Never heard of East LA’s famed dirigible service? That’s because this history is fiction

Some of the reproduced images you’ll find in the book “ELADATL: A History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Line” are blurry and low-resolution, and that’s by design.

“When you’re dealing with historic material, it’s not going to be crystal clear,” says Alhambra-based poet and writer Sesshu Foster during a recent video call with his collaborator, artist Arturo Romo.

“ELADATL,” which refers to the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines, recalls a time in Los Angeles history when airships crisscrossed the city’s skies, and yes, it’s completely made-up, an illustrated and fully fictional book, out April 6 from City Lights Books, about an air transit service set in an alternate history of Los Angeles.

To add to the book’s sense of reality, Romo built a visual archive of illustrations, (often altered) photographs, grainy reproductions, mimeographed texts, diagrams and more that create a sense of verisimilitude in the narrative.

“In order to do that, to make it convincing, or maybe make it ironic or anachronistic, you have to adopt different styles of different eras and then insert yourself into those,” says Lincoln Heights-based Romo of the array of visual art in the book.

Foster says those fuzzy images underscore that history itself isn’t always clear; it’s full of holes that academics often try to fill and popular stories that may not actually be fact. And so, those images serve another purpose. “And that is also asking the reader to think about why is it not clear,” Foster says. “What’s not clear about it?”

Foster says his writing aims to “create a tension” between the history that people think they know and the history that’s often been obscured. “Fiction questions the dominant narratives,” he says.

All of this aims to conjure a story that’s as true to Los Angeles as it is made of imagination. “People live with place through their dreams and through their own fictions about their lives, and their dreams about their own lives,” says Romo.

“At least for me, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, and real and not real, is an artificial distinction when we’re trying to engage with our whole selves, our historical selves and our inner worlds with a place,” he adds. “When we’re trying to belong to a place and find belonging in a place, we’re using all those faculties and the distinction between fiction and nonfiction doesn’t make as much sense.”

The book contains references to real, existing local spots, like downtown music venue The Smell and Monterey Park Chinese restaurant Paul’s Kitchen, and includes nods to real people and groups, such as late artist Noah Purifoy and the activist collective Food Not Bombs. All of that intertwines in an intriguing speculative fiction that feels very much like the city that Angelenos know.

Foster and Romo are longtime collaborators. “I think, one of our first collaborations was through correspondence,” says Romo, who recalls reading Foster’s 1996 poetry book “City Terrace Field Manual,” sending him some drawings and receiving some writing about the images in return. “That started a dynamic between us, where I would produce an image that he would write about, and I would produce an image based on that writing.”

That eventually led to a project called ELA Guide, a website that provided maps and guides for tours of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. “ELADATL” is an extension of that project.

“The book is a fictional take on what we were doing in other nonfiction ways,” says Foster.

For the pair, that creating a narrative that centers the lives of those in East Los Angeles and surrounding locales at the forefront.

“Everyone in East L.A., grew up in the rain shadow of Hollywood, where Hollywood is creating, for the imagination of the entire world, all kinds of narratives about superheroes and private detectives and policemen and romance or film noir,” he says. “It’s this whole industry that is continuously streaming out these narratives, but, for those of us who grew up in East L.A., none of those narratives ever centrally dealt with the lives and experiences of the people here in the same town.”

File source

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button