California State University, Northridge Chicana/o studies professor Denise Sandoval and her co-editor Luis Rodriguez have won a Josephine Miles Literary Award from PEN Oakland for a community history project documenting art activism in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
The pair formally received the award for the book, “Rushing Water, Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a Community,” on Dec. 7 during a special ceremony that also honored Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison for her latest book, “Home,” at the Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library.
“I am really excited about this honor because this project was such a community effort of love, and it really speaks to the artistic activists of the northeast San Fernando Valley and the impact they are making on the community,” she said. “It’s wonderful that something you create, that you know is special and important, is recognized by other people as special and important.”
Called the “Blue Collar PEN” by The New York Times, PEN Oakland has recognized authors for outstanding literary achievement since 1989. The organization’s members take pride in the fact that it does not accept money from corporations nor has a board dominated by mainstream publishers. Winners of its annual literary awards are chosen by fellow writers. The purpose of the award is “to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions.” Award winners range from well-known and established writers to under-recognized authors and first works. The awards are named for the late Josephine Miles, a renowned American poet and member of the University of California at Berkeley faculty.
“Rushing Water, Rising Dreams,” and its accompanying documentary, explores how 20 years of lack of neighborhood cultural spaces adversely affected struggling families and communities. It also examines how the independent bookstore Tia Chucha’s in the northeast San Fernando Valley—the second largest community of Mexicans and Central Americans in the United States—inspired a cultural awakening and revival of the economy and community spirit. A documentary was also created to accompany the book.
Earlier this year, “Rushing Water, Rising Dreams” received a bronze medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the multicultural, nonfiction adult book category.
The project grew out of Rodriguez’ desire to document the changes that were taking place in the northeast San Fernando Valley as Tia Chucha’s attracted nationally recognized artists, not just authors, with its eclectic mix of books, performance and more traditional art.
“We wanted the community to tell it’s own stories,” Sandoval said. “So much about what we know about the Valley seems to be about the other parts of the Valley — the south part of the Valley like Sherman Oaks or the west Valley. The northeast Valley is the forgotten side of the Valley, and there is so much history there.”
The project was funded with a $10,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s Cultivate/Create Initiative, which also supported other activities at Tia Chucha’s, as well as donations through an IndieGoGo online campaign and talks and presentations Rodriguez made across the country.
Sandoval said the grassroots fundraising effort was worth it.
“As we were developing the book in about 2012, we could see new art movement emerging in the area,” she said. “Murals were popping up in Pacoima and suddenly they were attracting the attention of the Los Angeles Conservancy. Young artists were forming collectives. There was so much going on. I feel this book captures the movement just as it was being born.”