Check out this WONDERFUL piece by Alison Flood for the Guardian
Dominican-American Elizabeth Acevedo wins prestigious children’s award for The Poet X, while Jackie Morris takes illustration prize for The Lost Words
Dominican-American slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo has become the first ever writer of colour to win the UK’s most prestigious children’s books award, the Carnegie medal, which has a history stretching back to 1936 and includes Arthur Ransome, CS Lewis and Neil Gaiman among its former winners.
Acevedo, the daughter of Dominican immigrants, took the medal for her debut, The Poet X. A verse novel, it tells of a quiet Dominican girl, Xiomara, who joins her school’s slam poetry club in Harlem and is, according to the judges, “a searing, unflinching exploration of culture, family and faith within a truly innovative verse structure”. Xiomara “comes to life on every page and shows the reader how girls and women can learn to inhabit, and love, their own skin”.
The book is dedicated to “all the little sisters yearning to see themselves”, and one of her former students in particular. Acevedo was an eighth-grade English teacher in Maryland when the impetus for the novel struck her: one of her students, Katherine, wouldn’t read any of the books Acevedo offered her, telling her : “None of these books are about us.”
So Acevedo set out to write “a story that sounds like and depicts the same kind of neighbourhood” she and her students are from. “When your body takes up more room than your voice / you are always the target of well-aimed rumors, / which is why I let my knuckles talk for me,” she writes in The Poet X. “I’ve forced my skin just as thick as I am.”
“This was a girl who physically seemed to be taking up so much space but felt she had to be withdrawn, she was afraid to push the boundaries,” Acevedo said. “Her body takes up so much attention it would be easy to forget all the things she’s thinking, things she won’t say. I wanted to be really close to those feelings and show the everyday magic and beauty that quiet folks can hold.”
Acevedo is no longer a teacher but she returns to the school where she taught every year, and knows that her former students, including Katherine, have read her novel. In her speech after winning the medal she said:“I felt like this student had given me a challenge, or at least permission to to write a story about young people who take up space, who do not make themselves small, who learn the power of their own words.”
Acevedo’s win comes two years after the prize instigated an independent review into its historical lack of racial diversity, following widespread anger at 2017’s 20-book, entirely white longlist. After interviews with more than 600 people, from librarians to children, the review concluded that the UK’s overwhelmingly white librarian workforce, who nominate books for the medal, were mostly unaware of titles by writers of colour. It also found a dearth of books by writers of colour were being published in the UK.
Tuesday’s ceremony also saw the illustrator Jackie Morris win the Kate Greenaway medal for illustration for The Lost Words, a response to the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s decision to remove everyday nature words such as “acorn”, “bluebell” and “kingfisher”, as they were not being used enough by children. The book, written by Robert Macfarlane, features his poems alongside Morris’s images of the excised words and has become a cultural phenomenon, with members of the public raising funds to ensure schools around the country have copies.
Alison Brumwell, who chaired the panel of librarians who picked the winners, called it an “astonishing book which deserves the highest accolades”.
“The illustrations test our acuity and make us all think on a much deeper level about scale, colour and proportion; also, about representations of loss and absence. We are invited to ‘read’ on more than one level and to reflect upon a world in which change can mean irreparable loss, impoverishing both language and the environment,” said Brumwell.
Morris said that she believes the response to The Lost Words has been so strong because “instinctively, we know that we are not separate from nature, we’re part of it”.
“Certainly in urban environments, we’ve almost divorced ourselves from a close connection with it, and I think there is a hunger to return to those connections – and it’s also an enormous necessity,” she said.
Morris ended her acceptance speech on Tuesday with a call to her fellow authors and illustrators, artists and musicians “to help to tell the truth about what is happening to this small and fragile world we inhabit, to re-engage with the natural world, to inspire and to imagine better ways to live.
“Because there is no Planet B and we are at a turning point. And because in order to make anything happen it first needs to be imagined. And as writers and illustrators for children we grow the readers and thinkers of the future,” she said.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The heart of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s new book is the epic narrative poem “When I Walk Through That Door, I Am – An Immigrant Mother’s Quest.” It packs an emotional and political wallop.
The poem is written through the yearning voice of a woman named Sophia, a heroic immigrant from El Salvador. Her husband, Tonal, had been the victim of a gang murder. She musters the strength to head north to the United States with her 4-year-old son, Joaquin. U.S. border authorities separate them.
Placed inside a southern New Mexico detention center, Sophia is raped. Yet she holds her head up and perseveres. She thinks of her late husband. She hopes her son is alive and they can be reunited: “I feel like I am walking up a mountain/meditating on you my sweet Joaquin,/where are you? are you safe? do you have nightmares?/do you cry at night, are you eating, are you sick?”
Repeatedly, Sophia wills herself to ascend a metaphorical mountain. She struggles to overcome fear and the unknown, suppresses memories of death and still has the will to go on. She shows the courage of Athena.
Baca, a widely honored Albuquerque poet, said he had been initially thinking about different individual battles. “I was bemoaning the addictions of kids. I was sick of it. With ‘walking up the mountain,’ I thought of the cross those kids bear. And it turned into Sophia’s cross,” he said.
Baca said in an author’s note that he created the character of Sophia soon after helping a real-life undocumented Burmese refugee named Sae-Po. Catholic Charity Services announced it was seeking sponsors for refugees; Sae-Po was one. Baca gave him a job at his ranch outside Santa Fe until Sae-Po and his family were arrested.
“Everything we know about (refugees) is wrong, and yet they come at just the right moment in time, to define for us what Democracy is,” Baca argues in the author’s note. “They come giving, not taking. They create community. They believe in justice. They seek peace. How much more simple can that get for our muddle-brained minions who create insane immigration policies? Refugees enrich, not deplete.”
Baca’s other new book is “Feeding the Roots of Self-Expression and Freedom,” written with Kym Sheehan and Denise VanBriggle. Baca said that book is for high school students who can’t manage the conventional framework of school. “It’s geared to help students and teachers in alternative learning environments – those sequestered in juvenile facilities, for young, unwed mothers or for kids who don’t fit in the public school system,” he added.
Baca has won the American Book Award for Poetry, the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature and the Pushcart Prize.
Jimmy Santiago Baca reads from, discusses and signs “When I Walk Through That Door, I Am” and “Feeding the Roots of Self-Expression and Freedom” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at the Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave., and at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, at Collected Works, 202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe.
The film “A Place to Stand” will be screened at 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 12, at the Octavia Fellin Public Library, 115 W. Hill St., Gallup. At 3 p.m., Baca will give a free 90-minute Writers Workshop on “How to Write Great Stories and Poems!” in Room 200, Student Services Tech Center, University of New Mexico-Gallup campus. A live stream of the workshop will be in the public library.
At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 13, Baca will give a talk in the library on “Moving Ahead in Your Life.” The screening, workshop and address are part of Gallup’s Biennial Authors Festival – “Story, Telling & Conversation.”
The sixth annual Jimmy Santiago Baca Writing Retreat will be held in Albuquerque on June 19-20. Register at jimmysantiagobaca.com.
Please check out this wonderful article by Dr. Esther Liberman at BeLatina.com and show the site some love!
From her home in Austin, Texas, Mónica Teresa Ortiz writes prose that sounds like poetry and poetry that looks like prose. A first generation American, born and raised in the Texas panhandle, Ortiz’s genealogy evolved in the style of a border crossing: her grandparent’s generation grew up in México, her father on the border, while Ortiz’s own body was born into the United States, clearly bearing the signs of other places. Ortiz herself need not cross the border. She is an expert in crossing a different kind of boundary.
The places and spaces that she inhabits, just like the ones she might be barred from entering, inspire a work that is intimately tied up with geography and landscape, both literally and in their myriad ramifications. When asked how her background influences her work, Ortiz’s responseorbits around the idea of origin and locations, saying, “I consider geography and space greatly influential in the way I think and relate to the world.” Ortiz goes on to recognize the inextricable connection between identity, the body, and that body’s location, knowing her own is both Texan and Mexican.
All that is not to say that there is any ease in the palimpsest of her identity. She stays in Texas, not for the politics of that place but rather for her urge to change them, diversify them, open them up for broader inclusivity. She notes how the conservatism of Texas is in constant conversation with some aspects of her identity (the Mexican, the child of the border) and in clear opposition to other aspects (her ideology, her queerness). If Texas has helped constitute Ortiz’s own identity, it is more so for how the place challenges her existence and the importance of her body than for how they are supported. In some measure, Ortiz mark is always her otherness.
The day she left, the gladiolus in the apple jug were dying. It had not yet been a week that we put them in there, half filled with water… but it doesn’t matter… the petals so dead and wilting, their corpses scatter across the table top. I guess they die so easily because they aren’t planted anymore, not growing and not rooted and not connected to the earth; disconnected from the soil, from the dirt.
When Ortiz writes about her cut gladiolus wilting out of existence, now rootless and unearthed, she is not really talking about flowers. As one of the premier Chicana writers of our time, Ortiz is particularly preoccupied with the distances that lie between nationality, race, ethnicity, location, sexuality, and gender. Especially living in her home state of Texas, she is interested in combing these threads away from each other, rather than trying to fit them under an umbrella. A gladiola is not always a gladiola.
Ortiz’s first objection, then, would be to my use of the word “Chicana.” which denotes an American-born Mexican person and is politically charged. Even though she is Mexican-American that isn’t all that she is. In her struggle against the heteropatriarchy of both her culture and her birthplace, Ortiz resists what she sees as the erasure of her gender and sexuality by a label that highlights only the color of her body but not what runs beneath.
Parsing out her layers further, Ortiz says, “I don’t identify with Chicanismo or Latinidad … I’m queer, and I’m Mexican, and I am from Texas, and I am from the panhandle … It’s very nuanced. I think Latinidad doesn’t quite explore those nuances.”Ortiz openly recognizes the racism and homophobia inherent in her home state, but she also feels love for it, always pining for a “queer futurity.”
In her first collection of poetry, muted blood, Ortiz is both “queer” and “mad,” and it isn’t clear whether she’s angry or driven to insanity by the clash between her queerness and Tejas, where it’s set.Back are the gladiolas that fell away, rotted, when the lover left in One Night in Chile, and the themes of death and rebirth she has been using since first publishing in Latino journals like Huizache and the queer Latino Raspa Magazine, which she also edited.
In these poems, death is prefigured as the the daily struggle, the crushing defeat under the force of xenophobia, the double suicide of lovers fallen out of love. Rebirth is the dream of a new Tejas, that rises up from the current dystopia of intolerance and fear. In Ortiz’s Tejas, the formerly marginalized are now visible again, it accepts brown people, is queer, reinserts indigineity and blackness back into a wider definition of Latino. The gladiolas won’t rot so long as they are firmly planted in the soil of Texas, nodding toward a future utopia after years of resilience against the violence of bigotry.
muted blood is peppered throughout with Spanish, but it’s used in diverse ways, sometimes a mark of identity, other times the shibboleth that gives Ortiz away. In On the Delta, the poet repeats the shared experience of viewing the amanecer (dawn) with her lover from their apartment window. The relationship eventually traps the poet, the lover becomes the warden. The poem quickly turns to the desperation of death as the last recourse, and the poet coaxes herself onto the ledge but the lover mirrors her, prepares to jump with her, relishing in the proximity of a graveyard. Now, the two share only the view of the passing portero (doorman) below and the only promise of the silence the poet seeks is in a coffin.
In Ortiz’s practice, on the other hand, the poet camouflages both her language and her gender offering her place of origin in a rehearsed Anglo accent, internally reciting the quasi-mantra, “never forget that to pronunciate and to imitate is to survive.” The smiling boss expects the brown girl to speak Spanish but she doesn’t really, at least not like her dead Mexican friend who refused to hide his Latinidad. The narrator instead pronounces “Texas” like the white kids from grammar school, “high and long.” “We could have been brothers,” she tells the boss, thinking, “It was true. Babel separated us.” The poet might speak Spanish, but she chooses not to.
It’s perhaps Soledad Part I that reveals the moment the tower of Babel falls for Ortiz. In the poem, the reaction of the mother to the daughter coming out as queer is to wish her dead before the time anyone else might know this. The narrator then vows to “cleave her tongue off” like the “garden snake” the mother killed with a shovel. Ortiz, who must have lived it, is reminded of the tongue incapable of expressing her grief in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. I, who am only reading it, imagine this as one of Ortiz’s “new mythologies,”a reinvention of the snake in the Garden of Eden, though now it’s having a female lover that qualifies as original sin. The tongue is like the one in Psalm 137 that says “if I forget you, oh Israel, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth…” meaning that to forget oneself is to lose one’s language, like cutting the gladiola causes her to die. By the last line, all that’s left of her mother tongue is ossified into “…the Spanish tile of your kitchen.”
Always straddling borders, linguistic and otherwise, Ortiz suffers a bifurcation not unlike that of many poets and writers, especially multicultural ones. She invokes Borges in a poem entitled burials as public spectacles, who recognized deep into his writing career that “The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to.” In “Borges and I”, he goes on to attribute some of his traits to the public persona, the man of renown, the writer, and other he keeps for his innermost self. Like someone refracting the myriad layers of the culture and language that compose them, the analysis makes the head spin, concluding for Borges in not knowing “which of us has written this page”.
But Ortiz bifurcation is not only metaphoric The loss of real, flesh-and-blood bodies and our need for memorials and remembrance to combat their erasure is a central theme in her work. burials as public spaces remembers the borderlands where poet’s “ancestors bleached by the sun rot in unmarked graves segregated by skin,” calling up the more recent racially motivated deaths, like the shooting of Michael Brown. Many of the poems in muted blood, which was published in 2018, explore prison culture, surveillance, and the ways in which law enforcement and people of color have been forced into an adversarial relationship.
In engaging with the ways in which bodies of color are imprisoned and abused, Ortiz offers a few recourses: death, exile, or sanctuary. The latter is of special interest to her and a year after families that were separated at the border are still not reunited, living in ersatz prisons thrown together haphazardly into the desert, Ortiz’s investigations into who should receive sanctuary and the enduring of what sort of violence merits it are uncannily prescient. Her poem lorcaimagines the climax of the racial tension without sanctuary, the end of empathy, the dystopia that results in the violence disappearing us all.
In her most recent book, coming on the heels of muted blood, is a series of crónicas entitled autobiography of semi romantic anarchist, centers more around the issue of gender and sexual identities. Ortiz proposes the work that would emerge “from the ashes” of the one we are in the process of burning down, the queer utopia she wills upon the future. Ortiz returns to her parents prayer that she die rather than be queer, turning the curse on its head and taking it as her chance at an afterlife. Queerness alone then becomes powerful enough to interrupt the relentless heteronormativity of our culture, panacea against the controlling and colonizing state.
Ortiz, one of our most powerful voices in the Latino community would not want to be called that. At the very least, Latinx is a somewhat more adequate tag, for revealing at least two of the elements of culture at work in Ortiz’s reading of the world. Always encompassing at least two cultures, two languages, two genres, her poetry is as lyrical as it is political. Firmly rooted in Texas, Ortiz is more a cactus than a gladiola in this second half of her life — autonomous, resilient, firmly grounded, thick-skinned, well-defended, and organically connected to her birthplace.
During her two-year term as the Houston Poet Laureate, Leslie Contreras Schwartzwill teach writing workshops, with an emphasis on outreach to vulnerable populations, especially youth.
“Helping people who do direct service for homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, youth in detention, youth going through rehab – that’s a focus, but really these workshops will be available to everyone,” said Contreras Schwartz.
From those workshops, she plans to create a tool kit for people working in those communities, so that they can continue to teach writing as a way to heal and empower.
“I am trying to give people a tool to be able to use writing to recover from trauma, PTSD, from addiction, to use it whenever they feel like they are in need,” she said.
Having dealt with mental illness in her own life, Contreras Schwartz hopes to merge her personal knowledge of recovery and therapy into her new role. She says that poetry is not just about spilling feelings onto a page, but also a way to process experiences with intention.
“There’s something very particular if you approach writing mindfully with the idea that, no, we can’t control where emotions come from. But we can decide how we’re going to look at difficult experiences, we can decide how we’re going to filter that and then move on with the knowledge of this experience,” Contreras Schwartz said.
Alarmed by the rise in teen suicide rates, Contreras Schwartz hopes these workshops will provide more resources and accessible opportunities for Houston youth in need.
She also plans to curate a digital publication of poems selected from the workshops for the Houston Public Library website and then create posters of those poems around the city.
“This post is a perfect opportunity for me to blend my love for poetry [with] my passion for bringing poetry into the community and helping people to see themselves as poets,” said Contreras Schwartz.
A native Houstonian whose great-grandfather came to the city in the early 1900s, she said she is extremely honored to serve in her new position. “I just wish that my grandparents were here to share it with me because Houston to me is associated with the idea of family because so many generations of our family have lived here,” she said.
Appointed on April 30, Contreras Schwartz is the fourth Houston Poet Laureate, succeeding Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. Selected through an application and interview process by a literary panel and Mayor Sylvester Turner, the position receives a $20,000 honorarium, funded by the City of Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax dedicated to the arts.
Is anyone going to be in Houston soon?! Make sure to check this out!
When: Thursday, June 20, 2019 at 6:30 PM
Where: Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery, 241 W. 19th St., Houston, TX 77008
Please join us as Lupe Mendez presents selections from his new book, WHY I AM LIKE TEQUILA. Books for sale at 17.99 and Lupe will be available after the reading to autograph. Refreshments served. Free event
WHY I AM LIKE TEQUILA is a collection of poetry spanning a decade of writing and performance. This collection exists in 4 parts – each a layered perspective, a look through a Mexican/ Mexican – American voice living in the Texas Gulf Coast. Set within spaces such as Galveston Island, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and Jalisco, Mexico, these poems peel away at all parts, like the maguey, drawing to craft spirits, quenching a thirst between land and sea.
Nena leaves Laredo, Texas, and moves to Madrid, Spain, to research the historical roots of traditional fiestas in Laredo. Immersing herself in post-Franco Spain and its rich history, its food, music, and fiestas, Nena finds herself falling for Paco, a Spaniard who works in publishing. Nena’s research and experiences teach her about who she is, where she comes from, and what is important to her, but as her work comes to a close, Nena must decide where she can best be true to her entire self: in Spain with Paco or in Laredo, her home, where her job and family await her return.
Norma Elia Cantú is the Norine R. and T. Frank Murchison Endowed Professor of Humanities at Trinity University. Her earlier works include Transcendental Train Yard: A Collaborative Suite of Serigraphs, Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera, Updated Edition (UNM Press), and the coedited anthology Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art.
“This is about resistance:” The Feminist Revisions of Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Thursday, May 2, 2019, 4:00pm – 6:00pm
The University of Texas Libraries, The Center for Mexican American Studies, the Center for Women and Gender Studies, and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections invite you to commemorate the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba papers. The multifaceted Chicana queer feminist scholar will be reading from her works and discussing her career with MALS lecturer and community organizer Lilia Rosas. Archival viewing and reception to follow remarks.
Now’s not a bad time to play a trip to San Antonio. And if you’re there on April 6th, make sure you stop by the free book fair! The lineup features Carmen Tafolla, Meg Medina, Julissa Arce, David Bowles, Oscar Cásares, Reyna Grande, Jean Guerrero, and I could go on and on. Shoot, check out the list right here!
What a great way to spend the day talking books and meeting authors!
The 7th annual San Antonio Book Festival will take place on April 6, 2019 at the Central Library (600 Soledad) and Southwest School of Art in beautiful downtown San Antonio. The Festival runs from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
THE LATINO COMICS EXPO comes to Modesto Junior College, courtesy of MJC Literature and Language Arts & ASMJC. The nation’s premiere Latinx comics convention will host an exhibitor hall and a variety of panels and workshops celebrating Latinx creators in comics, animation, design, illustration and more!
Admission is free and open to the public. Free parking.
In the interview series Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice, emerging and established writers and artists talk with host Chaitali Sen about the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world. This month’s guest is Monica Muñoz Martinez.
Monica Muñoz Martinez is the Stanley J. Bernstein Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University and an Andrew Carnegie fellow. She an award-winning author, educator, and public historian. Her research specializes in histories of violence, policing on the US-Mexico border, Latinx history, women and gender studies, and public humanities. Her first book The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas (Harvard University Press, Sept 2018) is a moving account of a little-known period of state-sponsored racial terror inflicted on ethnic Mexicans in the Texas–Mexico borderlands. She is currently at work on Mapping Violence, a digital research project that recovers histories of racial violence in Texas between 1900 and 1930. Martinez is also a founding member of the non-profit organization Refusing to Forget that calls for public commemorations of anti-Mexican violence in Texas. Born and raised in Uvalde, Texas, Martinez received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University.
Chaitali Sen is a writer and educator based in Austin, Texas. She is the author of the novel The Pathless Sky, and numerous stories and essays which have appeared or are forthcoming in Catapult, Colorado Review, Ecotone, LitHub, Los Angeles Review of Books, New England Review, New Ohio Review, and other journals. She is the founder of the interview series Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice.
* A note on parking: Our landlord has requested that we ask everyone to please only use the store parking lot for attending events at Malvern Books and stores within the Park Plaza Shopping Center. Unfortunately, if you leave your car before or after an event (if you park out front with the intention of getting a meal across the road before attending an event here, for instance), there’s a chance your car could be towed or booted, and we’d hate for that to happen! If parking is unavailable in the store parking lot, please use residential streets. Or, for evening events, you can park at Breed Hardware, 718 W. 29th Street, when they’re closed (they close at 7pm Mon – Fri). *