Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez, 2019 George Garrett Award Recipient

Ekiwah Adler-Belendez

Among the wonderful surprises in store for those who attended AWP’s fundraising gala on Wednesday night, March 27, in Portland was the presentation of the George Garrett Award. This prize is named after the late George Garrett, a former poet laureate of Virginia, and one of AWP’s founding board members. Along with his profoundly rich body of work as a novelist and poet, George Garrett is remembered for his generous treatment of other writers. Dozens of younger writers, both students of his and others with whom he came in contact, were helped at crucial points in their careers by George Garrett.

Each year, AWP therefore honors the memory of George Garrett by recognizing someone who has also been an exemplar for our community in terms of teaching and mentoring, helping to edit and publish the creative writing of emerging or neglected talents, and both building and managing new resources to support writers. The award winner receives a $2,000 honorarium from AWP, together with our heartfelt admiration for the inspiration they offer in service to our community.

This year’s awardee is Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez. His story is one of remarkable perseverance and generosity. After traveling far from his remote mountain village home in Mexico to receive lifesaving spinal surgery, he returned to Mexico, where he established writing workshops for students who had rarely if ever encountered poetry in their lives. He formed student poetry groups, including a group for students in their twenties who were dealing with movement disabilities and varying degrees of cerebral palsy, helping these young people to transcend their physical challenges to harness their dreams, thoughts, feelings, and desires—to tell their stories in their own words. Ekiwah has hosted other poetry groups for much younger Mexican children, helping them to expand their horizons. Ekiwah also remains very active as a writer and as a widely traveled diplomat for poetry.

After receiving the award, Adler-Beléndez gave these remarks:

Thank you, AWP, for the George Garrett Award.

I only have three minutes, so I’ll speak in sound bites.

Omar: Teenager with a severe physical disability. Communicates with a simple wooden board. Painted black letters. Laser on his head - like what you would find in a toy shop. I doubted he could take my poetry class. After 45 minutes he beamed this:

When I play the piano

I begin

to exist.

Your smile is a dawn

of red plants.

Marie is 30, uses a walker, and lives with her parents. She wrote an ode to a handmade ragdoll. But we both noticed how sensual the poem was. Behind the rag doll, we saw her own womanhood struggling to manifest past images of childhood. Months later she disappeared. Her family announced on social media she was last seen with a ‘suspicious’ woman who helped her into a taxi.

“That lady is no kidnapper,” Marie whispered to me, over the phone. “She is my lover. I'm going to marry her.”

The work we did together in poetry opened a door to acknowledge herself as a sexual being. She’s now in hiding from her parents, but happily married.

While talented women and men in Mexico or anywhere are viewed (or, worse, view themselves) as “eternal children” incapable of lucrative artistic work, OR a sexual life, OR a family of their own because they are classified as disabled I cannot and will not stop.

This award is for students like Omar and Marie and for all writers with disabilities who struggle to receive the necessary attention to develop their talent.

I dream of an international workforce and union that will challenge and change what can and will happen to poetry students and writers with disabilities. I had parents, teachers, and friends who loved and encouraged me. Did not buy my fears disguised as weakness or that voice that told me my talents were too amateur to develop. I am dedicated to find such talent in others. Teach them not only what I learned but what they need beyond my learning. Thank you AWP for the chance to find such people.

I toast to Benjamín Mayer and Beatriz Miranda and Beth Jorgenson for the generosity of their vision. For the doors they open in Mexico for the rigor and critical commitment of artists, creators, and thinkers with and without"disability". 

I toast to Fran Quinn, my poetry teacher. If poetry has saved me and keeps saving me; if today I recognize the magnitude of its power it is thanks to Fran, who teaches us to believe in poetry, not as a mere rhetorical exercise, but as an arduous discipline.A way of seeing, hearing and rewriting a significant portion of one's own life and if we are lucky the life beyond it.

I toast to Barú Adler and Rosa Beléndez, my father and mother for their unconditional love and support. For being grandparents, father and mother heroically present, for being "a hard act to follow" (a difficult example to follow) every day. To my mother for infecting me with love, for seeking the right word. To my father for giving me the gifts of reading aloud and exposing myself to the world of silence

I toast to Greg Joselyn my best friend from our university years to date. For his kindness. And for accompanying me with attention and curiosity through the multiple drafts and the adventures of my poetry manuscript. From the moment I met him at the I suspected we would be inseparable friends. Years later, intuition has confirmed my fortune.

I toast Trinity Daudenthun and Daniel Wolley, for the gift of our brotherhood: Tribe, source of creativity, dance, poetry in movement. If this writer survives it is because of the strong loyalty and wisdom of such friends. We drink with water in wine glasses. 

Thank you to Joan Barnanow and David Watts for nominating me for this award and for our shared conviction poetry can be a potent medicine. 

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Each year, AWP welcomes nominations for the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature. Consult our award guidelines for more information. Award recipients are selected by AWP's Board of Trustees.