Writer & gang interventionist Luis J. Rodriguez

By Poetry Foundation

Luis J. Rodriguez is a poet, memoirist, and a founder of Chicago's Guild Complex, among other organizations. He's also a community activist who works to keep kids out of gangs. Rodriguez reads next Wednesday, March 16, at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Below, he takes the time to answer a few questions for us.

What line or poem do you find yourself sharing again and again?

Of my poetry, I'd have to say "My Name's Not Rodriguez," "The Calling," "Piece by Piece," or "Tia Chucha."

On your bookshelf but unread:

I have many books I've bought and have not been able to read. The one I want to get to soon is Richard Price's Freedomland.

Can you remember the first poem you read and really liked?

I heard poetry before I really read it. It was a reading of Jose Montoya, David Henderson, and Pedro Pietri in Berkeley when I was 18 years old—I had no idea what poems were until then. I've never been the same since. As for reading poetry, I'd have to say Pablo Neruda's poems were the first that really spoke to me.

A cause you would attach your name to:

The healing of the world through the natural means already existing within us and around us. The arts being key to tap into our own natures and to connect to nature.

The picture that comes to mind when you hear the word “poetry”:

A young girl from Mexico, undocumented, age nine, reciting poetry in Spanish when asked to do so—although she had never spoken in class before.

If forced to quote your own writing, what line or poem would you provide?

A hungry people have no country

—from "Running to America"

Expression you greatly dislike:

The word 'awesome.'

The longest amount of time you’ve gone without writing [creatively]?

Ten years, more or less.

Favorite public figure:

Harold Washington, former Mayor of Chicago.

Favorite literary device:

None other than just writing, writing, and more writing.

When I think of Chicago, I think of _________.

Snow, snow, and more snow (I love Chicago nonetheless).