The Alta California Chapbook Prize & Why You Should Submit
At LLB2 we always want to know more about organizations and community members who are working to uplift Latinx literature in meaningful ways, so we asked Emma Trelles to tell us more about the story behind the prize. We also asked the four previous chapbook winners to share their experience with winning the prize and publishing with Gunpowder Press.
The deadline to submit is October 1 so we recommend you send your manuscript ASAP! Submit here!
Meet the Series Editor: Emma Trelles
Emma Trelles is the author of Tropicalia (U. of Notre Dame Press), winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, and she’s completing her next collection of poems titled Courage and the Clock. She is the 9th Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara (2021-23) and, in August 2022, was named one of 22 Poet Laureate Fellows across the country by the Academy of American Poets. She is a 2023 recipient of an Established Artist Fellowship from the California Arts Council, a CantoMundo Fellow, and the recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she curates the Mission Poetry Series and is the series editor of the Alta California Chapbook Prize, awarded to Latina/e/o/x poets residing in the U.S. and published by Gunpowder Press in bilingual editions in the spring.
LLB2: The Alta California Chapbook Prize is unique in that it publishes two chapbooks as bilingual editions and allows manuscripts to be submitted in English or Spanish. Could you tell us why you created the prize and what you hope for the prize to accomplish?
Emma Trelles: My first major initiative as the 9th Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara (2021-2023) was to partner with Gunpowder Press to create this prize; they are a small, local, & mighty independent press that publishes writers from across the country, and I was grateful for how they enthusiastically welcomed my idea.
At the time, we were open to Latina/e/o/x poets throughout California, published or unpublished, as a way of amplifying and honoring the voices of our poets through publication in bilingual editions, a $250 honoraria, 10 copies of their chapbook, and an invitation to read at the Mission Poetry Series, which I’ve been curating for the last 9 years or so here in Santa Barbara.
For this inaugural contest, I was the judge and translator, and I selected two collections: Grief Logic, by Crystal AC Salas, a Xicana educator and community organizer, and Levitations by Nic Reiner, a sportswriter, educator, and communications professional. The bilingual component was important to me because I wanted the poets’ work available to as many readers as possible. Not everyone who cares about Latinx literatures reads English, nor do they all read or speak Spanish, and publishing the poems in both languages meant more inclusivity and a wider relationship between the poets and their readers.
After the books were published and the poets came into town to read to a full house at the downtown public library, I was especially moved when I learned that, for the first time, Crystal’s grandmother would be able to read her poems because they would finally appear in Spanish, her native language. This really showed me how important a bilingual project like this one can be across generations and communities.
Since then, we’ve awarded two more prizes and published two more amazing chapbooks: On Display, by Gabriel Ibarra, and Sor Juana, by Florencia Milito; both were selected by last year’s judge Francisco Aragón
This year, the prize is now open to Latina/e/o/x poets residing anywhere in the U.S. and the two prize winners will receive $500 each, as well as the usual invitation to read at the Mission Poetry Series. This year’s judge is Alexandra Lytton Regalado, who helped translate last year’s winners and who will work on this year’s translations as well. Alex is a longtime poetry sister, since grad school, and I just love collaborating with her.
I’ve programmed quite a bit of literary arts initiatives in our communities, and this project is one that has brought me so many unexpected joys and even friendships. Gunpowder Press is such a thoughtful partner and they bring a beautiful design aesthetic to all of the books they publish. And working with each of our poets has been a gift because I’ve learned something about their humanity and our shared languages. It’s a lot of work, but it’s meaningful to me and it matters. I feel lucky to be able to do this.
Meet the Alta California Winners
We asked all the winners the same question: Could you tell us what impact winning the Alta California Chapbook prize has had on your life and what your experience working with Gunpowder Press was like?
Florencia Milito is a bilingual poet, writer, and translator whose work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Indiana Review, Catamaran, Diálogo, 92nd Street Y, Quiet Lightning, Ninth Letter, Latinas: Struggles & Protests in 21st Century USA, Zócalo Public Square, womenvoicesforchange.org, and GUEST, among others. A Hedgebrook and Community of Writers alumna and CantoMundo fellow, her writing has been influenced by her early experience fleeing Argentina’s 1976 coup, subsequent childhood in Venezuela, and immigration to the United States at the age of nine. In 2020, she read at the 8th Winter Warmer Poetry Festival in Cork, Ireland. Her bilingual poem Song of Transformation was featured in the UC Berkeley Arts Research Center’s Fall 2021 Flash Reading Series. Her bilingual collection Ituzaingó: Exiles and Reveries / exilios y ensueños was published in 2021 by Nomadic Press.
Florencia Milito: The whole process happened around the same time I learned that Nomadic, the press that published my first bilingual collection, was closing. Moreover, my family had recently relocated from San Francisco to Davis, my kids were struggling with the move, and I felt particularly unmoored. Eventually most of the Nomadic books (including mine) would find a new home with Black Lawrence Press, but that only materialized later. At the time, actively working on a new manuscript for publication with Gunpowder Press provided much-needed encouragement and light. It was thrilling to have a manuscript that I had worked on over the course of many years in print, and particularly important to me that it was published in a bilingual edition. Everyone who worked with me on the translation (Emma Trelles, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, and Josué Andrés Moz) treated my long poem with the utmost attention to detail and care. They were very patient with my obsessive tendencies! And Chryss Yost’s design and layout for the book was delicate and perfect. Also, the Mission Poetry Series reading in Santa Barbara with my co-winner Gabriel Ibarra and Spacks prizewinner Catherine Esposito Prescott was a warm and soulful event, and one attended by several Santa Barbara poet laureates! I loved all the beautiful details, including the broadsides. It also was an honor to see the chapbook appear in Urayoán Noel’s list of Latinx poetry for 2023.
Gabriel Ibarra was born and raised in Fresno, CA. He earned an Honorable Mention for the 2011 Ernesto Trejo Poetry Prize, awarded by the Academy of American Poets, judged by the late Phil Levine. His poetry has been published in the Packinghouse Review, and from 2014-2016, to honor his roots as a Puentista, he served as a Puente Program Mentor at Fresno City College. Currently, he teaches as a full time English Lecturer at Fresno State, and serves as the Campus Liaison for the Fresno State Creative Writing Alumni Chapter, whose goal is to connect multiple generations of Fresno writers.
Gabriel Ibarra: Winning the Alta California Chapbook prize provided the opportunity for my poems to breathe beyond myself and trusted readers: via conferences, featured readings and a writers summit, as well as publication and (wide) distribution from Gunpowder Press. In working with them (Chryss, David, and Emma), it’s been so rewarding: on layout, cover design, and specifically on translation of my poems to Spanish, seeing them side by side, seeing the moments of the poems in a new light (idioma). Ultimately, being selected by Francisco Aragón, validated my work, opening the door for my voice to be heard.
Crystal AC Salas was selected as a winner of the Alta California Chapbook Prize for her book Grief Logic. She is a Xicanx poet, essayist, educator, and community organizer. She was born and raised in Ventura County as well as the San Fernando Valley, which is where she lives currently. She recently completed her MFA in Poetry at UC Riverside where she also provided arts and storytelling outreach as a Gluck fellow and Along the Chaparral fellow. Presently, she is a writing coach and community poetry workshop facilitator at the Moorpark College Writing Center, and serves as a poetry editor at BreakBread Magazine. Her work has appeared in Northwest Review, [PANK] Magazine, Chaparral Poetry, The Acentos Review, Inscape Magazine and others.
Crystal AC Salas: Winning the Alta California Chapbook prize was a profound, world-expanding, life- changing experience. Once upon a time, not too far in the past, I was a young poet being told that I basically would be LUCKY to find a publication that would be willing to take my codeswitching in its entirety. (That gatekeeper was ill-informed, and I know that now, but that sentiment could have been damaging with long-lasting effects.) So, to have my book translated into my heritage language felt like a once-in-a-universe opportunity (and unfortunately, it is way rarer than it should be.) This opportunity not only accepted my codeswitching, it embraced it into the fully-fledged second tongue of its ancestors, a language within which this poet grew up to understand being. To have my words given a home that represents the duality of my linguistic soul was not only vision-affirming, but psychologically healing. This opportunity has gifted me with the connection to a wider audience, including my own family in MX who were finally able to read my writing. The best of this was that my 92 year old abuelita, and one of the central voices of these poems, could read it and give me a review; the only one I truly care about. :) The fact that this contest makes space for two co-winners was one of the best parts as well. My co-winner, Nic Reiner, author of Levitations, and I felt an instant kinship upon meeting each others' work. Nic is my poetry primo forever! We planned a tour together and got to go to many venues, from LibroMobile in Santa Ana, to the Fresno Lit Hop to a panel on Poetry in Grief at Beyond Baroque. I would definitely not have had the courage to promote my own book without a partner to join me and because of this partnership, we were/are able to connect with so many more communities than we may have otherwise. Emma, Chryss, and David opened the Santa Barbara poetry community to me welcoming and generous arms. Emma's translation of my work, and the nuances of a Mexican/Mexican-American Spanish that differed from her own (because there is no Pan-latinidad!) was sensitive, thoughtful, and loving. I felt truly read, seen, and heard in a way I didn't know to be possible when she first sent me her translation for review! Chryss involved me in the cover design process and I felt empowered to give feedback and make choices! David was so gracious and made us feel properly welcomed, honored, celebrated for our work in all correspondence leading up to publication. My book is available pretty much anywhere online that books are sold, and I know Gunpowder Press put in the labor to make that happen. I would HIGHLY recommend submitting to this prize. There is a group of GOOD people and generous literary citizens working behind it who will treat your manuscript with care upon submission, and if your work is selected, they will work hard to love it into the world.
Nicholas Reiner was selected for the Alta California Chapbook prize for his book Levitations. He is an American poet of Mexican heritage. His work appears in Spillway, Aquifer: The Florida Review Online, Fourteen Hills, Yemassee, and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. He holds degrees from Stanford University and the University of California, Irvine, where he completed an MFA. He is Director of Communications at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters.
Nic Reiner: Winning the Alta California prize has meant I have a little book in the world, which was a dream of mine. And for it to be published in a bilingual edition? I joked that I’m going to work that into every book contract I have in the future, because of how high the bar was set and how grateful I am for more of our people to access my work. Also, having this chapbook in the world allowed me to go on tour and have something physical my readers could hold.
I was treated with such care by Emma Trelles, David Starkey, and Chryss Yost. The book itself was a gift to hold and see come to life (from the translation, the cover design, and the printing). My family in Mexico has copies and was able to access it—in part because of the translation. Emma in particular was so generous with her words, her translation, and her time. I feel very indebted to the entire Gunpowder Press family for embracing me into their community as a writer and a person.