"Thank you Joe. And thank you all for being here. As Joe mentioned, I direct Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. I do so from an office here in the district, and crucial to our work are partnerships. I’m grateful, therefore, to be collaborating tonight with the Poetry Society of America and the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series here at the Folger Shakespeare Library. But Letras Latinas programs in Washington would not be possible without the generosity of the Weissberg Foundation. So I’d like to offer my gratitude to them, as well.
Years ago in a bookstore in San Francisco, I picked up a journal called New American Writing. In the table of contents, I read a name I’d never seen before, the name of our first reader this evening: J. Michael Martínez. His poem, titled “Xicano” (spelled with an X), was a revelation. It deployed strategies often associated with the more innovative or experimental tendencies in American poetry. The poet-critic Rigoberto González, in referring to his first volume, writes: “Martinez’s book is nothing short of a breakthrough for Chicano poetics.”
A native of Colorado, Martínez is also an essayist and librettist. In addition to New American Writing, his work has appeared in various publications, including Crab Orchard Review, Mandorla and The Denver Post. A recipient of the 2006 Five Fingers Review Poetry Prize, Martínez has received residencies from CantoMundo, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center. Heredities, his debut book, was winner of the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award, and published by Lousiana State University Press. He holds an MFA from George Mason University and is currently a PhD candidate in English at University of Colorado at Boulder.
J. Michael Martínez
My work with Letras Latinas allows me to interact with writers from the U.S. One bonus of moving to Washington in 2007 was being able to work more closely with our second reader this evening, Naomi Ayala, whose work I’ve admired for years. She has read at Notre Dame and she’s read in Palabra Pura, the series I've curated in Chicago. It’s a particular pleasure, therefore, to be introducing her tonight. A native of Puerto Rico, Ayala is the author of Wild Animals on the Moon and This Side of Early, both with Curbstone Press. Of this latter volume, distinguished poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes: “Haunting secrets scuttle along beneath the rafters of every day—she hears them in the mystery of animals and culture and time, connection and disconnection, sings their resonant song.” Naomi Ayala distinguishes herself as a poet who writes and publishes in English and Spanish. A resident of Washington, she is also a community activist who, until recently, served as the founding Executive Director of 826DC. Naomi is on the board of directors of DC Advocates for the Arts, she teaches at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and she teaches at the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMASS-Boston.
Our third and final reader tonight also embodies what it means to be a conscientious citizen in the literary community. Not only have a I been fan of Valerie Martínez’ work for over a decade, I’ve been able to count on her support for Letras Latinas in various ways. Valerie has served, for example, as a final judge of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, which supports the publication of a first book. In addition to a poet, Valerie is a translator, teacher, playwright, librettist, and collaborative artist. She is the author of six books, including Absence, Luminescent, winner of the Larry Levis prize, Word to World and, more recently, Each and Her, of which the poet Joy Harjo writes: “Each word in Valerie Martínez’s elegant lament is planted with urgent purpose. Each word is watered with grief.” Her poems have appeared widely, including in Best American Poetry, the Washington Post, and the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Everywhere series. She’s read her work all around the country, including at the National Book Festival here in Washington on the mall. She’s the Executive Director of Littleglobe, Inc., an artist-run non-profit that collaborates with communities on art and community dialogue. Valerie holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and was the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico from 2008 to 2010.