Thursday, October 31, 2019

US Emerging Critics Workshop: Emily Perez, Letras Latinas Fellow

Emily Perez

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, is pleased to designate Denver-based poet and critic, Emily Perez, as a Letras Latinas fellow—in order to attend the inaugural US Emerging Critics Workshop, which will take place in Atlanta, GA on November 4-6. Perez will be joined by other emerging critics, all of whom will be mentored by established critics from various publications.

The Emerging Critics program originated in the United Kingdom in association with the Ledbury Poetry Festival, and was co-founded by the UK-based poets and critics Sandeep Parmar (Liverpool) and Sarah Howe (London). The alumni of the UK program went on to place work at such publications as The Guardian, TLC, The Telegraph, and elsewhere. The publishing partners in the US program include Poetry and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among others.

"Since the Ledbury Emerging Critics program began in 2017, our 12 critics of colour are responsible for more than doubling the number of poetry reviews written by people of colour—from 3.4% to 8.3% in less than two years. But improving the numbers is only part of the program's aim to generate a critical culture that is not only inclusive but also knowledgable and representative of the diversity of poetry being written today," said Parmar, who, along with Howe, will serve as faculty at the US workshop. They will be joined by Don Share (Poetry), Parul Sehgal (NY Times), Vidyan Ravinthiran (Harvard University), and Jeffrey Levine (Tupelo Press).

Award-winning poet Ilya Kaminsky will serve as the principal host in the pilot workshop in the United States. “Poetry@Tech, at the Ivan Allen College, Georgia Institute of Technology is thrilled to host this gathering on our campus here in Atlanta. We applaud this program's advocacy for greater access for literary culture. It is crucial to support this on-going important discussion of how and what value society gives to the arts, to expand reading culture and to invigorate the wider critical conversation about literature and diversity, “ said Kaminsky.

Emily Perez will be joined by emerging critics Abraham Encinas, a graduate student at UCLA, and Shamallah Gallagher of Athens, GA, whose criticism has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Gulf Coast Review, The Rumpus, and other publications. “I am thrilled to have Letras Latinas’s support for my participation in the inaugural US session of the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics Program. Not only will I meet some of my poetry and book reviewing heroes, but I will begin to build a network of peers I can rely on to help navigate my ongoing questions. My concerns range from the practical to the philosophical, from mechanics to style.  I feel like a self-taught musician who will finally have a few lessons with the masters; these sessions will inevitably hone my thinking and my craft. I am eager to absorb every moment,” said Perez, whose poetry reviews have appeared in The Boston Review, The Rumpus, and RHINO, among other publications. As a poet, she is also the author of House Made of Sugar, House Made of Stone, and the chapbooks Background Migration Route and Made and Unmade.

“I’ve long admired Emily Perez’s poetry criticism. I immediately thought of her when first learning of this workshop. Deborah Parédez and I were both present at the Poetry Coalition presentation that Sandeep Parmar gave a year ago at Kent State in Ohio. At its conclusion, we briefly conferred, and concurred, that Emily, a CantoMundo fellow, would be an ideal candidate for it. We’re delighted that it's worked out. Letras Latinas is proud to be sponsoring her participation,” said Francisco Aragón, a faculty fellow at Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies.

Letras Latinas strives to enhance the visibility, appreciation, and study of Latinx literature both on and off the campus of the University of Notre Dame—with an emphasis on programs that support newer voices, foster a sense of community among writers, and place Latinx writers in community spaces.

To learn more about the US Emerging Critics Program, please visit: 


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

We Are Now Open for Submissions.....

John Murillo

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, is pleased to announce the Final Judge for the 2020 edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize.

A collaboration with University of Notre Dame Press since 2004, the Prize supports the publication of a first book by a Latinx poet residing in the United States.

Our winners, judges, and books, thus far have been:

Sheryl Luna
selected by Robert Vazquez
for Pity the Drowned Horses (2005)

Gabe Gomez
selected by Valerie Martínez
for The Outer Bands (2007)

Paul Martínez Pompa
selected by Martín Espada
for My Kill Adore Him (2009)

Emma Trelles
selected by Silvia Curbelo
for Tropicalia (2011)

Laurie Ann Guerrero
selected by late Francisco X. Alarcón
for A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

David Campos
selected by Rhina P. Espaillot
for Furious Dusk (2015)

Felicia Zamora
selected by Edwin Torres
for Of Form & Gather (2017)

Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes
selected by Ada Limón
for The Inheritance of Haunting (2019)

Some changes are afoot for this our 9th edition of the Prize, which honors the legacy of Chicano poet Andrés Montoya.

We will also, for the first time, be counting on the collaboration of two guest screeners.

 Statement from our Final Judge:

“I am both honored and humbled to sign on as judge of this year’s Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize.  At a time when there appears to be an all-out war on brown people in this country—when children are caged, mothers disappeared, and fathers gunned down on the regular, not to mention the daily, less sensational, degradations of living under a white supremacist regime—it is as imperative now as it’s ever been that we make ourselves heard, seen, and felt.  Now more than ever we need our artists, our culture workers, our poets.  To play, then, even a small part in helping usher into the world one of these necessary voices is a privilege.  It is a sacred duty, one I will carry out to the best of my ability and treat with all the seriousness it deserves."


John Murillo is the author of the poetry collections, Up Jump the Boogie, finalist for both the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Pen Open Book Award, and Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, forthcoming from Four Way Books in the spring of 2020. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, and Best American Poetry 2017 and 2019 among other venues.  His honors include a Pushcart Prize, the J Howard and Barbara MJ Wood Prize from the Poetry Foundation, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Cave Canem Foundation, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing.  He is an assistant professor at Wesleyan University and also teaches in the low residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College.

Our guest screeners:

Poet, storyteller, and essayist, Roberto Carlos Garcia writes extensively about the Afro-Latinx and Afro-diasporic experience. His second poetry collection, black / Maybe: An Afro Lyric, is available from Willow Books.  Roberto’s first collection, Melancolía, is available from Červená Barva Press. Roberto is founder of the non-profit press Get Fresh Books Publishing and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Yesenia Montilla is an Afro-Latina poet & a daughter of immigrants. She received her MFA from Drew University in Poetry and Poetry in Translation. Her first collection, ,The Pink Box, was published by Willow Books & was Longlisted for a PEN award in 2016. She is currently a Co-Director of CantoMundo. She lives in Harlem NY.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Orlando Ricardo Menes @ ND: photo gallery

A poetry reading with Orlando Ricardo Menes

Orlando Ricardo Menes, a professor of English here at the University of Notre Dame, read selections from his latest collection, Memoria, on September 18th, 2019. 

In Memoria, he offers "coming of age poems that probe masculinity, Cuban-American culture, displacement, relationships, food, and faith. Many poems explore the Hispanic speaker’s memories of how music in the 1970s, including the songs of Lou Reed and Alice Cooper, became anthems for personal change." (LSU Press) 

Poster designed by the Institute of Latino Studies

The reception in Bond Hall, the new home of the Institute of Latino Studies at Notre Dame

Francisco Aragon introducing MFA candidate Jahan Khajavi

Jahan introduces Orlando Ricardo Menes

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Love Letter to an Afterlife: An Interview with Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi

Love Letter to an Afterlife

an interview with Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi
conducted by Therese Marie Konopelski

Love Letter to an Afterlife resonates as a living memory of poet Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi's first home, the Dominican Republic. In Ines's poems, the island culture, so firmly tied to place and family lore, unifies multiethnic and even transnational identities. They preserve the continuity of  tradition, with all the indigos, black pearls, shells, markets, and gods of the Dominican people across time, exile, and diaspora. The lush physical identification with the island's fauna, shores, and inhabitants, communicated with the rhythms of their language, transcends the sorrows of the island, a family spiritually unified by more than place.

As a biracial woman myself, there are many homes and cultures carried in my blood, and I strongly believe that these inherited memories affect our lives and the way we live them in the present. Love Letter to an Afterlife is a beautiful tribute to the blended cultures and families in our world, and the heritage that we strive to honor.

-Therese Konopelski, University of Notre Dame (class of 2020)

[Therese Konopelski]: Love Letter to an Afterlife is a rich, eloquent recollection of life in the Dominican Republic, with sonorous and sensual imagery from the island’s natural fauna and inhabitants. How did the colloquialisms, dichos or refranes of the island manifest themselves in the book? How did you translate the natural flow of this diction?

[Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi]: As the child of a Dominican immigrant and an Argentine immigrant, I have always been hyperaware of the difference not only between English and Spanish, but Dominican Spanish and Argentine “Castellano.” For example, my father’s “un chin (a little or tiny bit of something)” versus my mother’s “un poco (a little of something).” Dichos, refrances, or parables are inherent in Dominican Spanish. The more you hear them, the more you absorb them. What I love about Dominican Spanish is its playfulness and inventiveness; it’s a language that has absorbed different languages and continues to evolve. As someone who spent her summers in the D.R., more so than in Argentina, it’s inevitable that Dominican Spanish will make its way into my work or coexist with the English that is also very much ‘home’ to me. 

When I write I pay a lot of attention to how words flow on the page or how they might be used to create sounds that can draw your attention to an image or a turn in a poem. I want the rhythm that I hear in my head, which might draw from both English and Spanish, to be reflected on the page. Sometimes it’s about determining the right word or sequence of words. Sometimes, it’s about where to break the line or teasing out a meter that might already be present in the poem. Perhaps there are particular sounds that I associate more with the D.R. than the U.S. and if that’s the case, I want to give those sounds priority.

[TK]: How did these memories taken from childhood, woven through common threads of family life, find their order in the book? Do you think of this book in sections or as separate poems that exist in their own right?

[IPRP]: I had a professor that once told me that ordering poems in a book should be like organizing a piece of music. I really like that idea and I tried to apply it to this book not just with movements from the present to the past, but also tonally. Yes, the poems can stand on their own, but I do think of this book in sections. For example, we begin in the present with the “Lost Santos,” which underscores what the succeeding poems respond too – loss and the need to preserve some semblance of the past. The poem that follows is “Communion,” which instigates a period of childhood (the past) and it is written in a very childlike voice. Overall, it changes the pace of the book, the energy. Notice that the poem that ensues, “Playing Rock and Apollo,” in many ways sustains this energy. As the book progresses, the past isn’t just a collision of my memories from the D.R. and the U.S., but an exploration of this hybridity. The second half of the book shifts to the present and maps how my sense of home evolves; it includes spaces beyond the D.R. and the U.S., and it’s a more reflective, a bit more political. I think in some cases, it’s not easy to draw a border between the countries that I am from, or the past versus the present, life versus death, grief versus celebration, these binaries. They can manifest in the same poem. We often think of people living “in between” worlds or sentiments, but in reality they simultaneously contend with different worlds and manage conflicting or contradictory sentiments and feelings.

[TK]: The titular poem, Love Letter to an Afterlife describes a Dominican paradise with the carnival, a field of poppies, and a slow rocking music permeating the dusk. How do you see the relationship between memory and the ability to shape your future, or afterlife? What aspects of your memory did you include and why do you think you remembered them?

[IPRP]: Memory is unreliable but it’s ours; sometimes it’s the only thing we have that can attest to an experience or the existence of an individual. With that said, I think it’s just as valuable as ‘official’ history and needs to be documented. Much of this poetry collection was written during a period where I lost a number of family members. I wasn’t only confronted by the idea of mortality or the how their deaths coincided with major changes in the D.R., but with the fact that parts of the past, of family history died with them. So, I set out to write some poems that not only preserved the people that gave me a sense of home but what I knew about my ‘home,’ a home that can’t be reduced to a single dot on a map. This is also a question of representation, right? The act of documenting my reality, which I don’t think is necessarily unique, but you don’t always see it represented in popular culture or literature. 

In the poem “Love Letter to an Afterlife,” I asked myself: If there is an afterlife, what would I want to take with me, what would I want to see, what would I want to greet me? My afterlife is not necessarily only a Dominican paradise; it is also an Argentine and American paradise, if we want to think of it in those terms. It has the little Dominican town of Bonao, the greenest-greenest place I have ever seen, and the guloyas from carnival who have always been magical to me. It has my mother’s piano music and the milongas from Argentina that I love to hear, even if they’re sometimes sad. The last stanza features a field of flowers. We could be anywhere, no? This is a poem that is also written mostly in English, an important factor in determining what the afterlife looks like, sounds like, feels like.

[TK]: How do you see the DR differently now that you no longer live there? How was the experience of being an immigrant from the DR at first?

[IPRP]: As an adult and as a scholar who specializes in Dominican and Dominican literature, I have gained a better understanding not just of literary traditions or movements, but of the making of a country like the D.R., its colonial legacies, its relationship with Haiti and the greater Caribbean, and especially, its history of trauma. I do not idealize it like before. Meaning, it’s not just dominated by my childhood memories of endless dodgeball games, going to the corner colmado and buying bubble gum and an ice cold coke, or learning how to dance with my crew of friends. My father always says that you want to return to the place of your childhood, to that golden period. The D.R. in many ways was that for me, but the country is rapidly developing, so many of my friends and family have left, so much of what I knew about the D.R. has changed or evolved because I’m more informed. I still have a longing to go back, but I don’t idealize it the way I did before; it is not all golden. It has its good and bad. It has its issues or problems just like any other place. I am also more aware of my position of privilege. I am first-generation American – the child of a Dominican immigrant and an Argentine immigrant. I had the privilege of spending many of my summers in the D.R., throughout my childhood and adolescents. I have always had the option of visiting the D.R., and I have always had the option of leaving the D.R.. As a kid, whenever I visited and left the D.R., I was reminded of this. I was reminded that in many ways I was sheltered from some harsh realities. I did not have to contend with the everyday the way that my family members or friends did. I had the option of leaving – they didn’t. 

D.R. validated for me that I was not an anomaly in the world. I am the product of a biracial, biethnic, bicultural union. This is not outside the “norm” in the D.R. but in northern Virginia, people did and will assume that I am from another country, rather than assume I am American. They will assume I am my mother’s “caretaker,” not her daughter because she is white and I am mixed. They will express surprise that my father is my father because he is black and I am mixed. I grew up in an America that in a number of ways told me I was not “normal,” I was “different,” I wasn’t “American,” I was not the right kind of “Latina” because I was mixed, because I’m Afro-Latina, because even my Spanish is mixed. D.R. countered all of that because there were families that looked like mine, because beauty standards are different, because people did not assume that I was inferior or dumb solely because of the color of my skin, and because I gained a sense of belonging that to this day, has not been emulated in the U.S.

[TK]: In your poem, Spanglish, you speak about your early difficulties with the English language. How does your Spanish as your first language influence your poetry?

[IPRP]: In my family, we had to have our feet in multiple worlds. We had to figure out how to be American but also firmly rooted in the cultures of our home. There’s no map or guide on how to do to this: How can someone manage not to be “too American” but “American?” How does someone speak Spanish well when one parent has a Dominican vocabulary and another parent has an Argentine vocabulary, and English dominates outside the home? How can someone embody multiple worlds when the society that you live in doesn’t acknowledge that you can be multiple things? My struggle with language came with having to navigate two languages simultaneously. Learning how to navigate two languages is not a linear process or an easy, painless process. 

Poems like “Learning to Speak Spanglish” underscore this conflict. Does one ever really take root in two languages? If so, what does that look like? Is one language preserved more than another over time? Your question reminds me of a question that some of my students have posed to me: Am I Latina if I don’t speak Spanish, if I’m not the best Spanish speaker, if you can’t tell where my accent is from, or I sound “gringa?” What I notice about this question is that it always stems from a place of insecurity. I can definitely relate to my students. I wrestle with English and Spanish constantly; sometimes I feel more confident with one than another, speaking or writing, and sometimes I feel like I have a balance. More poems like “Learning to Speak Spanglish” are still needed. This isn’t a “unique” experience but it’s a lived, everyday experience that needs to be voiced, that needs to be probed because of the sense of exclusion it underscores. 

In many places, it’s a luxury to study poetry, to say “I am a poet.” I grew up with parents who emphasized that a writer writes. Traveling only reaffirmed this for me. Meaning, there’s value in being flexible, in writing poems but also writing fiction, writing human interest stories for a newspaper, or writing publications for a non-profit. This flexibility has allowed me to improve my craft and actively find more confidence managing English and Spanish. But again, the struggle is constant.

[TK]: Santo from the Sun is an erotic poem that seems to be a metaphor for your relationship with the sun’s life-giving power. Is Santo a real person or a mythical figure? What is the role of metaphor and allusion in this work in relation to transparency/opacity of subject? Is transparency a goal?

[IPRP]: El Indio Solarei, Santo from the Sun, is a saint or spirit who mounts his followers. When one is mounted, your body in a way is used as conduit to transmit messages. In the poem, I’m imagining this process through his eyes. I’ve always found this spirit to be really beautiful. In the stories that my mother has told me, el Indio Solarei has a way of even changing your physical appearance so that it better reflects him. Religion is a theme that I explore in this book. I’m fascinated not just with rituals or how different religions coexist within a family, but people’s faith, their need to believe in something and how this is actively pursued. I’m also fascinated with how one’s relationship with religion can be both transformative and fragile, every changing, depending on certain life experiences.

[TK]: The pagan myths of the Dominican Republic have an unusual relationship with the equally deep-seated Catholic faith on the island. How do santos and brujas interact in this Dominican world that you experienced? Who is the Bird Doctor?

[IPRP]: The santos - whether they are Catholic, African, Indigenous, or mixed - are very much rooted in a Dominican, and more broadly, a Caribbean world. I would argue that the coexistence of what might be perceived as “pagan myths,” creole religion(s) and Catholicism isn’t unusual. Rather, they infuse the everyday in a place like the D.R. Additionally, they aren’t unique to the D.R. – you find them throughout the Caribbean, Latin American, and the U.S. 

With respect to “The Bird Doctor,” the “terrible bird-witches,” allude to the superstition in Argentina that owls can be callers of death, a sign that someone is going to die. The Bird Doctor is my maternal grandfather. He was a lung surgeon and an avid bird collector in Buenos Aires, which is referenced in the poem. I feel a strong kinship with him, perhaps because of our shared love of animals, and the fact that he represents a part of my past that I only have access to through my mother’s stories, and bits and pieces of heirlooms floating about in my den or somewhere in Buenos Aires. In the poem, I set out to testify to his existence since we’ve never been able to find his grave. I did this primarily through the birds he loved. It’s not a poem with a resolution. I never find his grave – I never have found his grave – and the poem underscores this lack of closure and mystery surrounding his death.

[TK]: How do the customs of the island contrast with the social norms you encountered in the US? How are issues of race perceived in the DR and the US? You speak about your biracial experience in South Carolina in Elementary Education; how did Afro-Latino poetry influence your writing?

[IPRP]: In terms of Afro-Latino poetry, I’ve been very drawn to the early work of the Dominican poet Norberto P. James Rawlings and the Dominican-Haitian poet Jacque Viau Renard. These are poets writing from within the island and writing about experiences that I can identify with. For example, in James’s “The Immigrants,” the voice emphasizes the profound exclusion that the immigrants from the English colonized islands faced, despite being absorbed into Dominican society for generations. What I think is very different about James’ and Viau’s work is the sense of nationalism or national identity that their poems underscore; they might navigate more than one culture but they are firmly Dominican. In many ways, their poetry stresses that there’s more than one way to be Dominican. When I think of these writers, as well as writers like Aida Cartagena Portalatin or Blas Jimenez, they all redefine Dominican national identity which many writers have defined on the basis of the negation of blackness. The poets that I’ve mentioned showed me that you can be white, black, indigenous, Dominican and Haitian, Jamaican and Dominican, on and off the island – that there’s more than one way to be Dominican, and (I’ll venture) American. Notably, if I return to James’ and Viau’s work, their poems also highlights the issue of white supremacy that hasn’t only been sustained by colonial legacies but by the relationship between the U.S. and Hispaniola. I’m thinking, for example, of Viau’s poem “A un líder negro asesinado (To an Assassinated Black Leader),” which actually laments the assassination of Medgar Evers.

[TK]: We feel rhythmic beats from the island in Slapping Bones and other poems. How do rhythms or melodies inspire you? (I especially enjoyed hearing about the bachata that livened the Modelo markets and the cafés)

[IPRP]: When we first learn language, we learn through sound. Sound draws our attention to an image, to a turn or progression in the poem, or a feeling in a poem. So, I find a lot of inspiration in music because it shares a kinship with poetry. I keep this in mind when I write; poems don’t have to “rhyme” but I want my poems to strike the ear because most of the time readers will listen to them before reading them. Sometimes I’ll use music to generate or enter a poem. Sometimes I’ll reference a specific song or incorporate a musical rhythm in my poems. In these cases, music becomes an invitation to listen, but also to consider the ideas presented in a poem.


Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi is the author of the poetry collection, Love Letter to an Afterlife (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), which was a finalist for the 2019 International Latino Book Awards (Best Poetry Book) and the 2019 Binghamton University Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. Recently, her poem “Surrogate Twin” was selected by Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Rita Dove, and featured in The New York Times Magazine. Rivera Prosdocimi’s work has also appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Cold Mountain Review, Kweli, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Puerto de Sol, The Caribbean Writer, Wasafiri, and Witness. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Maryland and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from American University. Currently, she teaches literature at the University of Hartford.  

Friday, August 30, 2019

PALABRITAS Latinx Literary Publication: An Interview with Ruben Reyes, Jr.


an interview with Ruben Reyes, Jr.
conducted by Therese Marie Konopelski

PALABRITAS, a promising new Latinx literary publication from Harvard, creates a vital space for Latinx writers all over the country, of different ages, educational backgrounds, and writing experience within a prestigious institution. Ruben Reyes, who founded the magazine as an undergraduate, is now entering his first year as a graduate student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Following the release of the magazine's debut issue in the fall of 2018, we discuss Ruben's founding ethos of inclusivity for the magazine and his vision for the magazine in future issues, as he moves on from Harvard to his MFA program.

I am excited by the magazine's new platform for the next generation of Latinx poets and authors, and the powerful precedent it has set for student-led Latinx literary initiatives. Ruben's legacy of inclusive curation and highly collaborative leadership inspires faith in its continued relevance to U.S. Hispanic literature.

-Therese Konopelski, University of Notre Dame (class of 2020)

[Therese Konopelski]: First of all, congratulations on your first issue of Palabritas. It really is a spectacular collection of emerging and established Latinx poets and writers. How did the vision for Palabritas come about? Who were your main collaborators and how did they join the team?

[Ruben Reyes, Jr.]: Thanks so much for the chance to speak a little more about PALABRITAS. Before coming to Harvard, I wrote in secret and never really shared my creative writing publicly. When I got to Harvard, I met a lot of people who were more open about being writers, but I still had a hard time finding an organization where I felt comfortable sharing my fiction. So, after a few conversations with some of my Latinx peers I decided that a Latinx literary publication at Harvard would potentially be well-received. 

The specific vision was shaped by conversations I had with some of our editors concerning what it meant to be running this magazine out of an institution with the name recognition that Harvard has. We knew we wanted the publication to be as accessible as possible and powered by Latinx writers of all experience levels. But we felt that keeping it open only to Harvard affiliates would be inherently exclusionary, so we opened up submissions to Latinx authors all over the world. Once we decided that, we did outreach—mainly on social media—which got us submissions from all over. The final product was made possible because we accepted pieces from all over, which is why we’re excited to continue being a publication open to whoever feels inclined to trust us with their work.

[TK]: How was your experience obtaining administrative approval for the magazine at a PWI? Do you think the magazine will challenge notions of Latinx identity at Harvard? How do you see the magazine affecting similar prestigious institutions/organizations? What is your vision for the future of the magazine and its trajectory after you leave Harvard?

[RR]: Luckily, administration has been pretty hands-off with the entire process, especially since we’ve been functioning in collaboration with recognized Latinx cultural organizations on campus. I initially worried that finding an audience would be difficult, especially since Latinx students make up only about 11 percent of the undergraduate student body. Luckily, though, we had a lot of support from students and faculty of all backgrounds, and from the networks our contributors have in their hometowns. 

The fall issue definitely conveys a complex, and often contradictory, image of what Latinidad looks like. We were very cognizant, while reading submissions, that there’s no universal way of “being Latinx.” To that end, we wanted to make sure that the final product included differing ways of conceptualizing and experiencing the Latinx identity. We accomplished that by publishing work that speaks to a lot of the aspects of Latinidad often overlooked, including the narratives of Afro-Latinxs, Asian Latinxs, queer and LGBTQ Latinxs. 

I hope that PALABRITAS can serve as proof that formal experiences or prestigious distinctions aren’t a requirement for producing thoughtful, innovative, and emotionally stirring work. Too often, people get hung up on whether people have formal workshopping experience, or whether they’ve been published in prestigious literary magazines, or which authors they like reading. Those things can matter to individuals, but they’re not the end-all of “good” writing. The fantastic work we were able to publish by debut authors makes that clear. 

I just want to magazine to continue being published every semester. But beyond establishing ourselves as a consistent publication, I’d love us to engage in work that empowers individuals who aren’t given all the privileges and resources granted by a Harvard education. I’d love PALABRITAS to publish special issues full of work from groups often marginalized, in their lives in general but also in the literary world. Ideally, we’d work with non-profit or educational organizations already working with Latinx communities and collaborate on special issues. I’m imaging a special issue that focuses specifically on writings by immigrant youth or an issue dedicated to work by formerly incarcerated folks. The possibilities are endless, but I want a broader engagement with communities off Harvard’s campus in the future.

[TK]: Why did you choose to publish poets and writers of all experience levels? What is the vetting process for submissions like? Since the magazine is also a snapshot of contemporary Latinx poetry and prose, did you see any common themes surface in age group or experience level?

[RR]: Being published for the first time can be a huge boost (it was for me) so we wanted to ensure that some of the pieces in each issue came from writers who’ve never published their work before. Some of my favorite pieces in the fall issue are from people who’ve chosen PALABRITAS as the first place to share their writing.

After we closed our submissions, we de-identified every piece. Once they were anonymous, we passed them along to our readers who got to give both quantitative and qualitative feedback on the pieces on things like clarity and originality. After each round of reading, we talked specifically about the pieces that stuck out to us most and those we were uncertain about. It was a difficult process, but we narrowed it down to a number of pieces that were realistic for a journal of this length. It’s a tough process, and we ended up having to pass on a lot of pieces we really loved because of space constraints. 

It’s hard to categorize the pieces in neat lines, but I will say that the pieces in our fall issue touch on a lot of themes that have run throughout Latinx literature for decades—immigration, nostalgia for a homeland or parent’s homeland, relationship with language, identity-based struggles. But the pieces are also responding to a particular, more contemporary moment, with some of the pieces touching on the end of Temporary Protected States for Salvadorans or life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

[TK]: Will there be a Spring 2019 issue? What were a couple of your favorite poems/poets from the Fall issue and why?

[RR]: Yes! We are hard at work on the Spring 2019 issue. Since I’m writing a senior thesis, I’ve handed off the reigns of leadership to Josy Vera, one of our wonderful editors. She’ll be overseeing production of the Spring Issue. We’ve just closed submissions and are looking forward to reading pieces soon. We’re aiming for publication of the Spring issue in early April.

I loved a ton of the pieces in the fall issue. Salvadoran visual artist Óscar Moisés Díaz has a poem called “Home Movie March 21st, 2001” that they wrote after the Trump administration announced the end of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans. The poem is stunning, both visually on the page and in its language, and it’s hard to believe it’s the first poem they’ve ever published. 

My favorite short story is Melisa Santizo’s “Los Colores de Mi Pueblo.” The dialogue in the short story is so incredibly moving, and I love how she builds a setting that is so situated in a Latin American context, though that fact is never stated explicitly. It’s such a great read.

[TK]: What works intrigued you in the second submission round for the spring issue, and can you see broader thematic shifts between the two issues in response to contemporary moments, even within the space of the academic year?

[RR]: From this issue, I'm very excited about Patricia Triguero's fiction. She has a wonderful short story being published in the spring issue, and I'm particularly happy she submitted and that our editors selected her piece since I got to meet her in El Salvador this summer. There's a lot of really awesome work being done in literature and publishing in El Salvador, and Paty is one of the people who has been involved with that scene. I'm happy we get to showcase a bit of that in PALABRITAS.

[TK]: Now that you have decided to pursue an MFA, how has your perspective on your legacy of Palabritas changed? Perhaps comment on whether Palabritas has influenced your decision to pursue a career in creative writing, in lieu of entering the private sector, if you feel comfortable.

[RR]: As far as my next steps, I'll be starting an MFA in fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the fall. I definitely credit PALABRITAS for giving me confidence in pursuing my writing. The outpouring of support for the magazine, from readers, contributors, and people who have submitted, has reminded me of the need to continue investing in Latinx literature. I am holding onto that as I move forward to work on my own craft. I don't know how my MFA acceptance figures into the magazine's legacy, but I do know that PALABRITAS has been part of my development as a writer. I hope it can be that for other people moving forward.

Get your copy of the Spring 2019 issue at: 


Ruben Reyes Jr. is the son of two Salvadoran immigrants and a recent graduate of Harvard College where he studied History & Literature. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Florida Review Online, Strange Horizons, The Harvard Crimson, and other publications. He will be a MFA candidate in fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the fall.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

PINTURA:PALABRA -- a chapbook's journey

Letras Latinas has engaged the book art talents of Stephanie Sauer at ArtLyrics for the production and publication of this artisan chapbook. What follows is a photo gallery, with portions of the chapbook’s colophon serving as occasional captions.

PINTURA : PALABRA: an essay in VII movements by Rigoberto González (Letras Latinas, 2019) was designed by Stephanie Sauer of ArtLyrics in collaboration with Francisco Aragón. Sauer bound all copies by hand in her workshop in Brasília.

Each chapbook includes a flyleaf made from sustainably cultivated banana leaf fiber by artists Carmen Lúcia Prado and Leila Prado of Papel do Quintal in São Sebastião, Brazil.
Printing was done in offset in Gráfica Positiva in Brasília on Markatto Concetto Bianco 320g/m2 and Pólen Soft 80g/m2.

Binding was done with linen thread from Ireland. The text was typeset digitally in Poplar Std., Copperplate, and Garamond Premier.
This is a one-time only Edition of 100 + 40 with a publication year of 2019.
Forty chapbooks are destined to reside inside forty artistically designed boxes—each housing, as well, the six literary journals that published the portfolios that Rigoberto González has written his review/essay about.
Photo Gallery
&friends of 

Laurie Ann Guerrero 
 John Chavez
 Caridad Moro
Manuel Muñoz
 Valerie Martínez
Eduardo C. Corral
Alexandra Lytton Regalado 
 Dan Vera
 Carolina Ebeid
 Xico González
Mia Leonin
 Lucha Corpi
photo credit: 
Julie Duff 
Michael Mejia
Maya Chinchilla
 Alex Ramirez
 Brenda Cárdenas
Maria Melendez Kelson
Carlos Parada Ayala
Adela Najarro 
Samuel Miranda
Elisa Albo
Fred Arroyo
 Nancy Aidé González
Gina Franco 
 Rita Maria Martinez
Roy Guzman
Emma Trelles
 Francisco Aragón
 Natalia Treviño
Odilia Galván Rodríguez
Javier Pinzón
(surviving spouse 
of the late Francisco X. Alarcón)
Maritza Rivera
Paco Marquez
Carmen Calatayud
Juan J. Morales
Juliana Aragón Fatula
photo credit: Tracy Harmon
Blas Falconer
Graciela Ramírez
Joseph Rios
JoAnn Anglin
Paul Aponte
Reyna Grande & Daisy Hernández