Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ada Limón selects The Inheritance of Haunting by Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes

Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes

Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, is pleased to announce Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes as the winner of the eighth edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, which supports the publication of a first book by a Latinx poet residing in the United States. The winning manuscript was selected by Ada Limón, whose citation reads:

A brutal, but necessary unveiling of violence and ghosts we carry with us daily, The Inheritance of Haunting sings the unbearable and still makes a claim for survival. These are intricate poems that are odes to the women who have come before us, odes to the women who have been silenced by fear, and odes to the “wreckage of centuries.” With language that is alive, inventive, sound-driven, and ricocheting with power, this is a fierce and breathtaking collection that risks calling for a great reckoning with our collective past.

Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes is a queer, disabled, mixed-race, second-generation Colombian immigrant, poet, artist, scholar, and activist. Her creative work has been published, exhibited, and performed in As/Us, Pank, Raspa, Word Riot, Feminist Studies, Huizache, the National Queer Arts Festival, The Sick Collective, the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division, SomArts, and Galería de la Raza, among other places. She was a semi-finalist for the 2017 92-Y/Unterburg Poetry Center Discovery Contest, and a semi-finals judge for the 2017  Youth Speaks/Brave New Voices National Poetry Slam Competition. Born in Arizona, and raised in California, she currently lives in Brooklyn.

Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes offered the following statement:

"We are incessantly subject to the ghost as an intrusion of histories of conquest and loss, their vociferations coursing in our mouths. Both liberating and terrifying, haunting is a gift, a mirror to our survival, our defiances, and that of generations before us. It is, too, a responsibility bestowed, for that which haunts us also entrusts us with what we will make of it all, urging us to labor, to conjure ungovernable life against the hold. It moves me, everyday, to be amidst an unyielding riot of poets, Latinx/a/o and otherwise, in this practice of summoning, of writing the world. Receiving the honor of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize is to be called further into this work, with those who dream against the violence and bear witness to the obstinate beauty of life—Montoya’s poetry itself lighting the way."

The Inheritance of Haunting is slated for publication in 2019 with University of Notre Dame Press. 


Ada Limón designated Honorable Mention status to:

Before the Body
by Lauren Espinoza

When the Revolution Finally Comes
by Willy Palomo

Homeboys With Slipped Halos
by Michael Torres

Friday, April 6, 2018

Diamond Grove Slave Tree: An Interview with Xavier Cavazos

Diamond Grove Slave Tree

an interview with Xavier Cavazos
conducted by Therese Marie Konopelski

Diamond Grove Slave Tree is a well-researched celebration of George Washington Carver's life and legacy. Cavazos brings a fresh and informative perspective on Carver as a man, illuminating aspects of his personal life that some biographies overlook. Cavazos' interpretation of Carver is both historically authentic and experimental, even exploring different genera of plants in Carver's own voice. As a skilled botanist, Carver surely must have had a deep appreciation for the beauty in nature, which Cavazos brings to life on the page.

Here Carver's inventions are recognized beyond their mere utility for their impact on farming life and indirect social activism. Carver's humble beginnings as a slave and resulting life journey are an inspirational triumph of ingenuity and spirit over racial discrimination. Having learned about George Washington Carver in grade school, I fully enjoyed Cavazos' uncensored look at Carver's writing through primary sources and coming to know Carver as a flawed (as we all are) and complex person. Race, agriculture, and themes of belonging fuel Cavazos' true-to-life narrative of Carver the intellectual and creative legend.

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

[Therese Konopelski]: For this book, you undertook extensive research on Carver’s life, making use of Iowa State University’s Parks Library Special Collections as well as the Carver Collection of the Deborah Lewis and the Ada Hayden Herbarium. In your preliminary findings, what details and discoveries were the most helpful in developing Carver’s voice? While you were exploring Carver as a figure, did you encounter any surprising details that you incorporated in the collection?

[Xavier Cavazos]: Mostly, it was Carver’s actual voice that helped shape the different speakers’ voices in the poems in Diamond Grove Slave Tree. There is a curious contemporary voice speaking to Carver, asking questions, telling current news/happenings, and giving praise. Then there is also Carver’s imagined voice, which was created from long hours and many months with the Carver collection at the Parks Library and in the herbarium. Carver slowly came to life, in what the creative writing program at Iowa State University calls “the environmental imagination” which is when the environment, the plant life, the biology, the sound of wind and flowing water, the soil and insects all start having a conversation with each other. Carver’s voice was at the center of all of that. 

The most surprising detail was revealed in a November 24th, 1926, letter Carver’s mentor Louis H. Pammel wrote to Carver (the letter was reprinted in Diamond Grove Slave Tree). Pammel was curious as to where Carver earned his Ph.D. and when? By this time Carver was already teaching at Tuskegee University and started signing his name with the “Dr.” prefix. In the response letter, Carver explained that a janitor at Tuskegee started addressing Carver as “good doctor” so Carver adopted the title into his name. I guess the letter, to me, felt like a slight. Carver was a genius of science and certainly was worthy of the prefix, and to Pammel’s credit, he stated that sentiment in the letter. I believe Pammel said he was asking because of records, but it just didn’t sit right with me. That letter became the catalyst to write, “Just Thought You’d Like to Know, Mr. Carver #2, because on May 14th, 1994, Iowa State University bestowed Carver with an honorary doctorate degree-so I thought he should know that.   

[TK]: The title of the collection, Diamond Grove Slave Tree, is also the title of a central poem in the section “Plants As Modified by Man.” Why did you imagine Carver being struck by the image of three trees, that were perhaps used for lynchings in the past? Do you see his rejection of the fear the trees inspired as a key moment in the book?   

[XC]: As a young boy, Carver witnessed a lynching in his hometown of Diamond Grove, Missouri. Carver wrote and talked about this experience and how it impacted him. I can only imagine what witnessing a traumatic event like this would do to a young person. In a way, I see Carver as always running away from that moment through his work. Carver rarely spoke of injustice; I believe Carver’s work as a botanist and educator was his statement and gift towards civil rights.

[TK]: The book is organized in a loosely chronological fashion following the events of Carver’s life. How did you choose which episodes and aspects to write about, and what informed your decision to name the work “Diamond Grove Slave Tree?” 

[XC]: Carver: A Life in Poems, written by Marilyn Nelson and published in 1997, drove the organization of my book. I was looking for the gaps, in terms of Carver’s story; between Diamond Grove Slave Tree and Carver: A Life in Poems. Marilyn’s book has about three to four poems about Carver while at Iowa State, so I knew that is where I needed to stay focused. There is definitely some “cross-pollination” going on in my book from Marilyn’s book. However, in the end, I focused on the events and stories that had the most impact towards Carver’s legacy at Iowa State, the stories where both Carver and the student body acted courageously. But make no mistake about it, Marilyn Nelson is the master; Diamond Grove Slave Tree is like the Iowa State appendix to her book. 

Diamond Grove, Missouri, is the birthplace of Carver. Carver was born one year before slavery was abolished, so he was born a slave and died a genius of science. The tree is a metaphor for how great Carver was for his contributions to the scientific world and race.

[TK]: What role does jazz play in your use of the line and sense of rhythm? What influence do you believe jazz had on Carver from your research, and why did you choose to include jazz-influenced techniques in the book?

[XC]: I’m not sure if what I was doing in Diamond Grove Slave Tree was jazz-influenced. What I was really trying to do with my use of the line was break language, interrupt language, and separate it as well. Carver was separated from the white world for most of his life so that was the aesthetic I wanted on the page. The other aesthetic I was looking for in terms of delivery on the page was a language that was incomplete; Carver never had all the items needed to be a successful scientist, yet he was still able to succeed with discovery. I think in Carver’s case, the saying “necessity is the key to ingenuity” was extremely true.

[TK]: The book makes extensive reference of different flora and plants that Carver used and improved upon as a botanist. Of these themed poems, how did you engage with the different genera so that you could poeticize them? Did you use Carver’s notes on them were you extrapolating from what he chose to draw in his notebooks?

[XC]: Most of that work came from my time in the Deborah Lewis and the Ada Hayden Herbarium. Carver collected over two hundred different species of genera and they are all there in the herbarium. I spent a lot of time reading his notations (his actual handwriting with a lead pencil, which I could smell off the paper) and looking at the plants, I waited and listened, and eventually the different species of plants began speaking to me in an imagined and real voice.

[TK]: Carver was a multi-talented genius, teaching and innovating throughout most of his life. Why did you choose to write about Carver, and for whom do you think the book will have the most impact?

[XC]: Carver’s legacy is one of the most important legacies at Iowa State University and I wanted to add to that story. There are several moments in the history of the university in which the student body transformed the narrative on race and social justice; I believe some of these moments are directly tied to Carver’s legacy. One example of this is when the student body campaigned to rename the football stadium after Jack Trice, the first African-American athlete at Iowa State University in 1923, who died in a football game against the University of Minnesota because of unfair play. 

I hope the book impacts other poets in regards to craft. We (poets) learn from each other, from our success and failures on the page. I really tried to do something different from what I was doing in Barbarian at The Gate, my Poetry Society of America award winning chapbook. I didn’t want to repeat myself as an artist in terms of aesthetic, delivery and voice.

[TK]: Carver possibly had an intimate relationship with his assistant Austin W. Curtis Jr., which you explore in “This Labor.” How did Carver’s somewhat sparsely un-documented personal life and guarded words influence your word choice in this poem? Why do you believe Carver was a private man?

[XC]: Carver was a very religious man. I don’t think his Christian faith would have ever allowed for Carver to consider anything but privacy. The smoking gun for me was that immediately after Carvers death, Booker T. Washington, had Austin W. Curtis Jr. removed from Tuskegee University. Carver and Curtis lived together on campus.

[TK]: What lessons from history do you believe Carver’s fame and legacy has for the contemporary scientific community or current racial justice movement? Did you find anything about his life journey from being born a slave to becoming a distinguished African American inventor relevant to your experience as a Hispanic-American and the Hispanic American trajectory?

[XC]: Absolutely, it’s that Carver succeeded. There is no remedy to counter the scales of social injustice like that of success and racial image. Racial image is everything and when young brown and black girls and boys see themselves in people who are brilliant it reaffirms that we are brilliant too.


Xavier Cavazos is the author of Diamond Grove Slave Tree (2015), the inaugural Prairie Seed Poetry Prize from Ice Cube Press, and Barbarian at the Gate (2014), which was published in the Poetry Society of America's New American Poets Chapbook Series. Cavazos was included in the Best American Experimental Writing (2015), and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and the Environment from Iowa State University. He currently teaches in the Africana and Black Studies and the Professional and Creative Writing Programs at Central Washington University and is an editorial assistant for Poetry Northwest.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Congratulations 2018 Fellows!


2018 CantoMundo Fellows

Diannely Antigua

John Manuel Arias

Oliver Baez Bendorf

Karla Cordero

Ricardo Alberto Maldonado

Carlos Matos

Lara Mimosa Montes

Jose Olivarez

Leslie Sainz

Raquel Salas Rivera

Ruth Irupé Sanabria

Analicia Sotelo

Dan Vera

Monday, March 12, 2018

Article & photo gallery: Javier Zamora in DC

Award-winning poet Javier Zamora visits Washington, D.C.
Javier Zamora at Sacred Heart School
photo credit: Dan Vera
by Therese Konopelski 

(Notre Dame class of 2020)

Javier Zamora, author of the poetry collection Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), visited Washington D.C. the week of February 26th.  Zamora made the journey from his native El Salvador to the United States as an unaccompanied minor in 1999 at the age of 9. Currently, he is a Wallace Stegner fellow in creative writing at Stanford University. 
That Monday he met with college students at the University of California Washington Center for their “Monday Night Forum.” He was interviewed by Notre Dame faculty member Francisco Aragón, who organized Zamora’s visit.  Following the interview, he spent time answering student questions. “The literary world is not accepting of undocumented people,” said Zamora, a TPS holder himself, inspiring student DREAMERS to “dream a better world to not be so hopeless.” Acknowledging the crossroads between art and politics, Zamora strives to “never be complacent and always try to grow” in his craft while teaching and fostering activism.
February 26: 

 photo credit: UCDC
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
On the afternoon of February 27th, Zamora visited Sacred Heart, an urban bilingual Catholic school in Columbia Heights, where many of the students are also of Central American heritage. The students in local poet Carlos Parada Ayala’s Spanish class translated and performed a select group of Zamora’s poems, prompting Zamora to take interest in translating his poetry from English into Spanish, as well. Zamora told the students that poetry was a “way to open up and to heal” when he started writing at 17. He signed books for the students, who all received Unaccompanied  due to the generosity of a local DC benefactor. “It was amazing, the connection we experienced between the kids and Javier,” Parada Ayala said, of Zamora’s transformative visit to the school.
February 27:
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
Sacred Heart students hold up their copies of Unaccompanied.
photo credit: Dan Vera
Javier Zamora taking a selfie with Sacred Heart students
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: Francisco Aragón

Following his time at Sacred Heart, Zamora enjoyed a happy hour meet-and-greet near Gallery Place with the staff of the Poetry and Literature Center of the Library of Congress (LOC) and the staff of the Literature Division of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), respectively. Zamora had been a recent recipient of an NEA grant in creative writing.
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
Javier Zamora with LOC and NEA staff

On February 28th, Zamora gave a public reading at the UC Washington Center. The Wednesday evening event was co-presented by Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, and Duende District Bookstore, and was publicized by a number of local literary organizations and universities, including: Casa de la Cultura El Salvador, Split This Rock, American University, the University of Maryland, and Georgetown University. Zamora debuted two commissioned poems as part of the Poetry Coalition’s 2018 program, “Where My Dreaming and My Loving Live: Poetry and the Body.” When asked, during the Q & A session afterwards, about poets like himself, Zamora said “There was no book about what I experienced in middle school and high school,” and that he anticipates “another huge wave of El Salvadoran poetry in 10 years.” After speaking about activism through his poetry and plans for his future Zamora remarked, “In my poetry and everyday life I’m searching for joy.”
February 28:
Duende District's Angela Spring. photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: UCDC
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
photo credit: Dan Vera

Ana Patricia Rodríguez, Javier Zamora
photo credit: Francisco Aragón
Javier Zamora signing books at the UC Washington Center
photo credit: Francisco Aragón

Zamora concluded his week-in-residence at the UC Washington Center on March 1st with a gathering of university students enrolled in “Politics and Poems: Writing Verse in DC,” a writing workshop offered by Notre Dame. When asked about editing, Zamora said “titles are the hardest thing for me” and that he is "obsessed with revision.” He spoke about his major literary influences including Roque Dalton and June Jordan (Poetry for the People), hoping that he could “honor their lineage of making poetry matter.”
Zamora felt inspired by his visit to Washington and, recalling his visit to Sacred Heart— perhaps the highlight of his DC visit—plans to translate some of his poetry this summer. “I thought, If these kids can do it, why can’t I?”
To learn more about Javier Zamora, visit his website:    

photo credit: Francisco Aragón
Dan Vera, Javier Zamora, Therese Konopelski
at Sacred Heart school