The Lit & Luz Festival of Language, Literature, and Art (Lit & Luz) brings together writers, visual artists, and musicians from Mexico and the United States in an effort to foster cultural exchange. The artistic results of these cross-cultural experiences, from poetry to photography and everything in between, are then presented through a series of bilingual performances. The festival is presented first in the U.S. and is reset for presentation in Mexico the following winter, featuring the same group of collaborating guests.
In Chicago, the festival’s ninth edition begins at noon on October 31 with a virtual keynote by California-based poet Anthony Cody. The festivities continue that evening with an artist talk at Logan Center for the Arts featuring guest Balam Bartolomé with Esteban King, while over at The Insect Asylum is the Halloween edition of Favorite Poems featuring Kathleen Rooney, Robin Myers, Yolanda Segura, Kailah Peters, and Olivia Maciel, among other readers. The festival runs through November 5 with a final celebration at Chicago Art Department. Among the events are readings, workshops, and artist talks (some offer a virtual option) at venues across the city. The festival’s signature celebration, the Live Magazine Show, which features the final performances created by collaborative duos, formed by one artist from the U.S. and the other from Mexico, takes place at Logan Center for the Arts on Thursday, November 3.
Lit & Luz Festival 10/31-11/5, various locations, most events free and all-ages. For full schedule, details, and locations, go to litluz.org.
Lit & Luz 2022 includes Mexican authors Dolores Dorantes, Mariana Oliver, and segura, as well as visual artists Bartolomé, Aura Arreola, and Héctor Jiménez Castillo. Chicago-based collaborators include authors Marty McConnell, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué, and Antonio Díaz Oliva (ADO), along with visual artists Victoria Martinez, Amber Ginsburg, Laleh Motlagh, and musician Andy Slater.
The Lit & Luz Festival is produced by MAKE Literary Productions, a nonprofit established in 2009 after the success of its founding literary magazine, MAKE, which was first published in 2004. The Chicago-based publication “seeks to expand the discussion of what it means to make something new from a reality that may look all too familiar, even tired, on the surface.”
MAKE issue number 13, titled “Intercambio/Exchange,” was the magazine’s first as a bilingual edition and featured work by Latin American writers. The bilingual events that were organized that year (2012) to go along with the magazine’s release brought to light the need for translated literature. The issue emphasizes the importance of creating a bilingual exchange of literature considering the power of the Spanish language and culture in the U.S.
With help from the MacArthur Foundation, in 2014 the Lit & Luz Festival of Language, Literature, and Art was officially formed. Since then, Lit & Luz founder and managing director Sarah Dodson says that “nearly 50 writers, artists, and musicians have traveled to Chicago for Lit & Luz Festival events, which are created in partnership with local arts organizations and universities.”
“Revision” is the theme for this year’s iteration. Miguel Jiménez, founder and director of the Lit & Luz Book Club, explains this concept as “an opportunity to think about not just how the pandemic impacted our artistic practices and lives in the ‘early days,’ but how it ‘revised’ how we approach art, community, and inclusion. With so much happening in early 2020 and moving forward, we collectively took a deeper look at issues such as access and inclusion.”
Jiménez, who was born and raised in Back of the Yards, has always had a passion for Latine literature, music, and art and for sharing the work of artists he feels need to be seen, read, or heard. After university, where he studied creative writing and literature (DePauw University and CSU Fresno), he returned to Chicago and began working with the Chicago Artists Coalition, where he eventually became an editor for the organization’s newsletter, Chicago Artist News.
At some point, Jiménez’s passion for literature led him to the newly formed author-focused festival, Lit & Luz. He says, “I was at these festivals before I was part of the [Lit & Luz] team. At the festival, there were writers I never thought I would see. For example, before Valeria Luiselli was the writer-superstar that she is now, I knew of her work. But I never imagined I’d see her one day because her work wasn’t translated. She was only writing in Spanish. I remember when I saw her I was thinking, ‘No way! Who brought her? Why is she here?’ And not just her, but her partner Álvaro Enrigue, too. I was a big fan of his, and this was before either of their books was translated. I was in awe.”
He began telling his friends about the festival and soon realized many were unaware of the events, so Jiménez did what anyone with a passion for literature must do. He approached Dodson with the idea of forming a book club. Jiménez proposed that reading the work of a writer, who would later be featured in the festival, might entice more people to attend since they would already be familiar with their work.
The Lit & Luz Book Club was formed in 2018 and partnered with local bookstores to carry books by authors featured at the festival. The book club is currently in partnership with City Lit Books in Logan Square, Pilsen Community Books in Pilsen, and Exile in Bookville at the Fine Arts Building downtown.
In 2020, Lit & Luz had to pivot to a virtual model due to COVID-19 restrictions, and things went better than expected.
“It was really a wonderful experience because we were able to reach out to new audiences in other parts of the world, and maybe audiences that wouldn’t have been able to attend. The same goes for the audiences that have never heard of the festival or have heard of it but have been unable to attend. It brought a lot of people together virtually. Part of the festival also includes the book club, which is only hosted in Chicago, and because it was virtual we had more participants. People joined in from Mexico, and parts of Mexico where we never get to host the festival, like Chiapas and Oaxaca,” says Jiménez.
Although Lit & Luz continues to be a literary-focused event, it is also much more than that.
Jiménez explains, “It progressively has become more. It’s still based on literature but it is also finding the intersections between literature, music, and visual art, and other forms of artistic expression. Increasingly, we have more visual artists, more sound artists, and artists in other mediums like dance. There are also multidisciplinary artists that actually work with it all. It’s like this infinite intersection of all these different mediums.”
This year’s Lit & Luz workshops feature . . .
Julio Enríquez-Ornelas, the author of Los hijos de la chingada, and editor of Critical Storytelling from the Borderlandsyolanda segura, a poet from Queretaro who wrote serie de circunstancias posibles en torno a una mujer mexicana de clase trabajadora, per/so/na, and estancias que por ahora tienen luz y se abren hacia el paisajeMariana Oliver, an essayist from Mexico City who won an award for their book, Aves MigratoriasRobin Myers, a poet whose collection of work includes Lo Demás / Else, Amalgama / Conflations, and Tener / HavingDolores Dorantes, the author of Copy/Copia and executive director of Mujer Migrante
As book bannings across the U.S. scorch away the work of voices often left unheard, programming that foments artistic exchange, like the Lit & Luz Festival, are indispensable. They strengthen literary endeavors and encourage sharing cross-cultural experiences, creating seemingly never-ending reciprocity.