Monday, May 29, 2017

We have our judges....

Letras Latinas

is pleased to announce

Ada Limón


Carmen Giménez Smith

 as the judges for the next

Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize


Letras Latinas/ Red Hen Poetry Prize



The deadline for both:

January 15, 2018


Carmen Giménez Smith

For more information about the Prizes
visit Letras Latinas: 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Down These Mean Streets Poetry Reading: May 12

Hiram Maristany, Hydrant: In the Air, 1963
(full credit below)
Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies—in partnership with the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)—is pleased to present, “Down These Mean Streets Poetry Reading,” featuring Martín Espada, Naomi Ayala, and Samuel Miranda. The event takes place this Friday, May 12 at 6:30 PM at the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium at SAAM in Washington, D.C. The reading coincides with the opening of, Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in UrbanPhotography, a SAAM exhibition that runs through August 6.

The poets will be responding to specific pieces in the exhibit, including pieces by the late Frank Espada, father of Martín Espada. Other photographers whose work has inspired some of the poems to be shared that evening include, Manuel Acevedo, Perla de Leon, Hiram Maristany, and Winston Vargas.

Frank Espada, Untitled, 1981
(Three boys, Sheldon Cafe, Hartford, Connecticut)
(full credit below) 

This collaboration between Letras Latinas and the Smithsonian American Art Museum is an outgrowth of a previous one: “PINTURA:PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis.” 

“A number of years ago, I approached and pitched to E. Carmen Ramos a project to be carried out in tandem with, Our America: the Latino Presence in American Art, the wonderful exhibition she put together at SAAM. Several months ago she reached out and asked if Letras Latinas would be interested in collaborating again, this time with the “Down These Mean Streets” exhibit. Letras Latinas is pleased to have curated the participation of Naomi Ayala and Samuel Miranda for this event,” said Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas director. “As for Martín, we are pleased to be collaborating with him again: a number of years ago he served as the final judge for the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize--one of two national book prizes that Letras Latinas oversees,” Aragón added.

For those who can’t get to the event in person, or those not in the Washington, D.C. area, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has arranged for a live webcast:

The poets:
photo credit: David González

Martín Espada is an award-winning poet, essayist, and attorney who has dedicated much of his career to the pursuit of social justice and Latino rights. His critically acclaimed poetry celebrates—and laments—the immigrant and working class experience. Espada will read poems inspired by his father, Frank Espada, whose photographs are featured in Down These Mean Streets. Espada will be joined by DC-based poets Naomi Ayala and Samuel Miranda:

photo credit: E. Ethelbert Miller

 Naomi Ayala is the author of three books of poetry—Wild Animals on the Moon (Curbstone Press), This Side of Early (Curbstone Imprint: Northwestern University Press), and Calling Home: Praise Songs and Incantations (Bilingual Review Press). She is also the translator of Luis Alberto Ambroggio’s book The Wind’s Archeology/La arqueología del viento, which won an International Latino Book Award for Best Nonfiction Book Translation. She lives in Washington, DC, where she teaches poetry and memoir to English-language learners at the Carlos Rosario School as founding teacher of the Write Who You Are Program.

photo credit: Thomas Sayers Ellis

Samuel Miranda grew up in the South Bronx and has made his home in Washington, DC. He is a visual artist, poet and teacher who uses his craft to highlight the value of everyday people and places.  His work has been heavily influenced by Puerto Rican culture and family history, as well as his interactions with the people in his city, his students, and people he encounters in his travels.  His poetry has been published in anthologies and journals and he has performed his work at venues such as the Smithsonian Museum of African Art and the Kennedy Center.  His art has been exhibited throughout the DC metropolitan area.


Full photo credits:

Hiram Maristany, Hydrant: In the Air, 1963, gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center © 1963, Hiram Maristany

Frank Espada, Untitled (Three boys, Sheldon Cafe, Hartford, Connecticut), 1981, gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino   

Saturday, April 15, 2017

PINTURA:PALABRA: DC Residencies conclude

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, is pleased to announce Alexandra Lytton Regalado as the third and final recipient of the PINTURA:PALABRA DC Residencies. These one-week stints, for three Latina writers, took place in 2015 (Laurie Ann Guerrero), 2016 (Gina Franco) and conclude in 2017. Regalado will be in residence from June 12 to June 19.
Alexandra Lytton Regalado’s poems and short stories have appeared in Gulf Coast, Narrative, Notre Dame Review, OCHO, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. Her poem, "La Mano," was one of the ten poems featured at Best American Poetry Blog in March of 2017, as part of the Poetry Coalition’s inaugural initiative, “Because We Come from Everything: Poetry & Migration.” She is the winner of the St. Lawrence Book Prize and the Coniston Poetry Prize. Her poetry collection, Matria, (Black Lawrence Press) is slated for release in spring of 2017. To learn more, visit her website.

Alexandra Lytton Regalado’s reaction to being selected:

"As a mother, publisher, editor, translator, and art advocate I spend a huge chunk of my day promoting other people’s work—granted, they are people I love—but for me to have an entire week to focus on my own projects is such a gift. It's a Godsend because it comes at a perfect time. My first book of poems, Matria, launches in May (Black Lawrence Press) and this residency will allow me to sink my teeth into my next writing project. I work closely with emerging and established Salvadoran artists and writers (who live in their birth country and abroad) and I’m interested in developing transnational collaborative projects that combine writing with painting, photography, film, performance, and installation art. More than just providing pleasure, art plays a key role in challenging the way the world is represented because it urges us to question interpretations and perspectives. In El Salvador, a country overrun by violence, street crime, and corruption, where all avenues of societal change are stalled or completely collapsed, and for Salvadorans living abroad and contending with marginalization, discrimination, and deportation, I believe art and literature can provide ways of promoting reconciliation and reconstruction. I want to research how art and writing intersect as forms of survival, resistance, protest. My agenda includes the Sylvia Plath exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Galleries for Folk and Self-Taught Art and the craft exhibit at the Renwick Gallery, the National Museum of Women in the Arts; and at the top of my list are the Phillips Collection, the Hirshhorn Museum, and other contemporary art spaces. Finally, I'm infinitely grateful to Letras Latinas at Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, and to the residency's benefactors, Molly Singer and Martha Aragon Velez."
Publication partners for the first two residents are ORIGINS  and The Los Angeles Review, respectively. That work is forthcoming. Our thanks to Dini Karasik and Blas Falconer for saying Yes. Letras Latinas has yet to identify and enter into an agreement with the publication for our third and final resident.
Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the Institute for Latino Studies, strives to enhance the visibility, appreciation and study of Latino literature both on and off the campus of the University of Notre Dame, with an emphasis on programs that support newer voices, foster connections between writers, and impact local communities.

 Letras Latinas
would like to thank

Molly Singer
Martha Aragon Velez

whose generosity make
DC Residencies

Friday, March 31, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: no.16

RGV poets

“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry &Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.

Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 

This Feels Similar to Something I Wrote About Eight Years Ago[1]
(but maybe now more people care about border walls)

by Emmy Pérez

Amid post-election talk about the need for more poetry of resistance, many of us writers of color acknowledge that we have always been writing as resistance. I would like to add that even when we are writing about our existence, it is an act of resistance.


We live in a country where many squirm when a minimal amount of Spanish is used, even when a word has no English translation, like the bird chachalaca (Nahuatl~Spanish), or more commonly when we pronounce our last names correctly outside of the borderlands.


“I don’t speak Mexican,” the seven-year-old says to the four-year-old, mimicking the parent who said this to an adult.


Two presidents ago, construction of 18-foot steel border walls and concrete “levee”-walls began here in the Rio Grande Valley, Tejas, and continued into one president ago.


The Secure Fence Act of 2006. My definition of a fence: a thing that when climbed, a kid’s adventure, gives a bit. These walls don’t bend.


Ten years later, campaign promises to build “a” wall (as if there are none) frenzied enough eager folks. The infamous cheerleading chant an order. The chant doesn’t promise they’ll actually do the physical labor or pay for it.

On the flip side, more folks are now concerned… because the words hurt, or if not hurt, provoke. More now that we’re in the first hundred days.

Hurtful and provocative language has made, to many, the idea of walls and the possibility of more walls (and taller ones), more real than our existing ones to them. We know it’s not only about walls. We also know that borderlands communities are going to have to live (continue living) with the physical ones.


In my poem “Río Grande~Bravo,” I call a wall built here eight years ago the “concrete abstraction in front of my face.”

Existing walls are out of sight, out of mind for many, even those who would hate them, like nuclear weapons and dangerous pipelines.

Most who want these walls will never touch them in satisfaction. And most who don’t want the walls won’t touch them in anger or sadness.

Or maybe, they will become a thing, a tourist attraction, like the satirical “Great Wall of Mexico” poem written by Ricky Tijerina two presidential terms ago, a piece he performed as a graduate student in a top hat like a circus-vaudeville announcer.

Without assigned seating, how have we and do we pick our seats?

Will we speak more openly now about the virtual or less visible walls, micro?


Actual wall building: big money for contractors and entities bidding for the job as if carrying out the will of god. (Or, “nothing personal… just business.”)

Many workers have hungry mouths to feed: “They are making our people build it, to keep our people out.”[2]


Post-election: the national media attempts to tell the RGV’s untold stories. Still, the whole community’s voice feels silent beyond our own local sensibilities, though the stresses are many.

Children here and everywhere are afraid their parents will not be home when they return from school.

Pick up the daily paper and witness plans to defund X, Y, Z, A, B, C… decrease taxes for the wealthy, increase military and wall (military) spending.


Campaign promise like the words of an Old Testament god. Fear it. Take it. Sacrifice, knowing some will die.

For what? No promise of a true heaven, even for the wealthiest elected and appointed officials, performing morality about who deserves to live (well) and die (sooner).


Activists spend their hearts and lives. The unsung sheroes/hero~ines. Thank you. You are hope.


Sometimes, after he’d raged and puffed up his chest, that OT god would decide: you don’t have to kill your own child after all.

If Congress doesn’t come through with the billions, maybe we’ll have, at least on this issue, a “loving” patriarch who reveals our final hope (as in lottery-ticket-lucky-feelings hope) by saying: I didn’t mean a literal wall.


Someday, the once loudest-mouthed border walls will emit no sound, except to those “still possess[ing] the need to cross”[3] them, except to borderlands residents unwilling to grow numb to them, who have allowed for the experience of loss amid numerous other losses. Except to those everywhere unwilling to forget the walls exist.


“Some people say it will lull you / to sleep” writes Lucinda Zamora-Wiley in a 2009 border wall poem.[4] “Comfort food / that makes your soul feel at ease— / those Mexicans won’t be climbing / that wall—zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”


(I’m willing to beg: if more walls are built, please don’t ever forget they exist. We know we exist. We don’t need wall supporters to know we exist. We need them to not order walls built where we exist.)


2008-2009: I cried watching the construction trucks. How do you raise children in this hate? I thought. I had no children at the time. Most everyone’s ancestors in the RGV are from México. Mine too. Regardless. How?


Amalia Ortiz asks “… how to ignore a wall?” in a poem by the same name. The poem calls out some of the local and global apathy: “Try risking nothing” and “Look anywhere, but do not make direct eye contact  / with the wall.”

The work calls upon writers, including Latinx writers: “Tell yourself the only good art is esoteric and / consider yourself part of the elite.” “And then when injustices do occur, avoid / them too. Tell yourself Trayvon has nothing / to do with a wall…”[5]


How to hide walls? Place some in people’s backyards. Call others “levee-walls” and make the tallest, exposed concrete sides face México. Don’t tell children the truth.


When the four-year-old first learned about the walls, and the plans for more, they said, “but everything will die! The grass, the plants, the river…” The child was not prompted to say this. “Who did this?” the child demanded. “Why?”

Even small children know what justice is before even knowing that people crossing will face the same dangers.


Anti-wall activists make things happen, and will not give up. They need more support. I will never stop thanking them. For giving us hope.

There is hope in the poets, too, in their refusal to accept what has been imposed, historically, and currently.


“Not a person, no.
You, border lands
You, home, you bloodied me,
swallowed me, made me”[6]
                                                            -Noemi Martinez


I’d like to propose that more poets and readers, including Latinx poets and readers, might lend their ears to more borderlands poets from the RGV[7], the birthplace of Gloria Anzaldúa and Américo Paredes, en la “herida abierta” where they were raised, where the communities are quite alive and among the most militarized.

While some in the literary establishment (and those who internalize or work within its values) are trying to catch a “poetry of resistance” wave in response to the recent election, I wonder when the larger literary establishment will be ready for the whole truth of our poetry.


Several RGV poets have won book prizes, achieved various markers of literary acclaim, and are Macondo Writers’ Workshop members and/or CantoMundo fellows (Rosebud Ben-Oni, ire’ne lara silva, my near tocaya Emily Pérez, Octavio Quintanilla, and Vanessa Angelica Villareal are all CantoMundo & RGV poets who live in other regions now).

Many RGV poets write in more than one language, or only in Spanish, with lyric power, and directness. Thank goodness for spoken word borderland poetry, such as the dynamic poetry of Amalia Ortiz, author of Rant. Chant. Chisme. published by Wings Press (she has another, Canción Cannibal Cabaret, in the works) and Veronica “Lady Mariposa” Sandoval, whose first poetry book is forthcoming from FlowerSong Books, an imprint of VAO Publishing, a local press founded by poet and writer David Bowles.

The poem quoted earlier by Lucinda Zamora-Wiley was published in Gallery student magazine in 2009 when she was an MFA student… somewhere else ought to feature it too.

RGV poets are also publishing in high profile venues: José Antonio Rodríguez, the author of three books, has a poem forthcoming in The New Yorker and prize-winning poet Rodney Gomez has recently published in Poetry magazine. All of their books and chapbooks are excellent.

Also check out books by local presses: Noemi Martinez’s South Texas Experience: Love Letters (Hermana Resist Press), Erika Garza-Johnson’s Unwoven (FlowerSong Books), Edward Vidaurre’s Chicano Blood Transfusion (FlowerSong Books). Or pick up a copy of the anthology Lost: Children of the River published by the Raving Press, and edited by Gabriel H. Sánchez and Isaac Chavarria. There are more.

The Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival (VIPF) is now in its 10th year of existence. FEIPOL (Festival Internacional de Poesía Latinoamericana) is planning its second international poetry festival. Pasta, Poetry, and Vino is another popular reading series. Lots more going on in the community and at the university too. We are here.
 RGV poets


Sometimes a few Latina/o/x students dabbling in creative writing worry if their work is “universal” enough, avoiding, in some cases, the painful and sometimes shameful idea of home in the borderlands. This happens often to students of color not provided with opportunities to study their histories and literature in their K-12 educations, or in college unless they seek out specialized courses or later set out on their own reading and experiential path. Resistance to writing about home is an important part of the process. There is always hope for decolonial healing in the future, and not only in writing about home.

The most active poets and writers who live(d) in the RGV write about their homes (this one and others) directly, imaginatively, with lots of love, even when they are critical of or complicating any definitions of home. We are planning a project to make this work more widely known. Most RGV poetry is hard earned for the poets and essential reading for the world.


Emmy Pérez is the author of With the River on Our Face (University of Arizona Press). She is also the author of Solstice (Swan Scythe Press). She has lived along the Texas-Mexico borderlands, from El Paso to the Rio Grande Valley, for over 16 years. She is a recipient of a 2017 NEA poetry fellowship and teaches creative writing and Mexican American Studies courses.

[1] My lyric essay “Healing and the Poetic line” (in the anthology A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line, University of Iowa Press 2011) was written simultaneously with my poem “Río Grande~Bravo” (With the River on Our Face, University of Arizona Press 2016).
[2] Emi Z. as quoted in the above publication
[3] see #1
[4] “Seeing Through It: Reflection on the Border Wall” by Lucinda Zamora-Wiley in Gallery magazine, University of Texas Pan American, 2009.
[5] Rant. Chant. Chisme by Amalia Ortiz, Wings Press 2015.
[6] South Texas Experience: Love Letters, by Noemi Martinez, Hermana Resist Press 2016.
[7] A brief list of some Chicanx/Tejanx/Latinx RGV poets (raised here and/or live(d) here) with books and/or other literary accolades: Elvia Ardalani, Amado Balderas, Nayelly Barrios, Rosebud Ben-Oni, David Bowles, Christopher Carmona, Isaac Chavarria, Julieta Corpus, César de León, Lauren Espinoza, Anel Flores, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Daniel García Ordaz, Erika Garza-Johnson, Rodney Gomez, M. Miriam Herrera, Meliton Hinojosa, ire’ne lara silva, Rossy Evelin Lima, Noemi Martinez, Brenda Nettles Riojas, José Antonio Rodríguez, Edna Ochoa, Octavio Quintanilla, Gabriel H. Sánchez, Veronica “Lady Mariposa” Sandoval, Verónica Solís, Lina Suarez, Edward Vidaurre, Vanessa Angelica Villarreal. Also my near tocaya Emily Pérez and me. There are many more I may have missed or who haven’t published much yet that I’d love to list, but that is part two someday.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: no. 15

“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry &Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.

Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 

Because We Come From Everything

by Michael Torres

It has to be mapped. Here and now. Right here and right now because my homie Miguel once said to me, you have to write about us, so they know who we are. And he was talking about my poetry so I marked up where we were from in my mind. And now I keep thinking: they have to know we come from fathers who come from far places we can’t pronounce. That we come from the chipped paint on garage doors we lifted to practice breakdancing. Our worm. Our windmill. I have to say, we come from running past a front door swelling before a washroom carpeted with newspaper pages trying to hold the rainwater because it doesn’t usually pour like this. We come from 5 o’clock fathers. Quiet fathers. Out-trimming-the-trees-on-Saturday fathers. We come from their Spanish laughter over the fence, talking to the men who are our best friends’ uncles. We come from those men too, their teeth stained and streaked from Marlboros, their hands smoky and rough like snapped branches when they shake ours and tell us to speak to them in Spanish, calling us cabrones when we can’t. We come from the sawdust of dreams, the broken toolshed doors we ran away from, hoping not to get caught. From the empty 2-liters and aluminum cans collected next to the chicken coop so we could have a makeshift bowling game. We come from the stray dogs we whistled for and took in, filling our cupped hands with hose water for them. We come from the Disney names we gave them—Nala, Balto, Copper. We come from commands of not to cross the street, ever. But also: cross the street and drop off the movie at the video store. We come from Our Sons Plaza on the corner of Reservoir Blvd., where we ate at Tom’s Burgers #18 and waited for the waitresses, who we were really, I swear, just about to ask out before their boyfriends came to pick them up after work. We come from cuss words that got us into shit the quickest. We come from parking lot fights that someone, we don’t know how, got a VHS tape of, and who plays it every time the homies come through after it’s been a long damn time. We come from our first cars—a bucket Toyota hatchback with no A/C or power steering that overheated on the 60 fwy but still got us there. We come from flattened ketchup packets on the blacktop and a homeless man telling us he’s going to be honest, that he just wants the dollar for a beer. We come from not knowing any better and everyone telling us we should’ve known better. We come from school, even when we didn’t want to. Except for when we really didn’t want to, then we came from the ditching party at Bloom’s where we smoked bud for the first time and came home driving stupid, stopping so many yards before the STOP sign. We come from the police radio scanner one of our father’s owned and used to tell us when to get the fuck out of wherever we shouldn’t have been in the first place. We come from fathers, even when they didn’t say much but left us to learn in the streets. Even if they weren’t there, we come from fathers. We come from church on Sundays, barely—our mothers telling us we could choose to attend or not once we turned 18. We come from our mothers but don’t like to disappoint them so we come from our fathers most of the time. We come from magnified manhood, from not giving a fuck even if we did, from being down for whatever, even when we weren’t. We come from Mexico because we call our grandparents abuelo y abuela even if that’s the only Spanish we got. We come from ranchers and curanderas and brujas and they-always-wanted-to-be musicians. We come from fathers raised by their tias, like in the black & white I have of mine. He is a boy still, maybe three. Standing on a chair so his head meets her shoulder. They hold hands and stare at the camera, serious like all old-timey photos—the weight of history never letting any of us smile. My father is holding a bucket where a tiny sailboat is painted on, making its way around the world.

Michael Torres is a CantoMundo fellow, born and brought up in Pomona, California where he spent his adolescence as a graffiti artist. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Green Mountains Review, Huizache, Tinderbox, and cream city review among others. He has been awarded grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Jerome Foundation. Torres is a 2016-17 winner of the Loft Mentor Series and the 2017 CantoMundo Distinguished Fellow for the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Currently, he resides in Mankato, Minnesota where he teaches creative writing and hosts art workshops for homeless youth at the Reach drop-in center through Good Thunder Reading Series Community Outreach.