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Literary San Pedro and Long Beach

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Reading at Read on Till Morning in San Pedro | Photo: Read on Till Morning Facebook

San Pedro and Long Beach are connected intimately by the harbor and Vincent Thomas Bridge. The community of writers in these two neighborhoods share a working class spirit that traces back to the beginning of the 20th Century. This week L.A. Letters celebrates the contemporary community of writers in San Pedro and Long Beach, and also touches the respective areas storied literary history.

Most literary enthusiasts think of Charles Bukowski when they think of San Pedro because he lived the final fifteen-plus years of his life there. Aside from Bukowski though, there have been many writers that have either resided or written about San Pedro. This essay will focus on San Pedro, but also spend significant space discussing Long Beach because their stories overlap.

Christian Lozada is a professor and writer dedicated to sharing the gospel of both literary San Pedro and Long Beach. With close connections to both locations he is qualified for the job. He tells me why he loves San Pedro so much. "It's a place of contradictions. It's a city that's not a city and a small town at the same time. It's a harbor where everything enters to spread across the country, but it's also a place where the continent ends," he says. "It's where East meets West, and that's me, as a mixed-race Asian whose Caucasian side has been here since the American Revolution. I think my history with the area is weirdly emblematic of my life." Lozada and his wife Lessa Kanani'o'pua Pelayo-Lozada wrote a book together, called "Hawaiians in Los Angeles." Published by Arcadia Publishing, the book is part of their Images of America collection.

Lozada was born in Long Beach, grew up between Compton and North Long Beach, and earned both his Bachelors and Masters at Cal State Long Beach. Now living in San Pedro, he teaches at Harbor College. He also runs a small pop-up bookstore called "Read on Till Morning," located in a permanent craft fair called Crafted, on 22nd and Harbor just south of Ports O' Call. Crafted is located inside a large site that was once a military warehouse. Holding close to 200 booths and kiosks, it's been open for two years now, run by the same company that operates Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. In Lozada's words, "They have the art thing down. Where else can you get a store without putting up a ton of money for start-up and rent? It's affordable and is kind of an entrepreneurial lab where the stakes are low enough to take a risk."

The space is filled with crafters who make everything from jewelry, cookies, to up-cycled wine barrels turned into furniture to painters, as well as fabric artists from knitters to crocheters to a vintage fabric upholsterer. "My neighbors are an up-cycler who etches nerdy designs on empty liquor and wine bottles, a wedding planner who makes centerpieces, bouquets, and jewelry, and a jeweler who crafts gorgeous chains and also teaches one-on-one classes," Lozada says. He has been coming to Crafted since it opened two years ago, and decided to open up his pop-up bookstore earlier this year.

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Christian Lozada with Gerald Locklin and Tyler Dilts | Photo: Read on Till Morning Facebook

Lozada is a mediator. His bookstore and frequent events bring writers together from all backgrounds, whether it's fellow professors from Harbor College, working class spoken word poets from San Pedro, or the distinguished graduate students from Long Beach State. Similar to the DTLAb space in Downtown Los Angeles, "Read on Till Morning" is devoted to local literature. "My booth sells only local authors and publishers," he explains, "nothing farther north of the Valley, farther east than the Inland Empire, or South than Orange County. Our selection is meant to be representative of the voices of the Southern California area. We are consciously multi-racial and ethnic, and we span genres from mystery books by Tyler Dilts in Long Beach, to Nepalese travel guides from Chuck Rosenthal out of What Books Press, to many titles in poetry."

Lozada shares his thoughts on his favorite local publishers. "I really like Kevin Lee's Aortic Books out of Long Beach because he's been super supportive," he says. "I also like Spout Hill out of Pomona because John and Anne Brantingham like to publish the novella, which is a form that I think lends itself well now more than ever, and is very much neglected. I love Tia Chucha because of the plurality of voices. Rare Bird Lit because their books are fearless, Writ Large for all they do with the community, What Books for their experimentation, Orange Monkey for the same reason but for different experiments." He also features books by publishers like Moon Tide Press and Thomas & Mercer.

Lozada embodies his values of inclusiveness through his bookstore and teaching practice. "Bookstores should be of and for the community. I might be the owner, but it's not really mine," he says. Many of his friends and students also attend the readings he hosts. "It belongs to everyone who participates. It's why at our events, we try to bring a bunch of food and drinks. We're not selling books, we're hosting a party that happens to have books for sale."

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In addition to selling books, they have canvas pieces, silly drawings, designs on loose leafs, and handmade cards made by Lozada's sister-in-law, Tina Lozada, and her company the Paper Recyclery. "Combine these things with the all-inviting workshop, book club, and readings that my wife, Lessa Pelayo-Lozada, my writing partner, Steve Hendrix, and friends host, and they add up to us actually doing books from conception to destruction with writing, making the paper, and repurposing the printed word," he says. "We have fun deconstructing books for art's sake."

On the day I was at "Read on Till Morning," I saw the prolific poet and Professor Gerald Locklin. Locklin can rightfully be called one of the kings of the small press world, having published over 150 books of poetry and fiction since 1964, and almost all of them have been with independent publishers. Locklin, along with Edward Field and Ron Koertge, is one of the key figures in a group of historic writers, called "the Long Beach Poets." They pioneered a style of poetry that was colloquial and oral, yet still respected for its literary merit. This poetry aesthetic pioneered by Locklin was featured in Charles Harper Webb's 2002 anthology, "Stand Up Poetry." In late 2010 a book titled, "Besides the City of Angels: An Anthology of Long Beach Poets," was published, which not only included Locklin but other Long Beach poets like Rafael Zepeda, Clifton Snider, Fred Voss, and Joan Jobe Smith. Locklin was also known as one of Charles Bukowski's closest friends for almost 30 years. Both were frequently published in the Wormwood Review together throughout the 1970s and '80s.

Locklin told me that Bukowski's wife put her husband's archives in the Huntington Museum primarily because she would always hang out at the Huntington after she dropped him off nearby at the Santa Anita Race Track. She would pick Bukowski up a few hours later after he watched eight or nine horse races. A few years ago when she was considering where to put the celebrated poet's letters and extensive archives, she chose the Huntington because it made sense considering the four plus decades of history they had with the museum.

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Gerald Locklin reads at Gatsby Books | Photo: Gerald Locklin Facebook

Locklin taught at Long Beach State for 45 years until 2009. He remains very popular with his former students. Lozada recalls a recent reading at Gatsby Books "filled with his former students ranging from the 1970s to more recent years. That's 40 years of teaching writing to one little city. If you do the math, a full time teacher has about four classes a semester with an average of 20 students. That's 160 students a year. Multiply that by 40. That is how many students and writers Locklin has influenced, and that doesn't include people who have heard him read or have read his books." Even the great DJ Waldie was a student of Locklin's early in his teaching career; he told me that Waldie was a symbolist poet as a young writer.

As an undergraduate at Cal State Long Beach, Lozada took a class called "American Poetry" with Locklin, and the two have remained close ever since. Lozada originally hated poetry, but Locklin's knowledge won him over. "I learned a lot because he makes his students work," he says. "I remember plowing through the Norton Anthology of Poetry, two Bukowski books, a Gary Soto, and a couple others. He didn't sway me to write poetry, then, but I gained respect for it." Lozada feels Locklin is important for not only his prolific writing, but as a teacher. "He knows his stuff and he knows how to read it and where to find it," he adds. "That kind of knowledge not only opens doors to new worlds, it opens the door and shoves you in."

The mystery writer Tyler Dilts is another former Locklin student and he was also one of the featured writers at "Read on Till Morning." Dilts has written three books about a homicide detective in Long Beach. Influenced by Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard, and James Lee Burke, Dilts said at the reading that he's "trying to do for Long Beach what James Lee Burke did for Louisiana." His first book in the series grew out from his MFA thesis project at Cal State Long Beach. Dilts is having a book party for his next release, "A Cold and Broken Hallelujah," on September 28 at Gatsby Books.

In addition to the Long Beach State writing crowd, there were other diverse writers present at the reading, like V Zamora, Joe Gardner, Robert Rodriguez, and Bobby Strahan. Lozada not only loves the academic writers, he enjoys featuring the blue collar scribes because they are a big part of both San Pedro and Long Beach. "There's the Bukowski-esque bar poetry still written by tattooed drinkers with a notebook in the corner of all the dive bars of Long Beach, like Poor Richards," he says. "That was Locklin at the 49er Bar in his early career. There's the funny poets that are lyrical and witty that take part in Karaoke nights at the Prospector, and there's the experimental poets that try new forms and combinations, like the Cadence Collective at Gatsby Books."

Lozada wants to bring all of these writers together. "I want Read on Till Morning to be a place that generates and encourages writers," he says. "In an age where booksellers can't compete with Amazon, we have to take technology backwards a little bit. Much like the tribalism that we see becoming more and more common in the world, for example, the recent vote for Scottish independence or our current discussions on Hawaiian state-to-state negotiations, people are going back to supporting each other." For poet and record collector Robert Rodriguez, "Read on Till Morning reminded me why I always look forward to coming back to San Pedro: family, friends, community, the arts, and to create new, long lasting memories."

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Williams' Books in San Pedro, once the oldest running book store in L.A., closed in 2013 | Photo: Evan/Flickr/Creative Commons

A small chapbook called "Literary San Pedro" was created by Lozada, which offers a literary tour of the neighborhood. The collection features local history on famous sites like Williams Bookstore, the Post Office, Senfuku Japanese Restaurant, and the Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse. The chapbook also includes poems and quotes by writers like Bukowski, Chester Himes, Louis L'amour, Stan Weir, and Bukowski's hero, John Fante. Fante worked in the canneries in San Pedro during the Jazz Age. Lozada reminds me that in "'Ask the Dust' there's a section where Fante hangs out in the Japanese enclave in East San Pedro (Terminal Island)." Lozada also really likes Jeanne Wakatsuki's popular memoir "Farewell to Manzanar" and Sandro Mealett's "Edgewater Angels," because both describe growing up in San Pedro.

"Here's the interesting thing about San Pedro that I learned while researching the writers here," Lozada says, "it's a city that has more departures than arrivals. We even had Jack Kerouac for a time. This city is an attempted destination, but it's really a stop on the way to something else. So those that make it a destination have something in them that is stubborn and surly and loyal and beautiful. I think that's a point that Long Beach and San Pedro have in common, too. We're port towns and we're used to people leaving, just don't talk to us until you show us you can hang. Both cities that are proud of their isolation, which is a funny thing to say since they're joined by bridges."

Lozada hopes to expand his "Read on Till Morning" pop-up bookstore to a brick and mortar space somewhere in San Pedro. "I want to be a unifying location," he says. "There's already a plurality of voices, but to become a staple, we need to sing together. San Pedro can be different. It can be that bridge between L.A. and Long Beach."

Christian Lozada's efforts to celebrate literary San Pedro and Long Beach are in chorus with other like-minded forces. The Music Center of Los Angeles is partnering with the San Pedro and Peninsula YMCA on September 27 to collect San Pedrans' personal stories and favorite photos of the area. These items will be part of an exhibit that will be displayed at the Music Center on October 11, and on November 8 and 9 at the San Pedro and Peninsula YMCA. On Saturday, October 18, the 4th annual Long Beach Poetry Festival takes place at the Bungalow Building on Pine Street in Downtown Long Beach.

Salute to Lozada, Read on Till Morning and all the contributing voices, they are powerful forces in the landscape of L.A. Letters.

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