by Lorie Lewis Ham
On April 29 LitHop Fresno will be taking place. We took a moment to chat with this year’s LitHop director Juan Luis Guzman about this unique literary event-he is tasked with organizing the event and the planning committee. Fresno’s second Poet Laureate Lee Herrick was the founder of LitHop.
KRL: What exactly is LitHop? What is its purpose?
Juan: LitHop is a day long literary festival that takes place at various venues located throughout Fresno’s Historic Tower District. From 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., nine venues will be hosting literary readings in all genres.
At the top of the hour, every hour, people attending LitHop will have the choice of up to nine different readings to attend. Then, at 7 p.m., LitHop features a guest keynote reader. This year, LitHop welcomes Gary Soto. The events include all genres and cater to lit-lovers of all types. From events like “PerSISTERS, ReSISTERS: Fightin’ Words from California Women” and “Shattered: Teens Explore the Realities of Domestic Violence,” there is guaranteed to be something that catches the attention and interest of all our audience. There are a total of 41 events and 150 writers participating in the event.
LitHop was the brainchild of Fresno Poet Laureate Lee Herrick, who imagined it as an initiative that would raise funds for the Fresno Arts Council and the poetry programs they sponsor. I believe the event is also an opportunity to showcase Fresno, a community known all over the world for its writing and its writers, as the literary Mecca we truly are. Fresno people are usually the last to know how much of an impact Fresno has had on American literature. It’s our aim to show that this spirit is very much alive today.
KRL: When and how did it come to be?
Juan: After being selected as the Poet Laureate of Fresno, Lee Herrick wanted to use his position to do something that would benefit both the community and poetry. He made LitHop his Poet Laureate initiative. Through his vision, a group of writers, artists, community organizers, and friends came together to dream up, organize, and carry out the inaugural event, which boasted 140 writers and over 30 separate readings.
KRL: How did you become involved?
Juan: As a writer and a member of the Fresno literary community, I was one of the readers who presented work at LitHop 2016, so I can tell you that the day was very powerful. It was amazing to see that people were eager to come out and engage with literature and to support writers and their work. The event was a huge success. So, when Lee announced via Facebook last fall that he would no longer oversee the event, the likelihood that it was a one-time deal became a real possibility. I remember commenting on his post that someone should really step up and take the event over so that it could live on. I didn’t expect that I would be that someone. Lee is a colleague of mine at Fresno City College and, after [I made] that comment, he asked me if I would be interested in taking it over. I immediately accepted. We met for coffee, discussed our visions for the event, and the rest is history. It is my hope that the event will live on as an annual function and that we [will have] a LitHop ‘18, regardless of whether or not I’m at the helm again.
KRL: How do you decide what authors will participate?
Juan: After accepting the role from Lee, I worked to put together a group of people who could help me realize LitHop ‘17. The planning committee includes: Lisa Lee Herrick, Christina Robles, Joseph Rios, and Brenda Venezia. Together with this group of writers and community organizers, we set up a submission portal to receive proposals from writers. We asked that each proposal include a minimum of four writers, and that each reading include a title and/or theme. When the submission period closed, we sifted through the proposals and selected as many of the strongest proposals we could fit into our schedule. The committee looked for complete proposals from a wide and diverse group of writers that offered an interesting perspective through their writing.
KRL: What is your connection to writing?
Juan: I am a poet. I earned an MFA from CSU, Fresno in 2010. My poetry has been published in literary journals across the US, including CrateLit, Huizache, [PANK], Assaracus, and BorderSenses, among others, and I have written interviews for several publications including Notre Dame’s Letras Latinas and Poets’ Quarterly. I am a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop, a writing group founded by Chicana luminary Sandra Cisneros. I am a graduate fellow of CantoMundo, a Latino poetry collective, and I am an English professor at Fresno City College.
KRL: How many venues are there and how were they chosen?
Juan: We are so fortunate to have partnered with 10 venues in order to realize a successful and inclusive LitHop. They are:
The Brass Unicorn
Shredworthy // Fresno
Cindy’s Yogurt Shop
Spectrum Art Gallery
Goldstein’s Mortuary and Deli
Teazer World Tea Market
Dianna’s Studio of Dance
Mia Cuppa Café
Fresno City College
Many of these venues were participants last year and some were excited to join us after seeing what a success LitHop 2016 was. We went door to door throughout the Tower District and extended an invitation to host us to almost all of them. We are honored to have received support from these fine businesses and ask our audiences to support these community hotspots.
KRL: Is there a cost?
Juan: All of the readings are free, but the event is a fundraiser for the Fresno Arts Council, so donations will be accepted at the start of each reading.
KRL: Is there a schedule of events and a list of authors participating?
Juan: All of this information can be found on our website: lithopfresno.wordpress.com.