Festival de Flor y Canto Returns to USC
In 1973, USC hosted a landmark literary festival that captured the energy of the emerging Chicano movement. Thirty-seven years later, the spirit of that original festival returned in the form of Festival de Flor y Canto: Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow.
From Sept. 15-17, many of the original poets and authors, joined by a new generation of voices, presented their work at USC’s Doheny Memorial Library.
The renowned Chicano poet Alurista was among the returning writers.
“When I realized it was happening, then when I found myself in the middle of it, I could only think of ‘Lazarus, Flor y Canto, levántate y anda’ [get up and walk],” he said. “And that’s exactly the way I see it – resuscitating the spirit that was born 37 years ago right here.”
Alurista’s rousing performance included selections from “Tunaluna,” his new collection of poetry. As he did in 1973, the poet employed his signature technique of frequently alternating between English, Spanish and pre-Columbian languages – designed “to force the reader to become bilingual,” he later explained.
He was reunited with eight other veteran writers from the 1973 festival who performed their writing for an audience in the Friends of the USC Libraries Lecture Hall.
Juan Felipe Herrera strummed his guitar and led a call-and-response session with the audience, and Verónica Cunningham incorporated flames into her reading.
Ron Arias, whose 1975 novel The Road to Tamazunchale was nominated for a National Book Award, was also among the returning writers. He called the festival’s reprisal “energizing.”
“I’m glad the flame is still burning and that a lot of young people are still writing about what’s important to them,” said Arias, who read the nonfiction short story “Snakes” from his work in progress, Hunting Hemingway and Other Stories Behind Stories. “This whole business of finding your identity by writing about it is healthy and therapeutic, but I think it’s also important just as a documentary record of the emotions and stories.”
Noting that the original festival followed a decade of political and social turbulence, Arias discerned a difference in tone between the documentary records of 1973 and 2010.
“In those days there was a lot more ferment, a lot more excitement, enthusiasm, militancy,” he said. “But I’m still glad people are writing about their parents and their grandparents from the other country or from the border. Two generations later, a lot of the young people are writing about the same things we did.”
Organized by the USC Libraries in conjunction with USC Visions and Voices, the festival concluded with the opening of the Sueños by the Sea exhibition, which celebrates the writers who participated in the 1973 festival and features photography by Michael Sedano, then a USC graduate student, for the Daily Trojan.
The exhibition’s black-and-white prints are displayed alongside selections from the writers’ works as well as video grabs from USC Television’s recordings.
The exhibits “help us connect the events of the past with the vitality of contemporary writers and writing, reminding us that the living voice of the artist is behind every written word on paper,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries.
A performance by Ballet Folklorico de USC rounded out the reception activities. After the exhibition concludes on Dec. 15, the photos will remain part of the Boeckmann Center for Iberian & Latin American Studies collection, joining DVDs of the original video recordings. The USC Libraries also have made those videos publicly available through the USC Digital Library at digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/collection/florcanto-m1.html
“For quarter century,” Quinlan said, “the Boeckmann Center has been preserving valuable resources like these that inform interdisciplinary research at USC and beyond, preserve the cultural history of Los Angeles and the region, and inspire the Flor y Cantos of the future.”