Meet Jean Chen Ho and friends: San Gabriel Valley Food Club

This story is part of Lit City, our comprehensive guide to the literary geography of Los Angeles.

Inside an airy house in the Alhambra on a February evening, the writer Cherisse Yanit Nadal and Angela Peñaredondo refilled their plates from the multicultural medley spread across the kitchen table: Thai fried rice, tacos de asada, steamed broccoli, samosas, drunken noodles, sushi, gyros, papaya salad and more.

In the sizable backyard, filling the chilly night’s atmosphere with chatter and laughter, is an equally eclectic group of authors: “Fiona and Jane” novelist Jean Chen Ho, managing editor. press Kaya Neelanjana Banerjee, “Beast Meridian” poet Vanessa Angélica Villarreal and her 7-year-old son, Joaquin, along with about a dozen other members of the San Gabriel Valley Culinary Club.

Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Soraya Membreno and Douglas Brown fill their plates with food

From left, Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Soraya Membreno and Douglas Brown forage at the San Gabriel Valley Food Club’s Alhambra revival.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The SGV Food Club, as they call themselves, is a mostly BIPOC group of about 30 friends – writers, students, academics, publishers, educators, editors, poets – committed to following along. their way across Los Angeles’ eastern food court, from immigrants. the square indicates cash-only holes in the wall. For the latter, some have even set aside envelopes filled with dollar bills.

“As part of the SGV Food Club, I can look at the table and know exactly how much we are paying,” said Nadal. Her friends laugh.

Jen Eleana Hofer, poet and translator, adds: “It’s like a secret superpower.

After their first outing about six years ago, a table for eight after a poetry reading, diners created a Google group to plan regular excursions. It has evolved since then. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, their SGV pranks turned into Zoom hangouts.

On a recent Wednesday night, they ditched their computers and phone cameras for a potluck game, hosted by NPR journalist and producer Andrea Gutierrez, at her home.

People fix discs from an overflowing table

SGV writers’ hot pot is also eclectic as the writers gather and includes Thai fried rice, tacos de asada, samosas, drunken noodles, sushi, gyros, papaya salad and more.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

As with an SGV outing, no conversation is off limits. They talk about careers, family, dating, heartbreak, work in progress, world news, video games, “Game of Thrones,” the thrift store found. They celebrate each other’s successes, compliment challenges, and share tips on stores that appreciate writers of color.

“I give a lot of unsolicited work advice,” admits Vickie Vértiz, a poet who dropped bombs like a sailor. Ho and Hofer burst out laughing.

Many club members meet through writing groups and literary events, others through MFA programs. Some are invited as one-time guests and keep coming. F. Douglas Brown, a DJ, poet and high school teacher who writes about Black fatherhood and other personal issues, says the group is a welcome respite from the writing business. self-discovery.

“Too many things can destroy you when you are triggered by the things you write about,” he says, “and to have a group where you don’t have to think about it… that’s a rebound.”

As the temperature dropped, a group gathered around the fire pit, recounting SGV Food Club’s first outing at Omar’s Restaurant in San Gabriel and reflecting on the joys and struggles of urban writing. this vast.

Jean Chen Ho raised her arm

Jean Chen Ho caused an uproar when the SGV Food Club came out of COVID hibernation in February.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

“Recently I was writing outside because the weather was great,” said Nadal. “I wrote my best post of the past two years on the bench at In-N-Out.” She tries to think about her work in a car – with mixed results.

“I am such an emotional driver that I am not stable enough in the car in traffic to think about anything other than how wrong I was by the person who just cut my throat. ”

“The problems of our time are somehow more present in LA than in New York,” says Leland Cheuk, author of No Good Very Bad Asian. “Here you really see wealth inequality everywhere, climate change, all… We’re living in the future. If you’re interested in the future as a writer, you live here. “

Moments later, Hofer walked over, hugged Brown warmly, and listened to the conversation, which had revolved around the glory of SGV – the valley, the food, the club.

“Most of the time when you go out with writers and the bill is on the table, nobody wants to pay,” says Hofer. “But to us, we were like, ‘Here, take my $20. Take my money.'”

This pro club might be the best deal in town. Meet Jean Chen Ho and friends: San Gabriel Valley Food Club

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