Mike Sonksen (aka “Mike the PoeT”) is a 3rd-generation Los Angeles native. The City of Los Angeles has awarded Sonksen three “Certificates of Commendation” for his poetic contributions to the city. Sonksen earned his BA at UCLA in 1997. In June 2014, he completed an Interdisciplinary MA in English, Creative Writing, and History from Cal State LA. He has published over 500 essays and poems in venues including Academy of American Poets, KCET, Poets & Writers Magazine, BOOM, Wax Poetics, Southern California Quarterly, LA Weekly, OC Weekly, Lana Turner, The Architect’s Newspaper, LA Alternative Press, Los Angeles Review of Books, Cultural Weekly, Angel’s Flight, Angel City Review, Entropy, LA Taco, Lummox and others. Most recently, one of his KCET essays received an Award for Excellence by the Los Angeles Press Club. Sonksen has delivered more than 1,500 poetry readings in a wide range of venues including bookstores, museums, college campuses, secondary schools, and literary festivals, and presented his poetry on public radio stations like KCRW, KPFK and KPCC. In 2013, the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center honored Sonksen for "Distinguished Service to the Los Angeles Poetry Community." His poetry has been published in the anthologies Tracks to the Future: Los Angeles Union Station, Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts in Los Angeles, and Voices from Leimert Park Redux. His most recent poetry collection, Poetics of Location, was based on his MA thesis and published by Writ Large Press. His next book, Still Alive in Los Angeles, will be published in February 2019. Sonksen has given Los Angeles city tours combining poetry and prose for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, City of Santa Monica, Museum of Architecture & Design, Museum of Neon Art, Craft & Folk Art Museum, Red Line Tours, and California Excursions.
Michael Soldatenko is a member of the Cal State LA Chicano Studies Department and has served as its Chair for multiple terms. He is an interdisciplinary scholar with interests including European intellectual traditions who earned a PhD in History from UCLA. He is a widely published author who has contributed important chapters to seminal book collections, among them Hidden Curricula in Higher Education, Latina/o Los Angeles: Global Transformation, Migrations and Political Activism, and The Chicana/o Cultural Studies Reader. He is the author of the landmark work Chicano Studies: The Genesis of a Discipline (University of Arizona Press, 2011). During his tenure as Chair and through his leadership, the Chicano Studies Department partnered with CCPP to co-sponsor the Jean Burden Reading and corollary events by Victor Hernández Cruz (2009). These events included a special bilingual presentation for 100 students from Chester W. Nimitz Middle School (Huntington Park) through an academic/poetry mentorship. It was the first time that the Chicano Studies Department co-sponsored a Jean Burden visiting writer residency, which directly resulted from Dr. Soldatenko’s endorsement and involvement. His subsequent participation has included numerous events and activities, including conducting a Teach-In and serving on a panel discussion for the Claiming Freedom Symposium (2016), and serving as a co-sponsor of the 2016 Jean Burden Reading honoring Juan Felipe Herrera.
JUAN FELIPE HERRERA (Charter Advisory Board Member)
The son of migrant workers, Juan Felipe Herrera earned a BA at UCLA, MA from Stanford University in Anthropology—the subject of his BA studies—followed by a Creative Writing Master’s degree from the renowned University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After 15 years as a professor at Fresno State, in 2005 he was appointed to the Tomas Rivera Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at UC Riverside. In March 2012, he was appointed the first-ever Latino Poet Laureate of California by Governor Jerry Brown. His numerous awards include several National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, four grants from the California Arts Council, the UC Berkeley Regent’s Fellowship, the Breadloaf Fellowship in Poetry, and Stanford’s Chicano Fellows Fellowship. He is the author of scores of book publications, most notably in the genres of poetry, prose, and children’s literature. Herrera was a charter member of the CCPP Advisory Board from 2006-2009 and reappointed for a second term in 2009. From 2015-17, Herrera served as the first-ever Chicano Poet Laureate of the United States. He has a long and valued association with CCPP. In the first year of CCPP’s existence in the College of Arts and Letters (2004-05)—before receiving its Presidential Charter (2006)—Juan Felipe Herrera was a visiting writer in the new Center’s inaugural year. As an Advisory Board member, it was he who proposed the selection of Victor Hernández Cruz—the first-ever Latino Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets—as the 2009 Jean Burden Reader. Cruz was the first-ever Latino poet to be featured in the Jean Burden Series. Herrera has been of inestimable practical and conceptual help in facilitating numerous CCPP directives, priorities, and events. Herrera himself served as the Jean Burden Poet in 2016.
Alex Espinoza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and raised in suburban Los Angeles. He holds a degree in Creative Writing from the University of California-Riverside and an MFA from UC-Irvine’s Program in Writing. His novels include, Still Water Saints and The Five Acts of Diego León, both published by Random House. His fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in énumerous journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, and anthologies, including the Virginia Quarterly Review, the New York Times Magazine, The Asian American Review, NPR.org, the Los Angeles Times, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. A 2014 Fellow in Prose from the National Endowment for the Arts and a recipient of an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, Alex is professor and interim chair of the Chicana/o Latina/o Studies department at Cal State LA, where he also serves as Founding Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Arts.
Will Alexander is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, aphorist, visual artist, and pianist. He is the author of over 30 books and chapbooks. A Whiting and California Arts Council Fellow, he has been a recipient of the PEN Oakland Award, an American Book Award, as well as a Jackson Prize for Poetry in 2016. Currently he is the Poet-in-Residence at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California.
Betty Harbison is a 34-year veteran English teacher and Creative Writing coach at Schurr High School in Montebello. Herself a published and performing poet, as well as a gifted musician, Harbison has served as an esteemed and dedicated partner of CCPP since 2005-06. She and her students have participated in virtually every CCPP event annually for the past thirteen years. Many of Harbison’s students have gone on to attend Cal State LA or enter other illustrious creative writing programs, which they often credit to the impact of this partnership. Her students have interviewed, conversed, and eaten meals with poets as revered as Rita Dove, Victor Hernández Cruz, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Adrienne Rich. A graduate of USC, she is the founder and faculty sponsor of the Spartans of the Plume Writers Groups, Spartan Café Poetry Club, School Site Sponsor for the national Poetry Out Loud Recitation Competition, and Faculty Sponsor for a wide range of national and local writing competitions where her students have won an impressive array of awards and recognition.
Amy Uyematsu is a sansei poet and teacher from Los Angeles. She has five published poetry collections: Basic Vocabulary (2016), The Yellow Door (2015), Stone Bow Prayer (2005), Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain (1998), and 30 Miles from J-Town (1992). Amy was co-editor of the widely used anthology, Roots: An Asian American Reader (UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1971). She was a public high school math teacher for 32 years. Currently she teaches a creative writing workshop at the Far East Lounge in Little Tokyo.
LAURI SCHEYER (DIRECTOR)
Lauri (Ramey) Scheyer is the founding Director of CCPP and Professor of English at Cal State LA since 2004. She has served as founding director and department chair at literary centers and creative writing programs nationally and internationally, including Hampton University, University of Bedfordshire, Cardiff University, and Hunan Normal University. She holds an MA and PhD in English from the University of Chicago with a specialization in contemporary poetry and poetics, and a BA from the creative writing program at Oberlin College. She has a special interest in marginalized, innovative, and ethnic poetry and poetics, and has received numerous honors, awards, and fellowships for her publications and research. Her most recent book is A History of African American Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 2019). The only existing critical history of the four centuries of this genre, this book interrogates the existing canon and proposes an expanded and alternative vision. Her current project is Theatres of War: Contemporary Perspectives, which will be published in 2021 by Methuen Drama/Bloomsbury.