#AWP19 Featured Presenter Q&A with Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
AWP | January 2019
Event Title: Consequences of Silence, Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts
Description: As poets, we love language—and fight with it. Language (in the mouth, on the page) is one way humans can experience and express the world: not only words on a page, but a bodily feeling as one speaks and hears poetry. These are ways language creates meaning, and helps us define ourselves and belong. The illusion of belonging is when language fails us: draws us in, but holds us at a distance. True belonging is when language connects us across time, languages, cultures, and emotional divides.
Participants: Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Simon Armitage, Samiya Bashir, Camille Dungy
Location: Oregon Ballroom 201-202, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2
Date & Time: Thursday, March 28, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.
What are some of the conference events or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing at AWP?
I always love the offsite events and packing elbow to elbow into a sweaty basement somewhere. It can be a toss-up if there’s no mic and no one can hear the reader, or someone decides to read their 30-minute epic, but I like the ruckus.
If you’ve been to an AWP before, what is your favorite conference memory?
My favorite conference memory would probably be during AWP LA. Every year me and a group of close friends have started a tradition to room together which is just an excuse to gossip, reminisce, and sometimes do the important work of healing each other’s wounds we carried back from our respective homes in different parts of the country. During LA, I felt especially hurt and was overcome with grief. Beneath the warm California sun in the backyard of our weekend rental, sitting on lounge chairs and sipping on mojitos and palomas, I restored myself in the company of people who I loved but who I was sad that I only saw once a year. I never thought I could sunburn until that day. That’s how long we were out there. It was magical.
What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
I’ve really enjoyed Sandra Simonds’s book Orlando from Wave Books, which opens with a long dreamlike meditation on the city but also a city embodied. CAConrad’s While Standing In Line For Death was great as well, also from Wave Books. I really loved Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary, from Cleveland State University Poetry Center, which is a lyrical nonfiction book broken up into what I can only call short observations/lyric prose essays such as “On Catastrophe,” and “On Measurement.” There’s a nonfiction book out from City Lights books by Todd Miller called Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, that changed so much of what I thought about surveillance, borders, the refugee crisis, and their intersections with climate change. I liked a lot of other books but another one I came back to this year and one I taught again was Carolina Ebeid’s You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior. I think it’s going to be a modern classic.
Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
In a way, indirectly, you could say the majority of my career has been made possible thanks to public funding for the arts. But more specifically it has made a difference in where I have chosen to live and what I have chosen to do with my life here. I work with the local Yuba-Sutter Arts Council in my Northern California town of Marysville that has a population of about 12,000 people and we receive a tiny amount of state funding to bring literature to the community. I teach poetry at the local juvenile hall and at a few alternative high schools and will lead the county’s top candidates to the statewide Poetry Out Loud competition. It’s a new role that I’m playing: the one in which I am providing the programming for others and it’s very rewarding. But in terms of how that affects my own writing and my own career, it means that I am relatively isolated from the literary world. Which, to be honest, is a gift at times, it’s liberating. I’ve thought of moving to a larger city but I think I’ve made a peaceful life for myself here. I have my own large study where I write and the landscape here has really affected where my writing has taken me for my next book. Being able to benefit from these public funds and living a somewhat quiet, yet fulfilling life teaching small workshops for at-risk youth has been a true blessing. It’s tragic how many cuts there have been to arts programs and I hope I can continue this course for at least a few more years for as long as there’s funding.
If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP19, who would it be and what would you talk about?
If I could choose to run into any author, I would choose to see C.D. Wright just one more time. She left so suddenly. She was the first person to get me involved in literary translation, which led me to discover a part of myself and the language of my birth that I had kept hidden for so many years. We were translating a book together when she passed. I miss her a lot.
If you’ve been to Portland before, what places do you recommend that our attendees visit?
I’ve actually never been to Portland even though I live on the west coast so I’m really excited to explore the city myself.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo is a poet, essayist, and translator. He is the author of Cenzontle (winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Prize), Dulce, and Children of the Land. A CantoMundo Fellow, he cofounded the Undocupoets campaign.