LitHop Celebrates Fresno Literature With Local Writers


Photo by: Larry Valenzuela

Keynote speaker Carmen Giménez Smith reads pieces from her new book during LitHop at Fresno City College on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

The Tower District and Fresno City College hosted the third annual LitHop festival on April 21, celebrating literary arts throughout the Fresno community. There were over 150 readers and 40 events that took place from 1 to 7 p.m.

The keynote speaker event kicked off with LitHop founder and FCC instructor Lee Herrick thanking the Fresno community for making his idea become a reality. His vision for LitHop began 10 years ago, he said, but wasn’t finalized into an event until 2016.

Herrick didn’t hesitate to address the elephant in the room — that Fresno State professor Randa Jarrar chose to step down on headlining the event. After her controversial tweets on April 17, where she called Barbara Bush an “amazing racist,” Jarrar chose to withdraw from LitHop.

A public statement posted on LitHop’s website addressed the controversy with Jarrar, stating, “We do not support violence on social media or elsewhere; rather, we value civil discourse and look forward to the necessary healing ahead.”

“I support Randa Jarrar’s free speech and I also denounce any violence against her…” Herrick said.

Photo by: Larry Valenzuela
Lee Herrick, former Fresno poet laureate, speaks to the crowd at LitHop, an annual event he founded, at Fresno City College on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

Herrick then brought out Nikiko Masumoto, an agrarian farmer and community volunteer for the Central Valley. She addressed the importance of art and funding arts in Fresno.

Masumoto explained that the ballot to fund parks and arts would add three-eighths of a cent to Fresno’s sales tax, which would go to fixing and building parks and trails. Twelve percent of the money would assist the arts for 30 years.

She urged the audience to think about the first time they experienced art, and how those experiences would shape the next generation if the ballot is passed.

“I know Fresno believes in the arts. I know we are artists. And I know we believe in the possibilities that art can bring us.” Masumoto said.

LitHop director and FCC instructor Juan Luis Guzmán introduced his friend and keynote speaker Carmen Giménez Smith. A professor at Virginia Tech, Smith is also an American Book Award Winner, Juniper Prize winner, and poetry co-editor for “The Nation.

Photo by: Larry Valenzuela
Four writers recite their pieces for LitHop at a pool hall called Detention in the Tower District in Fresno on Saturday, April, 21 2018.

Smith also voiced her opinion on the Jarrar controversy. She read from a passage that included the line, “The writer is dangerous because she critiques with teeth.”

“I’d like to dedicate this reading to Randa Jarrar and to other artists who are silenced for testing the limits of their liberty,” Smith said.

Smith read poems of hers and others for 30 minutes, recounting experiences dealing with people of color, the Americas, politics, revolution, sexuality, culture, and  past, present, and future, all with vivid detail and unapologetic language.

Herrick summarized the goal of LitHop and what it hopes to contribute to the Central Valley.

“LitHop is not perfect, we know there is some hiccups,” Herrick said, “but if we do it again we will continue to try to bring people together through words, language, and some of the things that need to be said, and keep the discussions going.”

Photo by: Larry Valenzuela
Marisol Baca, an English instructor at Fresno City College, recites her piece for LitHop at The Revue in the Tower District in Fresno on Saturday, April, 21 2018.