https://events.attend.com/f/1383788945#/reg/0/ RSVP here – seats are limited!
https://events.attend.com/f/1383788945#/reg/0/ RSVP here – seats are limited!
Another interview for Daniel Peña, this time with Analicia Sotelo…http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/acts-of-listening-an-interview-with-analicia-sotelo/
The most exciting collection of poetry I read in 2018, perhaps even in recent years, was Analicia Sotelo’s Virgin(Milkweed Editions). These poems pull together the mythological and the mundane to synthesize a direct line of communication (if only sometimes in echo) between the Greek mythological Ariadne and the various personae that inhabit these pages. A master of metaphor and voice, Sotelo nimbly moves between disparate images—a half-dead tree and a jilted mother; Theseus and Victorian-era rest cures; cherry red cardigans and scarred peaches on the grill—to complicate tropes of feminine rage, joy, desire, and humor. But even through the abstraction of symbol, these poems cut to the deep through an incredible directness and urgency of voice. You don’t consume these poems so much as you step into them and find yourself changed by a set of radical truths. And in this way, Virgin is easily in league with what the best works of literature do in decentering the reader’s world through the radical truths of the subjective. When you approach Sotelo’s work you are not simply dealing with words on a page, you are dealing with witchcraft.
In addition to Virgin, the inaugural winner of the Jake Adam York Prize and Ross Gay selection for Milkweed Editions, Sotelo is the author of Nonstop Godhead which was selected by Rigoberto González for a 2016 Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. Her work has appeared in such outlets as the New Yorker, Boston Review, FIELD, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and The Antioch Review among others. In this interview, I speak with Sotelo about humor, unexpected influences, and the complications of being a Mexican American writer in the contemporary era.
Daniel Peña: Ariadne is very much the heart of Virgin. I feel like all of the personae in this collection are in conversation with that character and her mythology, but also her humor. She can be very funny, if incredibly dark, and I feel like that’s one of the more underappreciated parts of this collection—its humor. As much as disparate themes and images are in conversation with each other in this collection, there’s a really beautiful dissonance you create in juxtaposing heaviness and levity (or hilarity). How do you see humor at work in your poetry?
Analicia Sotelo: I’m interested in how humor can propel angles of feeling—it can be self-protective, self-referential, confident, dismissive, seductive, welcoming…It holds a veiled honesty to it that I think can add depth to a person’s curiosity about how they truly feel. It’s similar, I think, to a conversation with a very good friend, where you can be slightly more witty and achieve an intimacy in those small revelations. Humor is also Ariadne’s “secret power” I think—in the gendered expectation that was solidified by the Victorian “Angel in the House” and continues today, women aren’t supposed to be funny—they are supposed to be timid, modest, and agreeable. They also aren’t supposed to be darkly funny. But the morbidity in these poems functions, I think, as a self-awareness of the importance of human love, as temporary as it may be, and as lasting. I think the humor in these poems illuminates how Ariadne’s search for love is simultaneously heavy and light, as steeped as it is in the continuous feedback of power structures and social expectations.
DP: Something I’ve noticed thus far—and it really kind of tickles me—is that reviewers don’t really know how to classify you, which is kind of cool I think. So many of my favorite writers (including yourself) are ultimately just their own animals—James Baldwin, Clarice Lispector, Clemens Meyer. I’ve seen one reviewer compare you to Carl Phillips, but largely reviewers just seem to side-step those comparisons and honor you and the complexity of this book. But I’ve been wondering: Who are your actual influences? Who and/or what things speak to you and your writing right now?
AS: You know, I’ve thought a little about this because often I’ll get asked informally about my influences, and it feels like a great mystery. Here is a poet-collage of where some of it may come from: Levis, Lasky, Ruefle, Nelson, Glück, Olds, Kasischke, Roethke, O’Hara, Rilke, Blake, Donne, Keats, Whitman. My influences have broadened since then, but I would consider those a foundation. Nora Ephron, Virginia Woolf, and Lorrie Moore are strong roots for the challenging energy of the female speakers in the book. Ultimately, history as collage is an influence—Virgin was impacted by the rhetoric and images of Surrealist art, Catholic hymns, English Victorian novels, Mexican-American South Texas, and early 20th century love songs.
DP: What are some unexpected influences in Virgin that might have surprised you?
AS: I didn’t really expect the Victorian references to become so strong in the Ariadne sequence, but I had to trust my process on those poems and see what became of them. I realized later that I was interested in how patriarchal structures persist today even in the smallest moments of intimate relationships, but at the time of writing, I was a little perplexed. I liked the surprise, though, and decided to keep writing into it.
DP: What is the most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
AS: The most terrifying thing I’ve ever written is nonfiction, and I have yet to see where that leads me.
DP: Non-fiction is indeed terrifying! That separation between public and personal can disappear. Do you feel the need to separate your public writing life from your personal life? To that end, Virgin has been such an incredible success. I know you’re in high demand right now. How do you protect your writing time and your interior writing life?
AS: I do like to separate the writing life from my personal life. I think conflating the two would leave me feeling as though I didn’t have my own thinking space to create new work, and being able to write freely is incredibly important to me. Protecting time is an ongoing challenge—I leave most of my Saturday and Sunday mornings open for myself, and some early weekdays. That’s not always consistent, so I have to rely on trusting my intuitive process—reading and memorizing poems, journaling as needed, and even picking up painting for an afternoon. The public writing life can feel so much like a job that I think it’s vital to remember that writing is an art that requires a different kind of listening.
DP: What do you get from memorizing poems?
AS: You know that feeling when you’re walking through a neighborhood that you’ve driven by every day, and you notice things you’ve never known existed? That’s what it’s like walking through a poem by memorization. Taking it slow allows you to feel its composition, and how the tiniest choices, of even an article or a preposition, add meaning to the work and enrich it. That act of listening also informs how you write, what you notice, and how you choose to pace your line of sight.
DP: As I’ve written about in this space before, I personally struggle with being labeled a Chicanx writer. While I read and enjoy Chicanx literature, I’m not sure I belong in that canon. It wasn’t me who put my body on the line in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Not me who risked expulsion, jail, and billy clubs by boycotting class at Garfield High School and sparking the East LA Walkouts. But then on the other hand I also feel a disconnect in no small part due to the rampant misogyny and problematic race politics that inflected a lot of the literature written by so many of the men of that movement. In any case, people insist on calling us Chicanx writers. How do you feel about that label? And do you feel like possibly our generation is building something completely different?
AS: This is a big question! I think Latinx/Chicanx writers of our generation grew up and into the study of literature with an awareness of the way in which our elders had been stigmatized as outside of the canon, and you’re right, with a conscientiousness of misogyny and race politics. However, when I think of the European canon, and how it has long carried its history of conquest and colonization, I wonder if it has so deeply embedded itself into our cultural consciousness that we ignore its terrifying, long-term impact. It has its own misogyny and race politics. Here’s a scenario: a typical Latinx student who has chosen to major in English, and maybe become a teacher, or a lawyer, or a writer, is just trying to excel in college, and make the risk worth something, and what’s on the menu? Western civilization. We have to master it to survive that experience. We have to consume it to be respected. And so, to that effect, the study of Chicanx literature gets passed over because the English lit framework ignores its validity. Why can’t we just study Literature, instead of English Literature?
If we can go back and understand our own culture’s legacy, we can start changing what future Latinx students will see in their classrooms. I think a lot about who has been left out, historically, from these conversations. So to that extent, I don’t mind being called a Chicanx writer if (a big if) the person or institution using that label understands what that really means, and knows the history of it, and can speak to it, and asks first what I prefer. I don’t think anyone should be labeled—we determine our own identities. What I really envision is that marginalized literatures can each become a major part of the canon, and that it will be a global canon, a portrait of a world in constant transformation. Shakespeare beside Sor Juana, Li Qingzhao beside Sappho, Enheduanna beside Homer.
DP: Damn. I feel like I really needed that. What works are speaking to you right now? And what’s next for you?
AS: I’m paying a lot of attention to The Performance of Becoming Human (Borzutzky), Poems for the Millennium (Ed. Rothenberg and Joris), A History of Their Own: Women in Europe From Prehistory to the Present (Ed. Anderson and Zinsser), and Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950 (Ed. Affron, Castro, Cruz Porchini, González Mello). Also Look (Solmaz Sharif), Whereas (Layli Long Soldier). There are so many more, but there is some of it. I’m writing new poems, and playing with essays. I hope to closely study certain periods of history, fashion, art, and poetry. I’m interested in color, or the perception of color. That’s the starting point.
Yesika Salgado sits at her usual table at Silver Lake’s Cafe Tropical, accompanied by carrot-orange juice and a slice of guava cheese pastry. Arguably, it’s the best seat in the Cuban coffeehouse and bakery — back to the wall with a congested Sunset Boulevard to her left, easy access to the counter to her right and a full view of the two entrances and the customers. It’s prime seating for those who like to make offices out of coffeehouses. It’s also where the poet takes most interviews from journalists.
Salgado’s books appear in local and commercial bookstores, but one of her big breaks came from an unconventional place: Instagram.
Just a few years ago, the thought of a poet blowing up on the social platform seemed impossible. Traditionally, emerging literary voices in poetry have been shaped by universities and established in poetry journals. Yet Salgado is part of a new generation of artists established on the stage — through the spoken word and slam traditions — and magnified on the internet.
“I want my work to be in unconventional places. You write in poetry journals to get fellowships and grants, not for an audience,” says Salgado. “My readers don’t read journals — they are homegirls that normally wouldn’t be interested in poetry or they’ve always read poetry and find me.”
Her Instagram audience of more than 62,000 followers (as of now) is about 90% women and 10% men, according to her Instagram analytics. Her poetry struck a chord with millennial Latinas she describes as “the hoops, lipstick kind of girl” who are usually in college and looking for someone who reminds them of their “homegirls and tías.” Her following call themselves the “mango mafia,” a reference to mango tree imagery in her first book representing love and her parents’ home country of El Salvador.
The 34-year-old stayed true to her voice, and it has paid off.
“Corazón,” her 2017 book debut, ranked as the No. 3 bestseller on Amazon’s Hispanic American subcategory. It’s a love story, initially written about a specific relationship, but one that she considers universal.
Salgado finished a short tour in late 2018 of her second book, “Tesoro.” In the poems, she revisits family stories that vilified women, questioning why they weren’t forgiven like the men. In turn, she also documents the legacies of the women in her family.
This year she has time to look for inspiration. She hopes digesting any form of storytelling will prevent her voice from becoming stale when it is time to create “Hermosa,” the last of her book trilogy, set to be published in September.
Cafe Tropical is the place where she put together “Corazón” while her friends sat with her — working on their own projects — and where she sat alone and cried as she struggled to shape “Tesoro.”
Like many longtime Silver Lake spots, Cafe Tropical is in the cross-hairs of gentrification.
A changing Los Angeles is fresh in her mind. The poems in the second chapter of “Tesoro” are about how the L.A. she knew as a girl shaped her identity. The illustrated lemon tree on the cover is a reference to the tree in the front yard of her Silver Lake home.
She also gives a poetic map of the area, circa ’80s through ’90s, marked with memories of a pharmacist who sold over-the-counter medicine after closing hours if you knocked on the backdoor (now a barbershop), a corner liquor store owner who gave her store credit to buy bus passes while she waited for a bimonthly check (now a liquor-only store) and the houses of watchful neighbors who kept her parents up to date on her whereabouts or walked her late father home on his drunk nights.
Although Cafe Tropical opened in the ’70s and is connected to the making of her books, it wasn’t part of her adolescence.
“I used to associate certain places to whiteness and didn’t feel comfortable being in them. I grew up not coming here, even though it’s POC [people of color] owned, it always felt very white to me,” she says.
The ability and inability of learning to exist in places where Salgado felt uncomfortable — significantly the stage and her own body — have shaped her career.
At 18, she dropped out of John Marshall High School. Although she was a voracious reader at a young age who was often commissioned by other students to write their essays — and love letters to boys — her absences were high and credits low.
“They weren’t teaching me what I wanted to know. It wasn’t for me,” says Salgado. “I know that I was never meant to be anything else other than a writer. As much as I’m brown, curly-haired and fat. It’s just a fact.”
She took an array of day jobs in parking garages, a Papyrus stationery store, door-to-door Cutco knives, Sav-On, Subway and a CVS pharmacy. All while she kept writing every day in one form or another, using the Google Doc app on her phone during long bus commutes to the Westside, break rooms and restroom stalls of her eight-hour workdays.
Salgado first shared poetry with an audience in 2005 through the website hiphoppoetry.com and contributed for three years.
“She definitely became one of the more known people on the website. Her writing was similar to what it is today — outspoken with an edge, but you still see vulnerability,” says Erik Maldonado, poet and founder of the website.
It was also the heyday of AOL and MSN chatrooms. Salgado’s go-to guilty pleasure and escape from reality was catfishing (creating false online identities). It started with calling party hotlines and moved on to the Live Chat app on her Android phone with the screen name Eva Luna, a reference to an Isabel Allende character skilled in storytelling.
For Salgado it made sense to continue catfishing when she stumbled onto hiphoppoetry.com. On the forum, she pretended to have college degrees, kids and ovarian cancer. She used photos of a high school friend and the username Yesika Starr, which deliberately remains her social media handle.
Maldonado found her real Myspace page in 2007. Instead of being outed, she created a post titled, “Yesika Starr Has Fake Pictures.” It received 9,605 views and 277 replies, which were a mix of empathy and disappointment but mostly angry comments. “I deserved the dragging I got,” says Salgado.
Soon after, a forum user found a post she plagiarized from Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona’s pop hit “El Problema,” translating the lyrics from Spanish to English. She was banned.
Maldonado encouraged her to go to Da Poetry Lounge (DPL), a large poetry venue with a weekly open mic on Fairfax Avenue. She showed up at the lounge as herself, began performing spoken word in 2008 and joined her first DPL slam team in 2014.
“You could see in her body language there was a sense of unworthiness in her space. This was a sort of unworthiness that read as an apology in her poetry — even in poems about being fierce,” says Javon Johnson, poet and one of Salgado’s DPL slam team coaches.
Around the same time period, she started therapy and addressed self-esteem issues, as she explains in a TED Talk. She refers to the subsequent years as her blooming period where her personal life and writing took off. Her appearance changed to her signature look today: curly dark brown hair worn down, square black-framed glasses, hoops, a bold lipstick and stiletto acrylic nails. She performed on Tuesday nights every week for years and took notes of her mentors’ criticisms.
Although she would eventually be a National Poetry Slam finalist twice, 2015 was a turning point. Salgado didn’t make a slam team that year and needed to figure out her next step. A friend invited her to perform at La Concha, a community space ran by the Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade in Boyle Heights.
“There was a moment when the audience recognized me. It was almost like a ‘we’ve been waiting for you’ moment,” Salgado says.
The audience of about 40 knew her from a YouTube video performance of the poem “Brown Girl.” She was invited to perform at a series of local events. It led her to create the Latina feminist poetry collective Chingona Fire with poet Angela Aguirre. They held open mics giving preference to women of color.
She quit her job at CVS in 2016 to be a full-time artist, after selling more than 2,000 copies of her poetry zine “Woes” and being offered college venue gigs. The timing was unfortunate since schools were out of session. By the next year, she was broke and wrote another zine, “Sentimental Boss Bitch,” selling about 500 copies online.
Daniel Lisi, co-founder of independent publishing house Not a Cult, also ordered her zines and watched her perform, eventually offering her a book deal. With the success of “Corazón” and “Tesoro,” she continues to perform in venues (mostly colleges) throughout the country, taking poetry commissions like a 2017 Planned Parenthood campaign and writing a monthly column for Remezcla. Although she is well known in some local communities, she says, “to have success in your work doesn’t mean that the entire world opens up to you. I’m not Rihanna. I can’t go to a restaurant and walk out with a wine glass.”
Salgado thinks of herself as outside of the literary world, particularly when she receives backhanded compliments using the term “Instapoet” in contempt.
While Salgado admits there might be a day when she contributes to poetry journals, she also says, “I take pride in saying that I created something where institutions have to come to me. I don’t get you, you have to get me. I want to continue building a career like that. And it’s happening so far.”
Before leaving Cafe Tropical, she jokes with the weekend worker, “I’m here so much, I should start paying rent.” Salgado walks home in the night passing jacaranda trees lining the block. The trees are indigenous to tropical and subtropical regions of Latin America. Because they would thrive in the Southern California climate and landscape, the purple transplants were grown from San Diego to Los Angeles all the way up to Santa Barbara to beautify cities.
It’s early spring. The jacarandas are barren, but a branch blooms on the illustrated cover of “Hermosa.”
Sorry for the absence. I’ll be catching up…
This April, celebrate National Poetry Month by introducing a child to the many forms of poetry, convincing reluctant teen readers to try a poem each day or by starting a stimulating discussion among friends through poetry that blends the aesthetic and the political. Poetry is for everyone!
Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Felipe Ugalde Alcántara
From its birth deep in Mother Earth, Little Water climbs to the surface, passing through roots and rocks, light and darkness. Finally, the tiny bead of water makes it to the top and rests, “a sigh of morning dew,” hanging on “the tips of leaves / on spider webs / or on the petals / of flowers.” The droplet becomes a river, a lake, an ocean, ultimately climbing to the sky and turning into a cloud. Then, “drop by drop / I return singing / to our Mother Earth. I am Little Water. / I am life.”
With stunningly beautiful illustrations by Felipe Ugalde Alcántara that depict the mountains, rocks, vegetation and animals of the natural world, this poem about the importance of water reflects Argueta’s indigenous roots and his appreciation for nature. Containing the English and Spanish text on each page, the entire poem appears at the end in Nahuat, the language of Argueta’s Pipil-Nahua ancestors. This book is an excellent choice to encourage children to write their own poems about the natural world and to begin conversations about the interconnected web of life.
The Desert Is My Mother / El desierto es mi madre by Pat Mora, illustrated by Daniel Lechón
A beautiful poetic and artistic rendition of the relationship between nature and Hispanics and Native American peoples. Rather than being an expanse empty of life and value, the desert is lovingly presented as the provider of comfort, food, spirit and life. The first picture book published by Piñata Books, this text introduces the partnership of an award-winning poet and a prize-winning painter.
For Young Adults:
Cultural traditions permeate these verses, from the curanderas who cure every affliction to the daily ritual of the afternoon merienda, or snack of sweet breads and hot chocolate. The community’s Catholic tradition is ever-present; holy days, customs and saints are staples of daily life. Fond childhood memories of climbing mesquite trees and eating raspas are juxtaposed with an awareness of the disdain with which Mexican Americans are regarded. Texas museums, just like its textbooks, feature cowboy boots worn by Texas Rangers, but have no “clue or sign of the vaqueros, the original cowboys / or the Tejas, the native Indians there.” Inspired by the archetypes found in the Mexican bingo game called lotería, these poems reflect the history—of family, culture and war—rooted in the Southwest for hundreds of years.
My Own True Name by Pat Mora
A major selection of new and previously published poems chosen by Pat Mora with young-adult readers in mind. Using the cactus plant as her guiding metaphor for our existence, she presents more than sixty poems grouped variously into “Blooms,” “Thorns,” and “Roots.” Each section opens with a graceful line drawing from artist Anthony Accardo, and the whole is prefaced by a whimsical and intimate introduction, “Dear Fellow Writer.”
My Own True Name, an anthology fifteen years in the making, is sure to be sought by deeply rooted and still-budding lovers of poetry.
American Copia: An Immigrant Epic by Javier O. Huerta
In this innovative work that uses grocery stores as a guiding motif, Huerta deftly combines English and Spanish to explore his identity as an immigrant, naturalized citizen, son, brother, lover, graduate student.
Through poetry written in Spanish, a short play, non-fiction passages and even text messages, Huerta delves into subjects such as consumerism and health foods available only to a limited class of people. The diverse pieces and themes in American Copia pulsate with all that can be both communal and autonomous in everyday life. Though Huerta touches on serious subjects, many of these short vignettes are quirky and humorous. His is an original, evocative voice that articulates the immigrant perspective to create a thought-provoking look at the land of plenty. This is a must-read for anyone interested in experimental or Mexican-American literature.
Todos somos Whitman / We Are All Whitman by Luis Alberto Ambroggio
Luis Alberto Ambroggio was inspired to respond to Whitman’s work after translating a series of essays about Song of Myself. This collection of 53 poems in English and Spanish is the result. Sometimes he includes a line from the master in his own piece, other times an epigraph introduces the verse. Either way, Whitman’s influence is notable. Many of Ambroggio’s poems—like Whitman’s—deal with physical pleasure. A native of Argentina, the poet views Whitman’s work through his Latin American lens, noting that Whitman’s “multitudes” include those who will not be denied, ignored or declared undocumented. Other poems consider nature and death.
Focusing on themes of identity, love and life, this collection will inspire readers to understand the universality in us all. Ultimately, we will all go to where we came from, “air, shadow, sun, dust.” Originally published in Spanish by Vaso Roto Ediciones, this edition includes the original Spanish text and a luminous English translation by Brett Alan Sanders.
Diaspora: Selected and New Poems by Frank Varela
In this collection of 55 poems, Varela writes about growing up Puerto Rican in Brooklyn, noting that there are two types of Puerto Ricans: “those born on the island, / others like me, / the children of exiles.” Pondering the universal sentiment of immigrant children, he notes that he was considered a spic in the United States and a gringo in the land of his parent’s birth. “All I wanted was the impossible: / To be the who I am in a land / unafraid of the me I have become.”
Like his grandfather who cleared ten acres in Cibuco, Puerto Rico, “to wrench subsistence from red clay,” Varela loves the land and what it provides. “The land is rich with decay and past seasons. / On my best days, I can reach into the soil / and marry my soul with the green world— / tarragon, escarole, lemon balm, sage.” Expressing love and appreciation for his Puerto Rican family and culture, Varela’s poems reflect on the universal joys and pains of everyday life. This collection contains a mix of previously published and new poems that offers a survey of the poet’s work from 1988 to the present.
En carne propia: Memoria poética / Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir by Jorge Argueta
In this moving, bilingual collection, renowned poet Jorge Argueta reminisces about growing up in El Salvador, the impact of war on his family and neighbors, life as an exile in the United States and ultimately his rebirth as a poet. He became involved in the revolution as a teen, not realizing what was to come. Mothers lose sons, their bodies beat beyond recognition. Friends’ bodies are thrown into common graves. Husbands lose wives and wives lose husbands. Argueta’s words recall the horrific violence and atrocities committed, frequently against the poor and powerless.
The 48 poems in this collection—in Spanish and English—smolder with loss and longing. Argueta’s indigenous Pipil-Nahua roots ultimately contribute to his salvation after he flees his homeland. In San Francisco, he becomes part of the city’s exile community, yearning for home but knowing his friends and relatives are dead or gone. Eventually, he returns to writing and becomes a successful children’s book author. In spite of the pain and sorrow expressed in many of these poems, Argueta’s work is a powerful testament to love, hope and the strength of the human spirit.
Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems by Gwendolyn Zepeda
This collection of 62 narrative poems contains witty observations about the rituals of contemporary life. In “Cocktail Hours,” Houston Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda wonders, “What if all my nights were Christmas lights on patios with tinkling drinks / and fun conversations.” And in “Recipe for Fun,” Zepeda offers a ten-point guide to soothing away life’s frustrations, including a suggestion to get some peace by giving “everyone in your house pizza, cat food or video games.”
Musings on family, remembrances of childhood games and encounters with strangers (and ants!) fill this clever, thought-provoking collection in which Zepeda dares to express her individuality. She doesn’t follow others blindly, or do what society expects of her. Readers will appreciate this second poetry collection, which is deeply personal yet universal in its hopes and fears.
When Love Was Reels: Poetry by José B. González
Expressing his longing not to be forgotten like so many abandoned children in his native country, José B. González writes about a young boy’s life—first in El Salvador under the care of his grandmother and later living with his uncle in New York City—in this moving collection of narrative poems that uses iconic Latin American and Latino films as a guiding motif.
In each poem, famous movie and TV scenes featuring icons likes Pedro Infante and Cantinflas and modern stars such as Elizabeth Peña, Edward James Olmos and Esai Morales are juxtaposed with important moments in the boy’s life. Providing a tribute as well as a criticism of the way that film and television portray Latino lives, the collection is also notable for shedding light on the lives of so many youth raised by grandmothers in Latin America as the generation in-between went in search of the American Dream. These poems hauntingly illuminate Salvadoran immigration to the United States.
¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets edited by Melissa Castillo-Garsow (April 30, 2017)
Containing the work of more than 40 poets—equally divided between men and women—who self-identify as Afro-Latino, ¡Manteca! is the first poetry anthology to highlight writings by Latinos of African descent. The themes covered are as diverse as the authors themselves. Many pieces rail against a system that institutionalizes poverty and racism. Others remember parents and grandparents who immigrated to the United States in search of a better life, only to learn that the American Dream is a nightmare for someone with dark skin and nappy hair. But in spite of the darkness, faith remains. Anthony Morales’ grandmother, like so many others, was “hardwired to hold on to hope.” There are love poems to family and lovers. And music—salsa, merengue, jazz—permeates this collection.
Editor and scholar Melissa Castillo-Garsow writes in her introduction that “the experiences and poetic expression of Afro-Latinidad were so diverse” that she could not begin to categorize it. Some write in English, others in Spanish. They are Puerto Rican, Dominican and almost every combination conceivable, including Afro-Mexican. Containing the work of well-known writers such as Miguel Piñero and E. Ethelbert Miller, less well-known ones are ready to be discovered in these pages.
Looking Out, Looking In: Anthology of Latino Poetry edited by William Luis
The poems included in this comprehensive anthology run the gamut of styles and themes, but all are by Latinos writing from the mid- twentieth century to the present. Some deal with issues specific to the Hispanic experience, such as displacement, identity and language. In “Who Is Going to Tell Me?,” Puerto Rican / Dominican Sandra María Esteves chastises her Spanish ancestors “who captured my mother as slave, stripped her naked, / plowed treasures from her shores,” and wonders where she can learn about her African forefathers: “In whose library will I find their books? Tales of their lives?”
More than 80 Latino poets are represented in this wide-ranging collection that focuses on poetry from the four largest groups in the United States: Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans and Dominican Americans. In his introduction, scholar William Luis gives an overview of the origins of Latino literature in the United States, providing historical, political and cultural frameworks for these groups and their writings.
Click here to view more of Arte Público’s poetry collections.
Check out this wonderful review and interview conducted by Maribel Falcón for Remezcla. By clicking on the link, you can see more photos as well. http://remezcla.com/features/culture/poet-monica-teresa-ortizs-new-book-imagines-future-queer-bodies-free/
Texas is a contested space. While it’s politically and socially connected to Mexico, it’s sometimes at odds with conservative Texan culture. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s population identifies as Latino, and the soon-to-be-majority of the state still contends with what it means to be from the land itself. If we wonder what the future holds for Texas, we can simply look to those who influence culture. But how does our current political situation – where anti-immigrant rhetoric runs high – affect the ideas and work of artists who live and work within this infamous southern state?
We turned to Austin-based writer Mónica Teresa Ortiz to learn more. Born and bred in the Texas panhandle, Ortiz offers a unique perspective as a queer poet and longtime cultural worker. Since 2012, Mónica has served as the poetry editor of Raspa Magazine, a biannual queer Latino literary magazine. Her first book, muted blood, debuted last year. Her writings have been featured in Huizache and the Texas Observer. In her work, Mónica incorporates the subject of death and rebirth while alluding to a queer futurity.
Her second book, autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist (Host Publications), dropped this week. We spoke to Mónica about her work, queerness, and our current political environment.
The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How do you see Texas?
Texas is my home. I was born here, and it has the reputation that it is conservative, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and tied to the old south. Is it deserved? Absolutely. If one looks at the formation of the state since it was colonized, and looks at our modern political theatre, absolutely we are all those things, historically and systematically. As much as we mythologize this place, it is important to be accurate and realistic about the development of that mythology and the way the state reproduces violence. I stay in Texas because I want to redefine its legacy and because I love this place. It is part of a reimagining of a New South that to me is queer, trans, black, brown, muslim. It’s marginalized people building futures over the ashes of the old South.
How does your upbringing influence your perspective?
I consider geography and space greatly influential in the way I think and relate to the world. I grew up post-Cold War through the development of neoliberalism and globalization, under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. It was when American exceptionalism really gained traction, and one of the reasons I am adamant about being anti-imperialist is because as a child, I watched these things the US was doing to other places, on the other side of the world, and how we controlled so many narratives.
When 2016 came about and the election happened, I remember telling my partner at the time: “This pendejo is gonna win.” Racism isn’t limited by geography. Racism and the perpetuation of white supremacy is everywhere, rural or otherwise. It might manifest in other ways in cities or small towns and the way its produced and replicated might look different. I know people in Austin who have Obama or Beto O’Rourke bumper stickers, and they can be just as racist as people I grew up with. Racism is about power and white supremacy, so you notice these kinds of things more, the more you pay more attention to them because everyday you are confronted by them in policies, in architecture, zoning, educational and financial segregation.
Given your experience, how do you negotiate your own identity?
I don’t identify with Chicanismo or Latinidad. People can identify however they want, but for me, those terms don’t negotiate racial or ethnic identities or gender. I’m queer, and I’m Mexican, and I am from Texas, and I am from the panhandle. My dad is from the border. I lived on the border. But I approach the border as an outsider. We have different histories and identities. It’s very nuanced. I think Latinidad doesn’t quite explore those nuances.
And then of course, there is the issue of anti-blackness. We’ve seen a recent commercial surge from Black artists and film, and then there comes the Latinidad, asking, “But what about us?” Aside from its assumption of competition amongst our communities, there is also a sense that there aren’t Afro-Latino/as. Latinidad tends to codify it as a brown experience, and it’s really not. Black thought has had a tremendous impact on not just my work but is directly linked to the history of the Americas.
Then, there is the discrimination against Indigeneity. You can look at Yalitza Aparicio and the way white Mexicans have treated her. Someone like Yalitza threatens whiteness, and its power and privilege, and many benefit from that proximity to whiteness.
How is autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist different from your first book?
In my first book, I talk about my great-grandfather who was killed and no one knows where his body is. I asked my grandmother, and although she has an acute memory, they have no idea what happened to his body. It makes us ask to whom do our bodies belong to? Even though our bodies are there in the ground, instead of honoring those spaces, bodies get taken out, built over. Even when we are dead, our bodies are still possessions of the state. In my imagining of a queer futurity, that no longer is the case. We are liberated and we are free, but to get there we have to build it together.
What is your new book about?
My new book is a collection of cronicas. I was really influenced by Eduardo Galeano’s work and then began reading Cameroon scholar Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony. The cronicas reflect my exploration of necropolitics, of the state and sovereignty, of trying to exist and survive in a space where queerness is a disruption against heteronormativity, against heterosexuality, against whiteness, against the state which controls our lives, even what happens to our bodies after we die. I think it hinges on the concept of an afterlife.
When I came out to my parents, the person that they knew me to be, no longer existed. I was treated as if I had died. I began thinking, is my queerness my afterlife? Is it a rebirth? This is how I perceive queer futurity. As Jose Esteban Muñoz says, it is imagining a future that doesn’t exist yet. We live in a colonized space under capitalism. Our lives and deaths happen within these parameters. The settler-colonial state attempts to control how we experience love and loss and grief but it doesn’t have to define it.
How does your work comment on the current political situation in the US?
Towards the end of muted blood, I introduce the ideas of exodus and sanctuary. To me, it’s a very important question, because who is offered sanctuary in this country? I think the immigrants rights movement has become really big. In my neighborhood, I see a lot of signs in front yards claiming to be a ‘sanctuary for refugees and immigrants.’ But I always wonder, what ways do people actually practice this? I think about Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, and the micro-aggressions endured by the author. What is this actual idea of sanctuary and who does it apply to? Is sanctuary being offered to Black people, Black women, and queer and trans people in this country? If you say Black Lives Matter or bring up the topic of reparations, or condemn the actions of police departments, or even talk about displacement, people freak out. We’ve historically been pitted against each other and my work critiques that.
autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist is available now. You can purchase it online here starting Friday, March 22.
Editor’s Note: Itzel Alejandra Martinez, Remezcla’s photo editor, took the photos and video used in the article for Mónica Teresa Ortiz’s press kit.
Original post by the great Alejandra Oliva at remezcla: http://remezcla.com/lists/culture/7-latino-poets-you-need-to-read/
We’re lucky enough to be in the middle of a veritable poetry boom right now. Young poets are reaching audiences on social media and finding new ways to collaborate and publish their words. With slam poets blowing up YouTube and screenshots of poems abounding on Twitter – and on some occasions leading to publishers to print their eclectic poems on paper – there’s never been a better time to get into poetry. Poems fit in well with social media and shortened attention spans – it can take you as little as a few minutes to read a poem you can carry with you for the rest of the day, returning to lines and verses when you have a minute.
With April marking National Poetry Month, here’s a list of seven Latino poets you may not have heard of, but you should know.
“After the first boy called me a wetback, / I opened his mouth and fed him a spoonful of honey.”
Born in 1988 in Zacatecas, Mexico, Poet, essayist, and translator Marcelo Hernandez Castillo has lived in the United States since age 5. He’s truly on the edge of making it big. His first book, Cenzontle comes out next week (April 10) and has already won the 2017 A. Poulin, Jr. prize. HaperCollins will publish his memoir, Children of the Land, in 2020.
His name may sound familiar: Along with Christopher Soto and Javier Zamora, Hernandez Castillo founded the Undocupoets Fellowship, to help non-citizens apply to more contests and submissions. Cenzontle plays with borders – those between the real and the imaginary, between the human and the divine, between light and the shadow.
“Three times on Saturday / I remember you / as dead, / mamá.”
The cover for Rosa Alcalá’s third book, My Other Tongue, makes it immediately clear the structure and content you’ll find inside: the words are fractured and repeated – Mother Tongue, Her Tongue, Other Tongue. Bodies, language, women, families, and the empty space of the page are all woven together and in conversation with each other. Alcalá’s poetry highlights the limits of one language and then two.
The Paterson, New Jersey native currently works as a professor in the Department of Creative Writing and Bilingual MFA Program at the University of Texas-El Paso.
“I pump bidi bidi bom bom hormonal harmonies / for his jawlined mitzvahs bidi bidi bidi bidi bidi”
Roy Guzmán is a queer Honduran poet who can drop Selena references in their poetry like nobody’s business, but their poetry covers topics from the celebratory to the solemn. After the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – where 49 predominantly Black, brown and queer people died – Guzmán, poet Marco Antonio Huerta, and visual artist D Allen collaborated on a bilingual chapbook, Restored Mural for Orlando. All the proceeds of this chapbook go to organizations for the victims, or toward queer spaces in Florida.
Graywolf Press will release their first work in 2020. They are a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow.
“remember your body/the body – a land of feelings we’ve been told to cut down”
Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a spoken-word poet, meaning that you can encounter her work both in her book, Peluda, or on YouTube, where her poem/performances have thousands (and in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of views. Her writing is sometimes funny, sometimes tender, usually both. And her super-expressive performance style makes her a compelling poet to watch anywhere, any time. Not only that, but Lozada-Oliva recently opened a show for band Palehound, so you can keep an eye out for her at your favorite music venues as well.
Lozada-Oliva’s first book, Peluda, is what it says on the tin: a book about body hair, and families and girlhood, and it will make you laugh and then break your heart.
“Born American, raised Dominican, found black, found God, found home”
Gabriel Ramirez is an Afro-Latinx performance poet working in NYC. Ramirez brings humor and rigor alike to his poetry, bringing lightness while shining a light at issues like racism, colonialism, and mental health.
His work is featured in Afro-Latino Poetry Anthology (Arte Público Press).
“No one told me they were written in ‘other languages.’ I read and semi-understood them. Not understanding opened the door to other forms of imagining.”
Only recently translated into English (by another member of this list, Rosa Alcalá), Cecilia Vicuna is a performance artist and poet exiled from Chile since the 1960s. In the last few years, transcripts of her works have been gathered into books. Each of her books is then a sort of small collage, circling around the idea of time, performance, and precarios.
“Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.”
Her work has inspired Mary Lambert and comforted Junot Díaz – Aracelis Girmay is a poet’s poet, already beloved by many of your favorite writers and artists. With these kinds of seals of approval, what are you waiting for? Girmay – whose Eritrean, African-American, and Puerto Rican heritage inspire her work – has several books out, including Kingdom Animalia and Teeth.
One of my favorite poets just put out a spoken word album. Check it out here (you won’t be sorry!)
all poems written & performed by Ariana Brown | co-produced & mixed by DJQ & PSYPIRITUAL | album art by @_KingRemer
Author David Bowles has published fourteen books since 2009, and his latest, They Call Me Guero, is winning ALL the awards, it would seem. Lone Star Lit caught up with David via email to get all (well, almost all) the scoop.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: They Call Me Güero is EVERYWHERE right now: it’s the 2019 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award winner, a Pura Belpré Honor Book, an honor book for the Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Children’s Literature in the Young Readers category, a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Notable Poetry Book for children, and a Best Book of 2018 at Shelf Awareness. Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico is on the best YA of 2018 list at Kirkus. I follow you on social media, and you seem genuinely blown-away as the awards are stacking up. What has this been like for you?
David Bowles: It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve received awards before (for The Smoking Mirror and Flower, Song, Dance), but the reception of this little book has been humbling and energizing. Above all, I’m excited that the additional exposure will mean that it gets into the hands of more children—both Latinx and non-Latinx kids—which is ultimately the goal.
Why do you see the book as important to both those groups of young people?
For Latinx kids—especially Mexican American ones—it’s really important that they see themselves, their families, their culture as important subjects of literature, as worthy of being depicted in positive, uplifting ways. The present climate makes this need frankly poignant. When so many messages in society around you indicate that you’re a problem, a crisis, an unwanted burden … well, you need books, you need poetry, to counter that despicable depiction.
And frankly, that’s why non-Latinx students need books like this. They need to see the reality of their Latinx peers, to see them reflected in literature as three-dimensional, engaging individuals whose lives are rich and meaningful. Right now, an average of 3500 books are published each year for kids. Only around 100 are centered on the Latinx experience. That needs to change.
You are focusing on writing for young people. Was that a conscious decision on your part or a general metamorphosis in your work?
Definitely a conscious decision, though partially a metamorphosis that occurred before my first book was published. Throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s, I was working on an adult science fiction series, but my experiences as a teacher of middle- and high-schoolers, retelling the legends my grandmother Marie Garza had told me when I was a kid, set me on the path to reaching out to young people through literature. My first book, The Seed, arose from that desire to craft YA fiction that tapped into our shared cultural traditions and spooky stories.
Of course, I have been writing for a general or more adult audience as well. There are stories I want to tell that don’t always fit the strictures of kid lit. But my main concern is writing for Mexican American youth and their peers.
The Smoking Mirror, a 2016 Pura Belpré Honor Book, is the first in your super-hero series about the Garza twins, Carol and Johnny. Since then, two more books in the series have been published, A Kingdom Beneath the Waves (2016) and The Hidden City (2018); two more are in the works,Wings Above the Burning Earth (2020) and The World Tree (2022). What challenges will the twins face in the next installments in the series and how have they developed to meet those challenges? Do you know if their story concludes with the fifth book?
From the moment I started the first book, I knew how the series would end. I have the very last chapter of the fifth book sitting in my head, and everything the Garza twins go through is pushing them to a particular point, to a decision that frankly will surprise many readers.
Without giving it away, I’ll say this: I’m convinced that individual power is not enough to combat chaos and destruction in our lives. The real heroes are groups of people—families and communities—that stand in solidarity against great odds and use their love and collective will to enact change.
Raw, naked power—the godlike abilities that Johnny and Carol will continue to accrue in books 4 and 5—is ultimately dangerous to wield at all. Like nuclear weapons, all such superpowers ensure is mutual destruction. And now I’ve probably said to much.
There will be lots of incredibly cool things along the way, mind you. Mesoamerican giants and elves and harpies. Gods, both dark and light. Betrayal, love, sacrifice. All a young teen could ask for from a fantasy series.
You are one of the authors working with Adam Gidwitz on a new middle-grade series from Penguin Dutton called The Unicorn Rescue Society.The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande will be published in April. How did this collaboration come about, and what has that process been like for you?
Once Adam had decided to use his position and power to craft a series of books co-written with writers from marginalized communities, he knew he wanted to do one set on the border (he has a great relationship with students in Laredo), featuring chupacabras as the cryptid (each book has a different creature in need of rescuing). When he approached Matt de la Peña, wondering who might be the best collaborator for that book, Matt immediately said, “Mexican American? Border? Chupacabras? Middle grade? You need to talk to David Bowles.” Or words to that effect, heh.
So Adam reached out to me and I agreed! Working together was really fantastic. We hit it off well, and once I’d outlined the story and we’d revised that outline with the rest of the team, we set about alternating two to three chapters. Writing that way helped us to maintain a rhythm and voice that was true to the other books. But ours was indeed quite different, more politically charged by virtue of its setting. Early on we realized we couldn’t avoid talking about the border wall and misconceptions about border folk, so we took a different tack: we centered that controversy and met it head-on in a compassionate way that kids will be able to understand.
They Call Me Güero and Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico were both published by Texas institutions, the Byrd family and Cinco Puntos Press, in El Paso. How did your relationship with the Byrds and Cinco Puntos come about and what is it like to work with the publishers of such beloved authors as Benjamin Alire Sáenz?
Given the fact that they published four of Luis Alberto Urrea’s early books as well as many by Ben Sáenz, I am tempted to call them kingmakers. Both those men are role models for me, both as humans and as writers, and they are respected on an international level for their beautiful, important prose and poetry.
Cinco Puntos is one of the most important advocates of marginalized voices. Their books for kids have transformed lives in the Rio Grande Valley and can be found in so many classrooms. The Byrds are delightful, simple, loving people. Accomplished authors and translators themselves, they approach each project not just from a marketing or editorial vantage point, but as creative minds seeking to maximize the beauty and relevance of the work.
They are also really damn funny.
You were inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) in 2017 and currently sit on the board. The newly elected TIL inductees were announced in January. What was it like for you to take part in the process of selecting new TIL members?
Humbling and exciting! Getting to know authors that I’ve perhaps heard of or whose work I’m somewhat familiar with, diving into their writing and background, realizing just what luminaries our state produces … it’s quite amazing. I feel so fortunate, and I take my responsibilities seriously. Of course, the joy you feel upon seeing them react to the announcement is also a rush. And given the diversity of the new crop of nominees and inductees, I’m not indifferent to the weight of helping to reshape the TIL so that it more accurately reflects the state of Texas letters in the 21st century.
You’re an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. What are your goals in teaching Mesoamerican literature and, hopefully, the next generation of writers?
My goals in teaching kid lit and Nahuatl language and literature intersect with my goals as an author: to lift the voices of Mexican Americans, celebrating our culture in the US, its origin in Mexico, and Mexico’s roots in Mesoamerica. I want to normalize this long and storied heritage for students who have not been exposed to it in US schools, even those just scant miles from the border in communities that are majority Mexican American. We need more writers, yes. And we need more teachers using the books those writers craft. We need more Chicanos learning indigenous Mesoamerican languages, decolonizing their minds, integrating some of the highly developed pre-Colombian philosophy and science into their daily lives.
These things make us better people. They enrich and complicate the variegated traditions of North America, combat and interrogate the dominant US narrative.
The banner at the top of your website reads, “order amidst chaos.” Why did you choose that phrase to headline your website? What is particularly chaotic for you personally, and how do you attempt to impose order? Are you successful in the attempt?
For ancient Mesoamericans, the principal conflict in the cosmos wasn’t good versus evil. They would have found such a notion naïve. All things contain good and evil. Even the gods. Instead, chaos and order were the crux of things. The point of life wasn’t, however, to eliminate chaos. Without it, order was meaningless. Without destruction, nothing can be created. Without creation, there is nothing to be destroyed. Existence itself requires both. The conflict becomes a search for balance between them.
This sophisticated indigenous conception of the universe deeply moves me. All around us, deliberate destruction and inexorable entropy pull at the foundations of our lives. Being a human means not fighting that, but not giving in to it, either. Instead, we bend that entropy, repurposing the destruction into new creation, new order.
Every book I write is a reshaping of fading ideas into bright, novel configurations. They, too will darken and crumble. Before they are lost to oblivion, however, I trust—I must believe—that another will fan those embers and use the fleeting flames to forge something even more enduring.
This struggle happens within us as well. Gloria Anzaldúa wrote of the Coyolxauhqui process, the reassembling of broken selves. My book of poetryShattering and Bricolage delves deep into that remaking of the self. One of the poems got quoted recently on Criminal Minds, in fact: “When wounds are healed by love / The scars are beautiful.” The poem’s title is “Kintsukuroi,” the name of a Japanese artistic technique in which a finished ceramic piece is deliberately broken and the pieces rejoined with silver or gold solder so that the brokenness becomes part of the object’s beauty.
When I first contacted you, you teased that there is big news on the horizon; are you ready and able to spill on it yet? If not (DRAT), what else do we have to look forward to?
While there is big news coming about a new series for young readers, that’s as much as I can say at present. But I do have a graphic novel coming from Tu Books in 2020: Clockwork Curandera, a YA reimagining of the Frankenstein story that blends indigenous magic with steampunk technology, set in an alternate northern Mexico/South Texas called the Republic of Santander in the year 1865. I also have a second graphic novel coming out in 2020 … that will be announced pretty soon.
I should also point out that the University of Arizona Press is re-releasing Francisco X. Alarcón’s Snake Poems in March, twenty-five years after its original publication. I helped fulfill the late poet’s dream by translating his work into Nahuatl for this special edition.
My mind is blown with all you have accomplished and are accomplishing. I need to ask some fluffy questions to decompress. Commence the Lightning Round…
Favorite book? Right nowThe Tale of Genji. Answer changes each year.
Number of books on your nightstand? eReader? A dozen.
Strange habit? Plucking stray long hair from my beard.
Interesting writing ritual? Listening to electronica and drinking coffee.
Funniest flaw? My kids assure me it’s my “dad jokes.”
Favorite quote? “I change myself, I change the world.” ―Gloria Anzaldúa
Something interesting that few people know about you? I’m a musician and singer with several independently released albums.
Pet peeve? Uh, very few trivial things bother me. But I do wish people would set off direct address with a comma.
Most underappreciated author/hidden gem author? Juan Sauvageau (Stories That Must Not Die)
Team Oxford comma? Not unless it eliminates possible ambiguity.
A Mexican-American author from deep South Texas, DAVID BOWLES is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written a dozen or so books, including Flower, Song, Dance: Aztec and Mayan Poetry, the critically acclaimed Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Mexican Myths, and They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems. In 2019, Penguin will publish The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, co-written with Adam Gidwitz, and Tu Books will release his steampunk graphic novel Clockwork Curandera. His work has also appeared in multiple venues such as Journal of Children’s Literature, Rattle, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Nightmare, Asymptote, Translation Review, Metamorphoses, Huizache, Eye to the Telescope, and Southwestern American Literature. In April 2017, David was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters for his literary work. Visit David Bowles on his website.
Elizabeth Acevedo, whose debut novel won over the publishing world, critics, and award committees in 2018, continued her streak into the new year as The Poet Xnabbed the 2019 Michael L. Printz Award and the Pura Belpré Author Award at the Youth Media Awardsceremony at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle on Monday.
“I was shaking when I got the call for the Printz; I was shaking when I got the call for the Pura Belpré,” says Acevedo. “Then, when I actually watched them announce my name, my heart was pounding. I knew it was coming but still, it was like, ‘This cannot be real.’”
The Pura Belpré Author Award shocked Acevedo—who says the recognition of a Latinx writer whose work best “best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience” wasn’t on her radar as an award she might win.
“To get that honor is so special,” she says. “There were so many good books this year written by the Latinx community. I was really honored. That one caught me by surprise.”
The Poet X , which also won an Odyssey Honor for its audiobook version on Monday, had already won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Best Fiction. Acevedo can’t and won’t rank the honors. The most important thing is each different honor affirms that the story spoke to a different group of people, she says. The Printz commitee saw a unique combination of attributes in Acevedo’s work.
“It’s that rare combination of kick-ass literary novel and resonant, readable story,” said committee chair Rachel Fryd.
Winning the Printz will likely bring the title to an even wider audience, as librarians, educators, and parents often look for the award winners when selecting books.
“I hope so,” says Acevedo. “I hope that while my book was written so specifically and with so much of my heart directed at a particular community that allowing other folks into that heart will make them realize how connected we all are. That’s the exciting part of this, realizing this kind of story can have such a wide reach behind who I ever imagined would read it.”
When Acevedo thinks about the recognition, the many awards, she feels a pride that she makes clear is “not pride as a creator, but pride as in God, I wish as a reader I had seen this kind of story and this kind of life and this kind of protagonist being told, ‘You deserve to be celebrated,’ because it would have changed my life.”
And she has reaction she describes as, “Heck yeah, a story like this deserves to be on the same shelves as so many other stories. Yes, this girl. Yes, a novel in verse. Yes, this community. It’s about time, right?”
Then there are those final thoughts she can’t shake.
“None of it makes sense to me,” Acevedo says, with a laugh. “I keep waiting for folks to be like, ‘Eh it’s not that good. There’s a lot of hype.’”
Now working on her third book, she hopes people will love her new characters and stories as much as they did her first novel. But if readers always want to talk to her about Xiomara and The Poet X, Acevedo knows that’s OK. She was “lucky” enough to talk to Speak author Laurie Halse Anderson, who told her sometimes a first book has such an impact on readers, they will always want to come back to it.
“‘It’s ok to let people have whatever experience they want to have with whatever books you put out and you just keep working toward the next thing,'” Acevedo remembered Halse saying. “‘That doesn’t stop you from working on your craft, that doesn’t stop you from writing better books.’..So that’s really what I’m trying to zoom in on.”
If anyone is in Northern California, this looks like a great event….