Photo of Manazar, thanks to Rosemary Madero
A month ago I received an email with the heading “Manazar.” I knew that name, but it had been over thirty years since I’d heard from him. The email was from Manazar’s niece, Rosemary Madero. She has been working with Manazar’s poetry and other writings, and she had come across my name. She was excited because finally she had found me. It occurred to me that my correspondence with Manazar (Manuel Gamboa) when he was in Soledad Prison near Salinas, CA, and we began writing, would be at Duke in the Women’s Archive, because they had all my papers and correspondence going back to the early seventies and through 1995.
I wrote to Laura Micham, who directs that archive, and she assigned one of her staff to find our correspondence and get copies to Rosemary. Apparently, they’ve found a hundred pages of it, and it is now in Rosemary’s hands. She’s very excited, and so am I.
I can’t remember exactly when Manazar and I began corresponding. Paul Foreman and I began our poetry journal Hyperion, in 1970. We also joined COSMEP (Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers) and by 1973 we were attending their conferences. It could have been at the 1973 conference in New Orleans or the New York City one in 1974, but I learned of Joe Bruchac’s Prison Project, hooking up Cosmep editors with writers in prison. I began writing to Manuel. Those were tense times, a lot of social change–integration finally coming to NC, the Vietnam War. Cosmep had many members bringing about social change, feminist presses, new Black presses, anti-war mags.
A lot was happening for me personally, too, in1974-75. In late 1974 I separated from my husband. I had begun a small press distribution project called Cosmep South, and I was the paid project director ($2000/year). I had also begun corresponding with a N.C. “prison poet,” T.J. Reddy, one of the Charlotte Three, put in prison for burning a stable of horses, which he did not do. Our U.S. Justice Dept paid witnesses to testify against him and the two others, and then sent those witnesses to Mexico. T.J.’s crime had been to try to persuade young black men to avoid the draft so they wouldn’t go to Vietnam. I reviewed and praised T.J.’s book of poems in the local paper and, as a direct result, we were evicted from our rental farmhouse in Cedar Grove. I found an apartment for me and the kids in January 1975 in Chapel Hill’s new Interfaith Council Housing. There were only two white families; the other thirty-eight were black.
By summer 1975 I’d been elected Chair of Cosmep. I was also collecting N.C. poetry for our magazine Hyperion and setting up readings for local poets in Chapel Hill and Durham restaurants. Manuel wasn’t getting very many letters from me.
He awakened my interest in him in a big way when he answered a letter around 1975–I know I was already living in Chase Park–by saying that he looked forward to hearing from me in another six months. That he had that kind of humor and patience while he was serving an indeterminate prison term woke me up. I began then enjoying our correspondence more and taking it more seriously.
The 1975 Hyperion, which had many N.C. poets, also had one of Manazar’s poems. Several subsequent issues had them, too, in 1976, 78, and 80. I especially love this one in two languages:
Steel and Justice
The convicts walk... and walk... and walk
the convicts walk in blue streams
back and forth (back and forth)
in and out of a nameless day
through four gates marked
“Time” “Sentence” “Penitentiary” “Solitude”
Rivers of eyes running through a sewer
of steel and justice
Rivers of marvelous colors submerged
inside a concrete rainbow
We are no longer individuals
they have made us one the size of all
and in time (and in time)
they will augment us more and more
until they make us one
the size of the world
Acero Y Justicia
Los presos andan...y andan....y andan
Los presos andan en arroyos azules
pa’ tras y pa’ delante (pa’ tras y pa’ delante)
entrando y saliendo de un dia sin nombre
por cuatro puertas marcadas
“Tiempo” “Sentencia” “Penitencia” “Soledad”
Rios de ojos corriendo por un albanal
de acero y justicia
rios de colores maravillosos sumergidos
dentro un arco iris de concreto
Y no semos individuales
nos han hecho uno del tamano de todos
y con el tiempo (y con el tiempo)
mas y mas nos van a aumentar
del tamano del mundo
Published in Hyperion 16, Focus South, 1980, the last issue of Hyperion.
One thing I had forgotten, and my friend Sharon Ramirez reminded me, I had visited Manazar at Soledad. Rosemary also knew this. Sharon says, when I was spending some time with her in 1976, that I pushed her into taking me to visit him in Soledad, giving her some of his poems and saying how talented he was. She took me. I knew he left Soledad (Rosemary says in 1978), and I remembered that he went to work for Beyond Baroque, a literary organization in Venice, CA. Its leader, Sandy, was at one or more of the Cosmep conferences. From Rosemary I learned that in time he became an administrator at Beyond Baroque, that he worked tirelessly with young Latinos, trying to turn them away from crime and toward writing.
Rosemary is writing his biography and also bringing out a book of his poems, many not yet published. After prison he called himself simply Manazar. How glad I was to learn about him again and to feel that our correspondence had been important to him, that he had been so active helping other young lives.
I’m at the time in my life when it is very reassuring to know that things you did years ago bore fruit. I’m very curious about those letters. How good that they still exist, and that Rosemary is writing the story of his life and publishing his work.
Here is Rosemary and her "Journey to Manazar."
Raised by a single mother of seven children, I was born in the rough neighborhood of East Los Angeles in 1959. My mother, Cenovia, was a musician—composer and songwriter—who endowed us with her talents. When she divorced my father in 1965, music was her way to make what money she could, and she taught us to sing and play guitar. We performed throughout the L.A. area at talent contests, church bazaars, dinner parties, and in church. A Mexican Von Trapp Family, we had five girls and two boys, just like them. I moved to Montana in 1981, living in East Helena, Glendive, Bozeman, and now, Missoula.
Writing is something I gravitated towards growing up, mainly bad poems. I hoped one day to write fiction, I suppose following my mother’s example—stories instead of songs. It wasn’t until I moved to Bozeman that I entered college in 1989 and received my BS in Business Management/Human Resources, with a minor in writing, in 1994. I never pursued writing wholeheartedly and wasn’t dedicated. Instead, I thought I should join corporate America and worked for United Parcel Service (UPS) from 1989—the same year I began college—to 2008 as an hourly clerk and package car driver. Promoted to management in 2000, I worked as an On Car Supervisor and Human Resources Supervisor. I left UPS because I’d grown tired of the “you’re a hero, but a zero” corporate cutthroat mentality. With my then husband’s encouragement, I returned to college as a Post-Baccalaureate English major to finally engage myself in the passion I suppressed all those years: writing.
This is when I discovered Manazar.
My mother wrote me of his passing in 2000, but I didn’t attend his memorial. If I had, I surely would’ve heard of his legacy from family and friends. In 2007 I was in the biography section of Barnes and Noble and found a book, “Always Running,” by Luis J. Rodriguez, a memoir about the author’s life as a gang member in East L.A. Intrigued, I bought the book and checked out his website where he mentioned my uncle. I emailed Luis and he responded in kind. He told me that my uncle mentored him in conducting writing workshops in Chino Men’s Prison and Frontera Women’s Prison and spoke of their friendship affectionately. Though fascinated, my imagination wasn’t yet piqued.
In 2008 after I left UPS, I decided to write my mother’s story of growing up in Chavez Ravine and the musical legacy she left. She was Manazar’s counterpart. Google searches kept popping up Manazar’s name, and in May 2008, his papers and materials were donated to UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library. I emailed UCLA, told them who I was and my curiosity about the collection. They forwarded my email to Michelle Kholos Brooks, a friend of Manazar’s and literary executor, and she told me the archive included stories on my family, the Gamboas. But life’s distractions and my unraveling marriage curtailed any further curiosity.
In the fall of 2009, I decided to write a paper on Chavez Ravine, and once again Manazar’s name surfaced in website searches. I learned there was a documentary about his life as an ex-convict, poet, and community activist called Poetic License, but I couldn’t locate the film. I also found he self-published a book, Memories Around a Bulldozed Barrio, but I was unable to locate that either. I emailed Michelle and asked if she knew about the film and book, and she sent both to me. Thrilled, I had no idea that my life was forever changed.
When I watched Poetic License, the man I remembered as a little girl, who visited my mother between prison stints, now had grey hair, was old, and resembled her. In one scene, there’s a large framed wedding photo of my grandparents, which my mother lugged around until the day she died in 2004, and that linked me to my uncle. I made it my mission to find out more and with a grant in hand from Montana State University, in 2010, I traveled to UCLA and the archive.
And there he was, inside eight grey boxes filled with poems, plays, photos, and stories of his childhood—ones my mother often told as well—in Chavez Ravine. I ended up traveling again to UCLA in May and July that same year to scan and digitize all the material in the archive—over 3000 images!
I asked the archive manager at UCLA if we could fire up Manazar’s Mac computer —to my knowledge, it had lain dormant for over 10 years—and sure enough there was his work. It appeared that in the last years of his life, Manazar was organizing everything before he passed away. All the files were saved using ClarisWorks, an obsolete software program, and we had to figure out a way to transfer them to my PC. Thank God for thumb drives!! One of the boxes in his archive was full of floppy disks and I purchased a portable drive and went through each floppy searching for duplicates from his Mac —121 disks to be exact!
I experienced several serendipitous moments going through his papers: in one of the boxes, an article on Chavez Ravine and the Dodger Stadium debacle lay inside —I used this same article for my paper on Chavez Ravine. For a poetry class in 2011, I compiled a chapbook of his poems thematically—barrio, prison, ladies, sketches, and reflections— he’d categorized them in his Mac using some of the same titles; and the list goes on.
Because Manazar was writing his autobiography, there are details of my family’s life in Chavez Ravine—character studies on each family member, stories about my mother and Aunt Julia who performed as the Gamboa Sisters; life in his barrio; and shocking revelations on incestuous relationships. How could I not be intrigued? I realized I needed to take my uncle’s work out of obscurity and have his poems published as a collection. I am writing a hybrid memoir/biography on Manazar and that is what brought me here to the University of Montana in Missoula—it’s my thesis project.
At this juncture, the manuscript of Manazar’s collection is complete with an introduction written by me and a preface by the well-known Chicano poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca. Deciding which poems to select was an arduous task and once selected, I had to determine what version to include—some poems have three or more versions. I stayed true to his authorial intent in organizing the collection thematically, and titled it An Elephant That Walks on Alphabetical Feet, a line from his poem “Paperback Dreams.”
As I continue my research for the biography and contact people who knew Manazar, such as yourself, it keeps me motivated to continue this project. I’ve met many wonderful writers, poets, and artists he’s brought to my doorstep. At a time when my world was falling apart and I was devastated at the ending of a 20-year marriage, Manazar was there guiding me, helping me to move forward into a new writerly life, and for this, I am grateful.