On Saturday night – July 7 – I’ll be in conversation with Kevin McCollister (@eastofwestla), discussing his work documenting Los Angeles. We’ll be at HELMS BAKERY. 8800 Venice Boulevard (entrance on Washington Blvd.) 7:30pm. Please join us.
A DEEPLY involving and bittersweet presentation at #LAPL’s Central Library on Saturday afternoon. Annie Laskey and her mother Marlene hatched a plan to walk the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from its downtown high-rises and mid-town department stores to the edges of the sea. Annie mentioned that the thrill at first was less about the walk and more about getting to operate the Minolta SLR. Annie shot and Marlene made note (see the notebook in the grid below). While Marlene and many of the iconic locations that the Laskeys recorded are no longer with us, the absences were filled with vivid stories. Grateful for the Laskeys and their. sticktoitiveness Hundreds of sites have now been preserved on Kodachrome slides. The Wilshire Boulevard — the Carnation Building, Mutual of Omaha, Ambassador Hotel– that still exists in my head flickered to life with her stories. You can glimpse 100 of those images in a new book, “The Wilshire Slides 1978–1979” put out through LAPL’s Photo Collection and Photo Friends the nonprofit organization formed to support & promote the collection.
I’M MORE THAN a little tardy posting this but projects have been flying in and out the door, and my fingers are trying their very best to keep up. But this afternoon from a couple of weeks back remains on my mind.
Mike Sonksen (AKA Mike the Poet) is a civic treasure. He’s one of those faces that float into view at almost every poetry event and almost every corner of town. He’s a many-generation native of Los Angeles and with that he’s taken a multilayered interest in the city. All of it is up for exploration and inquiry.
Mike is also known around the poetry scene for his indiosyncratic city tours — on foot, by bus, via Metro — that have always featured the energy and of freestyle poetry and history. For as many years as I have known him, this was the very first time I had been able to take part in one of the downtown walkabouts. This round he featured other poets along the way, among them — Traci Akemi Kato-kiriyama, Rocío Carlos and F. Douglas Brown — who paused to share observations or self-reflections about sense of place or considered their personal place within with ever-shifting landscape of Los Angeles.
Much of the day and night before, it had been storming. Uncharacteristic downpours for May. But by mid morning the rain eased and the clouds pushed back enough to give the sky depth and offer a poem itself. We walked up and down hills, stood on overpasses and beneath flowering jacaranda trees to listen to aural snapshots of the city. Tourists in our own town. Just as we finished for the day, the clouds gathered again and the rain made an encore. Polite enough, however, to wait until the very last word. It was as if Mike had arranged it. Not once did he appear worried that we’d rain out, have to run for cover. Not one minute. He knows better. He knows how to read not just the streets, but the skies and the promises they won’t break.
To read Mike’s latest about L.A. new poet laureate, Robin Coste Lewis, click here.
SCENES FROM last week’s opening festivities for “Octavia E. Butler — Telling My Stories” at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
A special thank you to curator Natalie Russell who carefully selected 100 objects out of a vast archive of 8,000 to illustrate Butler’s life, work and struggle. It’s a beautiful survey of a singular life. We are all grateful to Butler for gifting her papers to the Huntington so that so many more people can learn about her way of looking at and being in the world. Most affecting is her depth of curiosity, her blinders-on focus. For all the sacrifice and sense of mission, her dedication at moments feels matchless.
The exhibit is up through August. Come early. Give yourself enough time to wander through. There is much to linger over, digest and celebrate.
SOME PHOTOS from the penultimate dinner service at Hop Louie Restaurant in Chinatown. Among my favorite moments was watching multi-generational families slide in for their last meal trying to recreate dinners long past. Too: the young Emo couple slouched over sweet & sour which they paid Dutch for with a pile of crumpled bills and change. One waitress said she was ready for a long vacation after 25 years. One of the owner’s children gave us a crash course on the historic hows and whys of “Chop Suey cuisine.” “If you don’t have bok choy you use broccoli.”
I hadn’t been in that building for dinner since the 80s. Which of course was the echo of the evening. A fact about which the ready-for-vacation waitress quipped: “If we had only been busy like this every night….”
Yes. If only.
The first floor bar is to remain open for now. Upstairs? “Maybe movies.” Another server speculated. Always some scratch in location filming.
Those spareribs and crab Rangoon were just as I remembered from Sunday downtown dinners with the extended family decades ago.
Happy to have the memories but sad to say farewell to all of that.
L. A. leaves us bit by bit by bit.
A FEW MONTHS back, I posted a note about being poised to go down a rabbit hole.
I didn’t realize how true that was going to be.
I apologize for the radio silence, but I’ve been working on “Radio Imagination.”
Since the beginning of this year, along with my other usual reporting, writing and city wandering, I’ve been doing weekly research at the Huntington Library, preparing for a big project for Clockshop, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit art organization. Clockshop’s founder, filmmaker Julia Meltzer approached me, and several other writers, artists, academics, to discuss an idea that she’d been fleshing out for sometime.
Her plan was to create a year-long series of events, spanning the city all dedicated to the legacy and impact of San Gabriel Valley-based, science fiction writer, Octavia E. Butler. Going in, I only knew the boldfaced details about Butler and her work, but I was tasked with creating a “posthumous interview.” Though I wasn’t quite sure what that would look or sound like, I liked the places it allowed my brain to go.
A few weeks into the Octavia E. Butler archive at the Huntington Library, I knew it would become less and less clear before it would find focus. She had a big, busy life and there were many possible paths to travel — I just had to trust the process.
I’ve never quite been inside someone’s head the way in which Butler has allowed us to be in hers. She was a avid and honest chronicler of her life — her work, her surroundings, her worries, her triumphs and disasters. Moving through pages of journals, letters, commonplace books, mimics the effect of her whispering to herself as she goes about her tasks. We’re eavesdropping on process, the roundabout road in building narratives — both on the page and in life. Tomorrow four writers, Robin Coste Lewis, Tisa Bryant, Fred Moten and I — will premiere new pieces inspired by our time in the archives, listening to Octavia spin stories about life on so many different planes.
I can’t express what a gift this experience has been.
We are sold out (!) for tomorrow night’s event at Clockshop, but if you want to try to fly standby, those waiting will be admitted if ticket holders do not show. A podcast of the event will be forthcoming so stay tuned.