Labor activist, poet to lead off 2016-2017 UHV Downtown Arts Series

In his day job, Rodrigo Toscano works in labor movement politics promoting health, safety and the environment.

Rodrigo Toscano

Not coincidentally, human rights issues regularly come up in his writing. An experimental poet and playwright, Toscano is the first guest in the University of Houston-Victoria 2016-2017 Downtown Arts Series.

“His work consistently involves communities of people and activism within literary communities as well as his activism in labor groups,” said Charles Alexander UHV poet and designer in residence, and co-curator of the series. “I don’t think I would go as far as saying all his poems are about that, but those two worlds do cohabit.”

Toscano will give a reading and talk about his work at 7 p.m. Monday in the UHV Center for the Arts, 204 N. Main St. A question-and-answer session will follow. The event is free and open to the public.

Toscano is the author of several collections of poetry, including “Partisans,” “The Disparities,” “Collapsible Poetics Theater,” “Deck of Deeds” and “Explosion Rocks Springfield.” “Collapsible Poetics Theater” won the 2007 National Poetry Series. The work also has been performed as a combination of theater and poetry.

“Toscano’s poetry is perhaps one of the few that innovatively addresses the current economic clime,” wrote author Cathy Park Hong in an essay about “Collapsible Poetics Theater.” “It’s infected with the language of globalization and consumerist culture. It’s meant to be heard as well as read. There is bilingualism (Spanish in Toscano’s case), but there also is tech-speak, ad-speak and business-conference-room-speak.”

A native of San Diego, Toscano moved to San Francisco in the 1990s, where he organized the Labor Party in San Francisco and published his first poetry collection. He later lived in Brooklyn for 16 years before relocating to New Orleans in 2015.

Toscano works for the Labor Institute in conjunction with United Steelworkers, the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, Communication Workers of America and National Day Laborers Organizing Network.

“Speaking somewhat clearly and accurately about lines of analysis and action in that world are at a premium,” Toscano said in an interview with the Poetry Society of America. “But the kind of analysis and action that poetic activity requires is very different. Poetry, for me, is a place to overtly migrate discourses onto one another, to be off topic.”

Charles Alexander

Alexander met Toscano about 15 years ago at an event in California where they both were doing readings.

“I was struck by the fact that he knew he had important work to do in this world,” Alexander said.

Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. His poetry has been translated into several languages, and his radio pieces have aired on stations across the U.S.

The UHV Downtown Arts Series presents an array of groundbreaking arts practices to the Victoria community and stimulates dialogue about the arts as a presence in people’s lives.

“We have a history of diversity in this series,” Alexander said. “Starting the series with an important American Hispanic poet who does community work shows our students a different picture of literature than we have given them so far.”

For more information about the event or series, contact Alexander at 361-703-5147 or

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro