Print

Laguna Logo

Lojo Simon: One of Laguna’s Literary Laureates

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Lojo Simon is one of Laguna Beach’s two Literary Laureates. It’s an impressive title with an even more impressive list of responsibilities. Since receiving the honor earlier this year (the city’s website says the term runs May 2018-April 2019), Simon has taught a series of classes at the Boys and Girls Club, as well as the Susi Q. She is tasked with writing a play that is “Laguna-centric,” and she has created a multi-disciplinary project with the Laguna Art Museum set to open in 2020. In short, it is a full plate of responsibilities.

“It is a lot more work than I thought,” she says smiling. Her comment is decidedly more observation than complaint. As someone who discovered her passion for playwriting later in life, Simon doesn’t take her work for granted.

A journalist finds a hobby

A lifelong writer, Simon is nevertheless relatively new to playwriting. “I had been a journalist for years,” she explains. She was introduced to a theater’s inner-workings when her eldest daughter became an active participant in their local San Diego theater. Simon volunteered to paint sets and sew costumes, the usual ways parents lend a hand. But the overall process intrigued her. “So I started writing plays for fun.” 

A hobby turns into a passion

She took classes, went to workshops and during one of these classes, a play she wrote was produced. “It did really well at a community college,” says Simon. That success, combined with her youngest child heading off to college and her life partner working on his PhD, motivated Simon to pursue her Masters degree in playwriting – at 50.

Lojo Simon close up

Click on photo for a larger image

Lojo Simon, a playwright and one of Laguna’s two Literary Laureates

 “It seemed like that was what everyone was doing – following their passion,” she recalls. Three years after she began, in 2012, Simon had her degree. And it is a degree she values. “I have to attribute my success to grad school,” she says. “It gave me the opportunity to learn the craft as well as to network with people. But you have to write. (School) was about devoting the time to doing that.”

Finding an artistic home away from home

Her years working as a journalist also helped. “Journalism trained me well,” she explains. “I understand dialogue. I understand character. It was not difficult in that sense.” While she may underplay the difficulty of mastering the art of playwriting, she does not minimize the good fortune she has had in finding work. 

Acknowledging that playwriting can be “erratic,” Simon is, in addition to her Laguna Literary Laureate duties, also in her third year as a commissioned playwright for the Creede Repertory Theatre Young Audience Outreach Tour. This year’s production is called “Best Foot Forward.”

While Simon spends the bulk of her time in Laguna, Creede has become her “artistic home” away from home, both literally (she spends her summers in Creede, CO) and figuratively. Simon is commissioned to write a children’s musical that tours around the country to underserved populations. “We see 35,000 plus kids, and it’s an original musical every year. It is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever done.” 

Lojo Simon typing

Click on photo for a larger image

In her position as Literary Laureate, Simon is tasked to create Laguna-centric works, among other responsibilities

In addition to finding the actual project meaningful, Simon’s work in Creede offers her a community that she is deeply appreciative of. “Writing is solitary work,” she explains. “It’s really nice to be with people who appreciate your work and contribute to the creative process. It helps to have interactions with people. I’m fortunate to have this commission,” she says. “That’s been the biggest blessing.”

An ambitious project as Literary Laureate

Creating community, or at least tapping into it, is something Simon hopes to achieve in one of her ambitious Literary Laureate projects for Laguna Beach. The project is titled “Word and Image in Dialogue.” It is a collaboration between Laguna Art Museum and Simon and “seeks to explore and enhance the intersection of literary arts with visual and fine arts by recruiting artists and writers to use both the visual arts and literature as inspiration for the creation of a new work.”

Showcasing collaboration and the creative process

Ten artists will be chosen to create new works based on curated works of literature. On the flip side, qualified writers will be selected to create new works based on curated artworks in the Laguna Art Museum collection. Additionally, there will be at least two public lectures/workshops to educate the public about artistic collaboration and the creative process. The project will be completed in 2020. “I’m very interested in the creative process and cross pollination in the arts,” explains Simon. “I’m hoping to showcase the creative process with this project.”

Can we say it all started in Laguna?

The city’s website for the Literary Laureate position states that the person selected is to “serve as an official ambassador for Laguna Beach’s vibrant creative scene.” Clearly, Simon has taken her responsibilities seriously. And it’s fitting that she was selected. After living and raising her children in San Diego, it was a job at the Laguna Playhouse that ultimately brought her to Laguna. 

Lojo Simon walking

Click on photo for a larger image

Simon says one of the things she really enjoys is walking in Laguna

An informal meeting with Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann Wareham eventually led to Wareham offering Simon a job as Artistic Associate, a position she held for three years. “It was really fortuitous,” says Simon of her meeting with Wareham. 

And while good fortune is always helpful, Simon’s success falls more in the category of hard work plus talent. Her list of produced plays is formidable. She is also a three-time winner of the Laguna Beach Poetry Contest and curator of the Bare Bones Theatre’s new play reading series. 

All of this, in addition to her other achievements, makes Simon a perfect person to offer advice to any aspiring writers out there. “Be persistent. Success is fleeting. Education is great, but listen to your voice, don’t let it be compromised too much by the system,” says Simon. “You have to be courageous and you have to be willing to fail.”

Clearly, Simon practices what she preaches; her success is testament to that. It is also an inspiration.