfully to stop gang violence, but then the city destroyed the housing project, evicting 800 families, but Boyle Heights neighbors are again having their walks to make their neighborhood safe.
During the intermission I said hello to Robert Ward, author of the novel Red Baker and scriptwriter for such TV shows Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice, who read in Set III, and also said hello to one of my Santa Monica College students Gabriela.
Unfortunately, like Cinderella I had to disappear after Set II, and missed set III, but the event did showcase a powerful new wave of writers in Los Angeles along with the organizers working heroically to get jobs and decent housing for people in this city. Write to the City gave us the next wave of Los Angeles writing showing us what's going on now in the city. Phillip Marlowe's descendants are alive on the streets fighting for justice; these organizers and writers told the stories how what's its like now to be on the streets of the city.