Good evening. My name is Francisco Aragón and I direct Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. I work out of an office in Washington, D.C. and it’s a pleasure and an honor to be introducing this evening’s poet. One of the initiatives I oversee for Letras Latinas is the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, which supports the publication of a first book by a Latino or Latina poet in the United States. In 2006 one of the two runners-up for this Prize was titled Bury This Pig, and it was by a poet whose name was unknown to me at the time: William Archila. And although the final judge that year did not, in the end, choose William’s manuscript as the winner, Bury This Pig eventually became The Art of Exile— a book which, this past winter, was profiled in Poets & Writers in an article titled: “First things First: The Fifth Annual Debut Poets Roundup.” One of the poems from The Art of Exile went on to be featured at Poetry Daily, the popular online poetry site. In fact, many of the poems in this fine collection have been gracing the pages of literary journals for years, including in such publications as AGNI, The Georgia Review, Crab Orchard Review, Hanging Loose Press, and Puerto del Sol, to name a few. A native of Santa Ana, El Salvador, William has also been the recipient of a number of distinctions, including a 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowship from The Writer’s Center, which is what has brought him here tonight, as well as the Allan Scholarship in Poetry at the 2005 Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. And it was at Breadloaf that William’s work came to the attention of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Yusef Komunyakaa, who has this to say:
“The Art of Exile summons us to a place where one must reckon with the imperatives of the human soul, where William Archila is the reigning master of some breathtaking imagery that encompasses a practiced, lyrical certainty. There’s a deep singing at the center of Archila’s world…” And yet one may still ask the question: What is at the heart of Archila’s world? Dorianne Laux, a former finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry has, I think, an answer. She writes: “The Art of Exile is what William Archila works to perfect in this first book of poems about El Salvador, a country ‘small as a paper cut.’ Archila breathes life into the boys and men left behind who have died in the dirt roads and stubble fields of his lost homeland as he builds the language of a new life in the north, a language steeped in jazz and blood, tobacco and chalk, concrete and dust…History, poverty, family and faith move these poems into mysterious territories where the living speak to the dead and the dead speak back.” Please join me in welcoming William Archila.