Meet Library of America's Latino Poetry Fellow & Apply For a LOA Grant
Latino Poetry: The Library of America Anthology
Edited by Rigoberto González
Publication date: September 2024
We were thrilled when we first learned that Library of America (LOA) would be releasing Latino Poetry: The Library of America Anthology, edited by Rigoberto González. Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with LOA's team over Zoom about the anthology and their plans for the launch. LOA’s most ambitious undertaking to celebrate the anthology and Latinx poetry is called Places We Call Home; a major public humanities initiative consisting of signature events slated to happen across the country throughout 2024-2025. In addition to those signature events, they are also providing Program Partner grants for public, academic, and community college libraries, museums, and nonprofit community organizations so they might plan their own events to highlight the anthology in their local communities. Per the application, “Grants may be used for: honoraria for local poets and scholars; travel expenses; actor/performer fees; publicity and promotion; refreshments; or other costs associated with programs.” We encourage you to visit the Latino Poetry website to learn more about the anthology and the Program Partner Grants. The application deadline is January 5th, 2024
In the meantime, 2024 will mark Letras Latinas’ 20th anniversary (2004 – 2024). We have a number of events planned throughout the calendar year, which we will soon be unveiling, but we also intend to partner with a couple of libraries, as well as a fellow Poetry Coalition organization to amplify the Library of America’s anthology. We at Letras Latinas hope you will consider joining us in these efforts by coordinating events in your local communities and applying for a Library of America grant.
To help promote the anthology and this special grant opportunity, we recently sent Susana Plotts-Pineda some questions to find out more about the types of events they hope to see from applicants. We also invited Susana to tell us about her work as the LOA Latino Poetry Fellow and her own work as a poet and artist.
-Brent Ameneyro and Laura Villareal
Susana, you're a poet and artist. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic practice and how you came to poetry and art? Are you currently working on any personal projects that you're excited about?
Yes, I am a poet and artist with a background in theater and performance. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for a bit under a decade and spent my growing up in Austin, Texas; Puebla, Mexico; and Boston. Throughout my life, I’ve come to different creative practices in varying ways, but writing was definitely my earliest, most instinctive impulse, and one that I think I only came to understand as poetry much later in life. When I was younger, I was bouncing between languages and cultural contexts, and I think writing felt like a place where I could express myself in my own terms and in my own time. As I got older, I began seeking more embodied, collective forms of artmaking and became interested in theater and performance. In the past few years, I’ve continued to pursue performance and film in different forms, and I’ve come to understand that even when I’m writing for the stage or working on a film project, everything stems from the idea of poetry as an elemental unit or unifying concern--but I’ve also returned to the page in a very direct way. Overall, I usually make work that is, in some way, research-based and concerned with archives, history, and the idea of “collaging” or putting together disparate mediums and eras, but that also engages with the speculative and with genre itself in playful or indirect ways. Currently, I’ve finished a first manuscript-length project, which deals with certain episodes of the drug war in Colombia and Mexico, a post-historical swamp, and a series of invented museums in a hybrid between poetry and prose.
As the Latino Poetry Fellow at the Library of America, what does your day-to-day look like? What part of the fellowship is your favorite?
Because this is a multi-part initiative, the job of the fellow often involves wearing many hats, and so, my day-to-day can vary significantly. On a given day, I might be working on outreach, communicating with partner institutions, setting up readings and interviews with poets for our upcoming media archive, commissioning public humanities resources, creating project timelines, translating, or contributing to a series of editorial tasks. I enjoy a lot of aspects of the fellowship, but I think the opportunity to communicate directly with poets I admire has been a really wonderful part of it. I’ve also really enjoyed getting a sense of how an anthology like this one comes together and learning about the editorial process at large. Contributing to the book’s back matter has been a great way to discover more about the poets and its many interconnected, sometimes not readily accessible histories. Lastly, I’ve been grateful for the collaborative and dynamic environment at LOA, especially with a project like this one, which requires so much communication between different members of the team.
As an organization that puts together poetry events across the country, we here at Letras Latinas are always excited to hear what other organizations are doing in this area (the impetus and rationale behind them, choosing locations, plans to promote ambitious flagship events, etc.) Can you tell us more about the “signature events” mentioned on the website?
Absolutely. Following the anthology’s publication in September 2024, Places We Call Home programming will be anchored by major events in six cities that are culturally, artistically, and/or historically significant to Latin American diasporas and/or Latinx experience in the U.S.: New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and San Juan. These events will be hosted and co-organized by our partners The Clemente Center, Museum of the City of New York, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Library Foundation of Los Angeles, Chicago Public Library, Miami Book Festival, Books and Books, and Puerto Rico Endowment for the Humanities. I can’t speak about programs in extensive detail quite yet, but what I can say is that they will encompass a range of formats, from evening galas featuring by major poets and public figures, to outdoor festivals with music and performances. Something we’re really excited about, for example, is that the opening day of the Miami Book Festival will be dedicated to the anthology with panels moderated by Richard Blanco and Rigoberto.
It's wonderful to hear that LOA will be creating a Latino Poetry Reader to help make the anthology more approachable and teachable. As noted on the grant application, it says: "Featured poems will be provided in a free, downloadable Latino Poetry Reader, which will also include brief introductions to the humanities themes, biographies of poets, questions for discussion, and suggestions for further reading." Are the Humanities Advisors listed on the website some of the people working on content for the Latino Poetry Reader?
Yes, several of the advisors listed on the website will contribute essays to the Reader, each dedicated to a particular theme relevant to the anthology and the tradition, such as language, labor, identity, and exile, to name a few. In a larger sense, humanities advisors act as the project’s consultants throughout its different phases, supporting Rigoberto and advising the project team: reviewing the table of contents of the anthology and the proposed humanities themes, suggesting national partnerships, and, as the initiative progresses, reviewing and vetting all public humanities content, resources, and materials.
One passage in the application guidelines reads: [S]uccessful grantees are required (our emphasis) to present a minimum of two programs, one of which must be a reading and discussion drawn from the Latino Poetry Reader and moderated by a poetry scholar. There are three areas we think prospective applicants would appreciate clarification on. In addition to a program that features a poetry reading followed by a scholar-moderated discussion, could you give some examples of other types of “programs” that would meet this two-program requirement?
Definitely. I think we wanted to leave this guideline open to give project coordinators room to conceive events relevant to their expertise and communities. The second event can essentially be anything, as long as it engages with the tradition in a meaningful and accessible way. Libraries might, for example, host a panel discussion, an exhibition, an open mic night, a poetry reading with invited guest poets, a film screening and discussion, a writing workshop, a live interview with a poet in the anthology, or a talk by a scholar. Programmers might consider using poems as prompts for visual arts, theater, or cross-disciplinary activities and workshops, perhaps in partnership with a local university or partner organization. We’re excited about distributing the Reader as a starting-off point for libraries and organizations to do what they know how to do best. We hope and anticipate that that programmers will engage their communities with Latino poetry in ways that go beyond what we might have conceived, because part of the goal of the initiative, or at least how I see it, is to bring poetry from the page into people’s lives in personal, collective, embodied, and community-specific ways.
With regard to the term “poetry scholar:” Does the LOA require that a program’s designated “poetry scholar” hold a doctorate or other specific academic title, or can this person be, for example, a poet with substantive knowledge of the field and experience moderating these types of discussions?
Not necessarily. We don't want to be too prescriptive on what constitutes or legitimizes scholarly expertise in the field. As you mention, a poetry scholar might very well be a recognized poet in a community who can effectively and enthusiastically moderate a high-quality discussion on the Latino poetic tradition with an audience that might be new to it. So yes, the poet-scholar should definitely be immersed and knowledgeable in Latinx poetry and poets, and more often than not their expertise might be reflected through some kind of academic trajectory, but this isn't a strict prerequisite.
With regard to the Latino Poetry Reader. If a prospective library applicant has access to, and/or is collaborating with, a consultant with substantive knowledge of the field of Latinx poetry, does the applicant have leeway to shape a reading and scholar-moderated discussion that involves poets who are in the LOA’s Latino Poetry anthology, but not necessarily in the Latino Poetry Reader?
Oh definitely. The Reader is meant to serve as an entryway or an accompaniment to the multiple poetic worlds contained in the anthology. The book is vast and comprehensive, spanning four centuries and the many traditions, cultures, movements, schools, languages, etc. that are contained in the larger universe of Latino poetry, so we anticipate situations in which finding an entry point to planning an event could be daunting. The Reader is intended to provide suggestions, resources, and guideposts. So, if a librarian or moderator is drawn to poets not in the Reader, or if a library system has a special connection to a poet – maybe they have the archive, as the Denver Public Library has Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’—they can definitely envision events around those kinds of resources and expertise.
On a larger scale, what is the ideal outcome of these partnerships? In the short term – how do you plan on supporting the grantees throughout this process? And in the long term – do you plan on maintaining relationships with these organizations beyond the grant programming?
The ideal outcome of these partnerships is to provide the support necessary for a wide-ranging engagement with Latino poetry. In the short term, we will be providing libraries with $1,200 in funding, an award packet with logistical and administrative support, and the downloadable Latino Poetry Reader, comprising featured poems grouped by core humanities themes with accompanying essays and discussion questions. In the spring of 2024, we will host a planning and training webinar for participating libraries with further ideas and logistical instructions on how to plan and execute programs. During this period, we will also be building an online media archive with recordings of readings and commentary by featured poets for libraries to screen at their events, including videos featuring Ada Limón, Sonia Sotomayor, Sonia Manzano, and others.
In a larger sense, by providing resources for libraries and organizations, we want to make the work of Latino poets accessible to various communities and audiences across the country and stimulate discussion on all the different realities and concerns this tradition encompasses, whether aesthetic, cultural, historical, political, spiritual, emotional, or all of the above. I hope that on the one side, these programs will encourage Latinos from all kinds of backgrounds to recognize aspects of themselves, their trajectories, their communities, their family histories in these poems–to feel affirmed, validated, held, or otherwise compelled by the work of these poets. On the other hand, I feel that the tradition we call Latino poetry is so vast and rich and multifaceted that there’s something there for everyone. These poems encompass an intricate network of political and social histories, about labor, ecology, exile, about the role of immigrants in America and about the role of America in the world, that I feel are important for Americans of all walks of life to think about. This is not to imply that poetry should be educational or at the service of politics, but rather that, as repositories of experience, voice, action, and questioning, these poems can unlatch new ways of looking at our past and our present by dissolving official or received narratives or orthodoxies. I also think that because so many of the poets in this tradition were so immersed in their communities, in having an embodied and active approach to poetry, in dissolving the boundaries between art, life, and social action, that it feels like the right way to pay homage to them is to support libraries and arts organizations in helping to bring poetry off the page and into their communities.
Beyond the programming period running from September 2024 through April 2025, there isn’t a set way in which we plan to maintain relationships with partner libraries. That being said, having participated in a public humanities initiative like this, these organizations will be part of LOA’s extended network and community and will likely be invited to participate in future public humanities initiatives.
Susana Plotts-Pineda is an artist and writer. Her writing has been featured in The Brooklyn Rail, Kitchen Magazine, Global Performance Studies, Waif Magazine, and is forthcoming in Lana Turner. Recently, her manuscript was selected as a finalist at Wendy's Subway. Her performances and film have shown at Performance Studies International, Beam Center’s The Lighthouse on Governors Island, and the Orange County Film Fiesta.