#AWP16 Featured Presenter Q&A with Rigoberto González

AWP | March 2016

Event Title: A Reading & Conversation with Rigoberto González, Marilyn Nelson, & D.A. Powell, Sponsored by the Poetry Society of America
Description: Three acclaimed contemporary poets Rigoberto González (PSA Shelley Memorial Award, 2011), Marilyn Nelson (PSA Frost Medalist 2014), and D.A. Powell (PSA Shelley Memorial Award, 2015) will read from their work.  The reading will be followed by a conversation moderated by PSA Executive Director Alice Quinn.
Participants: Rigoberto González, Marilyn Nelson, Alice Quinn, and D.A Powell
Date & Time: Friday, April 1, 2016, 3:00pm – 4:15pm

Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) and/or bookfair exhibitors you are most excited to see?
A: I’m looking forward to Claudia Rankine’s keynote speech. Citizen: An American Lyric is a cultural phenomenon and I’m curious to hear what her vision of the world is after so many interactions with readers and with the increasingly troubled reality of our times. I am also a huge Rabih Alameddine and Douglas Kearney fan, so I’m planning to stalk them a bit. At the bookfair, you will find me buzzing around at the NBCC booth because I enjoy hanging out with my fellow book critics, and I am always on the lookout for small press titles, chapbooks and broadsides. If there’s a bar at the bookfair, I’m so there.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: One of my favorite books of 2015 is actually AWP’s Donald Hall Prize for Poetry winner, Karankawa by Iliana Rocha. I reviewed it for The Rumpus. I had plenty of flattering things to say about it. Other faves include Sandra Cisneros’ A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, the anthology of essays edited by Abayomi Animashaun titled Others Will Enter the Gates: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences, and Writing in America, Matthew Salesses’ The Hundred-Year Flood, and John Keene’s Counternarratives—challenging and mind-blowing.

Q: Given how much time writers spend alone to practice their craft, what do you think are the advantages of creating the large community that exists at the AWP conference? 
A: The conference creates an incredible momentum that many who live outside the big cities don’t get to experience often. It’s overwhelming, but it’s also quite rewarding. I remember attending my first AWP Conference back in 1998. I was a graduate student in Arizona and suddenly the notion of being an author (as opposed to a writer) became less abstract—there we were, all us book nerds in one room. I felt I had just been dropped on an island in which these strangers turned out to be my true tribe. A few years later I participated on an LGBT panel for the first time and it was one of the most important experiences for me because I felt nervous and brave and the folks in the audience were extremely encouraging and receptive. All of that affection I received as a young professional nurtured me into the next stage of my career as a published writer. Meeting my publishers and editors and fellow writers face-to-face, listening to the cutting-edge work written by the next generation of poets, sitting in on panels that shared advice about craft, process, professional development—all of these components made me want to return to the conference every year, and to encourage my own students to begin thinking about investing some time and energy on being part of this community.   

Q: Outside of the conference, what about Los Angeles are you looking forward to? Are there any Los Angeles activities you would recommend to conference attendees? 
A: I was raised in Southern California and I spend a few weeks a year there, so I’ll get my fix of the West Coast on another occasion. The truth is I rarely leave the conference to explore the host city—AWP keeps me busy and most of my socializing takes place at the bookfair visiting my publishers or friends who run presses and magazines. And since I encourage my students to invest plenty of time at the bookfair, I often run into them and each meeting is an opportunity to exchange book (and booth) recommendations. I will be hosting an off-site event this year on behalf of the University of Arizona Press, so I am looking forward to that event, which is taking place at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes!


Rigoberto Gonz├ílez Rigoberto González ;is the author of fifteen books, most recently the poetry collection Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. A professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark, he is the recipient of Guggenheim, NEA, and USA Rolón fellowships; an NYFA grant in poetry; the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America; the Poetry Center Book Award; the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award; and the 2015 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Publishing Triangle.

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