Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Al Martinez is the focus of a new exhibition
“Editors and publishers come and go, typefaces change, formats shift, columns move from here to there. I endure, writing the words and singing the songs, prowling like an old alley cat through the lives of those I father into my paragraphs.”
–Al Martinez, I’ll Be Damned If I’ll Die in Oakland
Newspaperman and columnist Al Martinez has prowled the paths and byways of Los Angeles for 40 years—and of Oakland and the Bay area for 20 years before that—searching out stories to inform, delight, and move his readers. Always fascinated by people, he writes about the human condition, railing with righteous anger at the unjust and inhumane or celebrating the miracle of a grandchild’s birth or the quiet courage of an unsung hero. His columns in the Los Angeles Times earned Martinez three Pulitzer Prizes, a National Headliner Award for best feature column in the U.S., and scores of other awards.
A native of Oakland, Martinez attended San Francisco State College before serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as a rifleman and war correspondent during the Korean War. In 1952, he enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, but left to begin his career in journalism at the Richmond Independent, moving on to the Oakland Tribune by 1955. In 1971, he headed south to join the Los Angeles Times, where he was offered his own column in 1984. For the next 23 years, his columns appeared regularly, earning Martinez a loyal fan base along with numerous honors. In 2007, as part of its downsizing, the Times laid him off, unleashing an angry outcry from readers. He was reinstated, only to be cut loose 18 months later, this time for good. Far from retiring, however, Martinez continues to write, producing columns for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Topanga Messenger, as well as a blog.
The Huntington celebrates Martinez with a special exhibition drawn from the archive of his papers donated to the Library in 2006. “Al Martinez: Bard of L.A.” opens March 17 in the West Hall of the Library and continues through June 25.
The exhibition traces his career through a display of columns, letters, photographs, and memorabilia, including some special items borrowed for the show. Visitors who recall Martinez’s columns about his beloved dog Barkley can view maps from their last road trip together, recounted in the moving book Barkley, A Dog’s Journey. Visitors will also learn about Martinez’s writing for television, which netted him an Emmy nomination. In an audio installation, Al and his wife Joanne (“Cinelli” as she is known to his readers) will read their favorite columns. And visitors will be able to sit in a quiet nook and read Martinez’s current columns and interact with his blog at a computer station.
His columns can inspire belly-laughs or an emotional catch in the throat, but no matter the subject or tenor of his writing, Martinez inspires his readers to think more deeply about the world around them and to see more clearly the qualities that bind people together in common humanity. He is the voice, not just of Angelenos, but of Everyman and Everywoman.
Sara S. “Sue” Hodson
Curator of Literary Manuscripts
[SOLD-OUT] Book Series: The Latino Experience in L.A.
Feb. 29, March 28, and April 25 (Wednesdays) 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
A selection of readings will capture the humor, compassion, anger, fear, and triumphs of the Latino experience in the greater Los Angeles community. Facilitator Judith Palarz will lead discussions of The Barbarian Nurseries, by Hector Tobar; The Madonnas of Echo Park, by Brando Skyhorse; and The Tortilla Curtain, by T. C. Boyle. The series also includes excerpts from Reflections, by Al Martinez, as well as a private tour of the exhibition by curator Sue Hodson.
Members: $75. Non-Members: $85. Registration: 626-405-2128.
A Conversation with Al and Joanne Martinez, with host Larry Mantle
April 4 (Wednesday) 7:30 p.m.
Larry Mantle, host of KPCC’s “Air Talk,” will conduct an informal chat with Al and Joanne Martinez about their lives, Al’s columns and other writings, and their memories of travel and family. Reservations are not required and the event is free and open to the public. Friends’ Hall.
Curator Tour: “Bard of L.A.”
April 19 (Thursday) 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Join curator Sue Hodson, along with Al Martinez (the “Bard of L.A.” himself), for a private tour of the exhibition drawn from the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist’s life and writings. Martinez is known for his columns in the Los Angeles Times and for several works of fiction and nonfiction. Members: $15. Non-Members: $20. Registration: 626-405-2128. Space is limited.
Wednesday Afternoons with Al: A Writing Workshop
May 30, June 6 and 13 (Wednesdays) 2–4 p.m.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author Al Martinez will lead this three-part workshop for writers of all levels and interests. Participants will be assigned writing exercises that parallel their interests and receive guidance and editing. Mr. Martinez will talk about his own writing experiences and provide direction and feedback for participants as they develop and share their work. (Each participant will be asked to submit a short writing sample to Mr. Martinez so he may evaluate the writers’ styles and interests.) Members: $150. Non-Members: $165. Registration: 626-405-2128. Space is limited.