HIGHLAND PARK — Poet Jessica Ceballos used to walk barefoot down Monte Vista as a child. Now, only a few blocks away, the 36-year-old Ceballos hosts the monthly Bluebird Reading series at Avenue 50 Studio. Though many people attend the readings, Ceballos wants more poetry in unlikely places, like donut shops and community centers. She’s also working on compiling poems by local residents and then publishing them in books to be sold at neighborhood shops. With gentrification sweeping through Highland Park, Ceballos is embarking on one more project: Between York and Fig, which compares the two busy streets of 90042 and show that all the businesses in the area are important.
“I’m going to try my best to celebrate them.”
And if that doesn’t sound busy enough, Ceballos is now a director at large on the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, where she is starting an arts committee.
You have several projects involving literature. Why did you feel the need to bring those to the community?
As a writer I established the Bluebird Reading series as another way for the community to become involved in literary arts, an art form with a platform lacking in the North East LA area. I was honored to be invited to take over the curation of Avenue 50 Studio’s Poesia Para La Gente program because of the way the program brings together people with such diverse backgrounds and cultures. As far as I know, as a poet, literature and the spoken word is just another way for people to meet common ground, for a better understanding.
Can you talk about your other project involving local residents?
Beginning this summer we’re going to start building our LiteraryScape, a yearlong neighborhood project, under the Poesia Para La Gente banner. We will be picking a community service [center] to hold a week-long poetry workshop with the people of this service, with an accomplished poet as a facilitator. The following week we’ll collaborate with Writ Large Press to publish the work in these beautifully made chapbooks. After the publishing, we’ll have a launch party either at a local places of business; donut shop or a mechanic’s shop or whatever, a reading complete with music. We’re hoping for these businesses to carry and sell these books and find that there is a value in promoting the people of their community, through literary arts. So much is made about book stores closing down and that people don’t read anymore. Why do books have to be sold in bookstores? Why not the donut shop or a mechanics’ garage?
What’s one of your big concerns as a neighborhood council member?
Avenue 50 Studio, one of the older art galleries in the community, has survived all the changes in the area,and there is a lot to be said about that. But it’s a constant struggle. I don’t want to bring up the G-word, but it’s a conversation we have daily. We also want people to be aware of the businesses that have been here. I want to make people aware of who those businesses are – that there are humans working there who are part of the community, who have been here so long. Places that have an established history here, who make up what is unique about Highland Park, are constantly worried about [rising rents] and if they’ll be priced out of their own neighborhood.
How do you see your time on the neighborhood council playing out?
It’s such a big deal for me to be able to vote on issues I’m passionate about. I’d like for artists to establish connections with the community. We have a lot of forward moving people on the council this time around. They’re not brash, and plenty of them are thinkers, so nothing is going to be rushed into without some conversation. I know that Highland Park is in this weird phase right now, with so much going on. There are all these articles talking about how cool Highland Park is and what’s going on York Boulevard. It’s really something to think about and see where it takes us, but also to not forget the established people of the community.
Why have you decided to make Highland Park your home after living in other parts of the country?
I was hanging around a lot in the area, and it’s a weird sense of home here in Highland Park. The way I was raised as a child mirrors a lot of how Highland Park is today. Growing up, I didn’t identify as a “Chicana,” as I now identify myself. I grew up an American, with very diverse influences, like a lot of the people I grew up with. I knew Spanish, but it wasn’t an everyday occurrence. The way Highland Park is now, the diversity, eclectic attitude, a little bit more than it was in the 80’s, I feel very safe here. There’s no other place like it. I suppose I feel I’ve completed some sort of circle. I feel at home.
Five Questions poses the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Want to know more about people in your neighborhood? Send suggestions to hello@TheEastsiderLA.com.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.