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Erick Lyle Encourages Reflection, Activism With His Writing

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

Zine creator, musician and social activist Erick Lyle lectured at the University of West Florida Tuesday night explaining how an art festival protesting the makeover of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood served as the basis for his latest book, “Streetopia.”

Streetopia was the name of a five-week-long art fair in the low-income Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco (described in many tourist guides as "the worst neighborhood in San Francisco"). The fair featured the work of more than 100 artists, as well as lectures and performances and a café that served two free meals a day for the duration of the event. Lyle described Streetopia as an “anti-gentrification project by and for a neighborhood’s current residents rather than for an imagined wealthier audience.”

“Too often, writing is perceived as something that people do in isolation,” said Dr. Bre Garrett, composition program director for the UWF department of English. “And writing is often reduced to a set of skills, such as correct grammar or proper essay structure. Lyle pointed out the social and collaborative nature of writing.”

Lyle and Streetopia co-curators Chris Johanson and Kal Spelletich decided to put together the event in 2012 when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced plans to turn the Tenderloin into a “dot com corridor.” When the city passed a law giving tax breaks to tech firms, Twitter did relocate its headquarters from Silicon Valley. The arrival brought immediate rent increases for housing and caused displacement of many poor residents of the area.

The Department of English and the English Composition Program sponsored Lyle’s lecture as part of their visiting scholar series. 

“We thought it would be great for students, in particular students in writing classes but also several other disciplines, to see the work of writers and artists fighting to make the world a better place,” Scott Satterwhite said. Satterwhite, who helped arrange Lyle’s visit, teaches English composition, rhetoric and public writing at UWF.

During his UWF presentation, Lyle showed slides of the exhibits, the cafe and other gatherings that were part of the Streetopia art fair. He then discussed chapters of the book that documented the show and the public discourse it prompted about the use of public spaces as well as economic driven displacement.
“This is not just happening in big cities like San Francisco and New York, it’s everywhere … it’s happening in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It’s happening anywhere where people are trying to carve out downtowns and drive up housing prices,” Lyle said.

Lyle, who grew up in South Florida, lives in Brooklyn and has been a frequent contributor to dozens of zines as well as the San Francisco Bay Guardian and NPR’S “This American Life.”

The audience for the lecture included students and people from the community, including architects, business owners and artists.

“One woman drove all the way from New Orleans,” Satterwhite said. “Another woman said that she came out as an early birthday gift to herself because she missed the intellectual stimulation from her college days.”

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.