Aleida Rodríguez is a poet, essayist, and artist who supports these penurious habits through a work-for-hire life as an editor and translator for corporate clients and museums such as the Getty and the Natural History Museum of L.A. County.
Her debut collection of poetry, Garden of Exile, won both the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize (selected by Marilyn Hacker) and the PEN Center USA West Literary Award (selected by Dana Gioia, Eloise Klein Healy, and Russell Leong). The book, now in its third printing, was critically acclaimed, drawing rave reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle (which featured it on their Tops of 2000 List) and ForeWord magazine, as well as The Women’s Review of Books and American Literary Review.
For decades, she has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including fellowships from the NEA and the CAC. She has been published in journals, anthologies, and newspapers in the U.S. since 1974, and more recently in England, Wales, and The Netherlands, in the latter of which she read at the Nachttheater Sugar Factory in 2006. She has given nearly one hundred readings of her work in universities, bookstores, galleries, museums, coffeehouses, and clubs, beginning her career with the seminal Marathon of Los Angeles Poets at the now-defunct Papa Bach Bookstore in 1975.
She cofounded, -published, and -edited a literary magazine (rara avis) and small press (Books of a Feather) whose aim was to provide exposure to writers and artists of all stripe producing work of high aesthetic merit. For her role in these endeavors, she was awarded a Vesta Award from the Woman’s Building and a Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation for her contribution to the literary life of Los Angeles. As a way to give back to the community during her NEA year, she taught a writing workshop at the Woman’s Bldg. for emerging Latina writers that resulted in a volume titled Manteniendo el espíritu, which she edited and designed.
Aleida has served on numerous prize panels both in California and in such states as Arizona and Washington. She has been a community activist in the arts for many decades, serving as a double-agent when necessary—most notably, editing the exhibition catalogue for LACMA’s Los Angeles Art in the Sixties by day while protesting as a masked “Maurice Tuchman” in Suzanne Lacy’s performance outside the museum by night. Her poetry was part of the NEA-sponsored Poetas y Pintores project that originated at Notre Dame and toured the U.S. In addition, her work appeared in Los Angeles buses as part of the Poetry Society of America’s Poetry in Motion. She has been interviewed by David Brancaccio for the PRI radio program Marketplace that focused on the demographic center of the U.S.—Cuba, Missouri—and asked to riff on her experiences as a Cuban-born poet brought parent-less to the U.S. via Operation Peter Pan in the early 1960s and relocated to a foster home in the Midwest.
She has also been active as teacher, serving as mentor in PEN’s Emerging Voices program, as poet-teacher at Flight of the Mind in Oregon, as faculty for Antioch’s MFA program, as writing instructor in the AIDS unit of the California Women’s Institution at Frontera (aka Chino), and as a bilingual poet in the schools for LAUSD for two decades. Her skills as a poet and her training at the Boston Conservatory of Music dovetailed when the Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center commissioned her to write Spanish lyrics for “Night and Day,” to be sung by a Latina soprano for their tribute to Cole Porter. She has also served as translator for the Los Angeles Conservancy’s public programs, such as Spanning History: The Bridges of Los Angeles and Layers of History, the Pico-Union walking tour. Excerpts from a couple of her photographic series can be seen online at Gambara and at the Chicken Corner blog.