Professor Rigoberto González, Director of Rutgers University–Newark’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, has been selected by Library of America (LOA) to be Principal Humanities Advisor for Latino Poetry, a national public humanities initiative planned for 2024–25.
The project, funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is being directed by LOA, a nonprofit publisher and cultural institution, in partnership with the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, arts organizations, museums and libraries nationwide. It will include signature events in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio/Houston, New York City, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as scholar-led public conversations in 75 public libraries around the country, online resources and a media archive.
The centerpiece of LOA’s initiative, around which many of the events will revolve, is a groundbreaking literary survey titled, Latino Poetry: A New Anthology, edited by González, the first anthology to embrace the entire tradition of Latino poetry in all its many strands and from its 16th-century beginnings to the present. Published in the authoritative Library of America series, it will stand as a permanent legacy of the project. In his role as Principal Humanities Advisor, González will also help organize and host events across the country, working with LOA’s literary partners to promote the book.
"I feel quite honored to be tasked with this project, which I consider a milestone in my career as a writer and critic,” said González.
González is the author of 17 books of poetry and prose, including novels, memoirs, young-adult novels and bilingual children’s books, and has accumulated a long list of prestigious honors throughout his career, such as Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships. He was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and is a winner of the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the American Book Award, The Poetry Center Book Award, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Shelley Memorial Award of The Poetry Society of America, among others. In addition to teaching and writing, González serves as critic-at-large with the L.A. Times and sits on the Board of Trustees of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
I feel quite honored to be tasked with this project, which I consider a milestone in my career as a writer and critic.
This made González a perfect fit for the LOA Latino Poetry role. He was chosen especially because of his expertise as a book critic of Latino literature, particularly contemporary poetry.
González says that LOA decided to focus on a Latino poetry initiative after the success of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Poetry and Song, which the group published in 2020. LOA Publisher and President Max Rudin wanted another project that addressed America’s complex ethnic heritage, and the logical next step was to consider Latinos. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 62.1 million Latinos living in this country, or 18.9 percent of the total population.
Like the African American poetry anthology, the Latino poetry anthology needs to consider history, heritage, culture and identity, focusing on poetry written in the U.S. dating back to the colonial period. Because “Latino” is a 20th century term, says González, the bulk of the anthology is dedicated to poets born in the 20th century.
“Finding poems dating back from the 1500s to the 1800s was challenging because so much was lost, and it’s mostly prose that survives in the archives. But there’s enough to get a sense of the urgencies and preoccupations written about during those earlier periods,” says González. “From the 20th century to the present, there’s an explosion of work—an embarrassment of riches—and that, too, presented a challenge because I had to be quite selective. Although there are plenty of entries representing contemporary Latino poetry, not everyone could be included.”
González will arrange the book once all the selections are in and will write a comprehensive introduction to the anthology. After that he’ll focus on hosting events across the country to provide a platform for the book.
“We have partnered with a number of literary and arts organizations, including the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), the National Book Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, and the Poetry Society of America, to name a few," says González. “These associations helped us receive those generous funds from the NEH, and the faith that these organizations have placed in the Latino poetry project only affirms that we’re developing something urgent and topical, and certainly long-awaited. My hope is that the anthology will find its audience in the general reading public.”