Transformative Literary Arts Program Debuts at PUSD This Fall 

A young Black man in glasses stands at a podium inside a library. Bookshelves are visible behind him. He is addressing a group of younger students. Author Keenan Norris talks about housing segregation in L.A. and Chicago with 9th grade Locavore Lit students at an LA high school. Pasadena nonprofit Light Bringer Project is now bringing Locavore Lit to PUSD schools with the help of a PCF grant. Photo by Roz Helfand.

With help from a recent PCF Arts & Culture Grant, local arts nonprofit Light Bringer Project (LBP) will debut a powerful literary arts program, Locavore Lit, at three Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) schools this fall. LBP was one of 18 organizations that received funding from PCF’s inaugural Arts & Culture Grant Program.

LBP is a Pasadena-based nonprofit arts organization with a mission to build community through the power of the arts and education. It is widely known for its programs for underserved youth in the greater Pasadena and Los Angeles areas. Here in Pasadena, LBP delivers work-based learning programs to students at three high school arts academies: Creative Arts Media & Design Academy at Pasadena High School, Academy of Creative Industries at John Marshall Fundamental School, and Arts, Entertainment & Media at John Muir High School. As Tom Coston, LBP’s Board Chair, notes, LBP relishes educational settings in which “students can connect the dots, build lots of soft and hard skills, and ask, ‘what’s next?’”

Sparking Love for the Written Word
Locavore Lit is a classroom workshop, curriculum resource, and online story journal designed to spark a love of reading and writing among middle and high school public school students. Young people are connected to visiting Los Angeles-based authors and are exposed to written work that feels relevant to students’ life experiences and neighborhood histories.

The program has roots in a program called Literature for Life, which was part of USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) at three nearby schools: Fairfax High School, West Adams Preparatory High School, and James C. Foshay Learning Center. Poets, authors, and journalists visited classrooms and shared their passion for their craft, an endeavor that included support from LBP. One of those authors was Altadena-based author Jervey Tervalon, who phoned Coston in 2018 with a pointed observation: “Pasadena needs a literary arts classroom program.” LBP and Tervalon thus began to evolve Literature for Life into Locavore Lit, which first served 340 students at the three NAI schools during the 2018-19 school year.

An older Latino man wearing a "Defend New Orleans" tshirt stands in front of a classroom. His hand is gesturing, and he appears to be engaged in a conversation with a student in the front row.
Altadena author Jervey Tervalon was instrumental in creating the Locavore Lit program in LA schools. Now, his wish to bring the program to Pasadena public schools is a reality with help from a PCF Arts & Culture grant.

During classroom visits over the last five years, the authors have shared their stories, inspirations, and careers; they also guide students through creative writing exercises. In this way, writers serve as mentors, leading career development discussions with aspiring or reticent young writers, while helping learners at all levels hone their writing skills.

“PCF’s Grant is Catalytic” 

Now, with the help of PCF’s Arts & Culture grant, LBP and Tervalon’s joint wish to bring the Locavore Lit program to Pasadena will finally come to fruition. It will debut this fall at Pasadena High School, John Muir High School, and Octavia E. Butler Middle School. “PCF’s grant is catalytic,” says Coston. “We look for those in the community who put their hand on our shoulder and support our vision. We see PCF that way.”

Locavore Lit “digs deep (and)  touches students in a way that other things can’t,” continues Coston. “This (program) is the living example of our mission to share relevant contemporary writing and artwork in the hope that young people may better see themselves and their world represented in their own reading. The students are so inspiring in their willingness to share their own stories, thoughts, and challenges with the professional writers and their peers. They want to be heard! And they are learning to respect the power of the written word along with their own voices.”

Coston is especially excited about how plans are unfolding at Octavia E. Butler Middle School, where the program will focus on Butler herself. “We’ll use Octavia’s life story and professional journey to get students asking, ‘What does it take to be a writer?’ and examining the question ‘What does it take to be you?’ This will be a centerpiece that we can build upon with other schools.”


A young woman with long auburn hair stands at the front of a classroom of several teen students, all of whom have their backs to the camera. She is presenting to them - her hands are both up in gesture.
Author Ivy Kuo presents to a Locavore Lit class at Fairfax High School, one of the first schools to host this program.