Professor Rigoberto González, Director of Rutgers University–Newark’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, has won the 2020 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.
The prestigious award is given in even-numbered years to a poet whose distinguished and growing body of work represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature, and who has expanded the scope of American poetry and continues to mature with each successive volume of poetry. The award, chosen by a panel of three to five poets or writers whose tastes and knowledge of contemporary American poetry are wide-ranging and thorough, comes with a $5,000 stipend.
“I'm extremely honored to be celebrated by this prestigious organization that has fought on behalf of incarcerated and silenced writers and journalists around the world, and that has defended freedom of expression in our country,” says González.
González, who has taught in RU-N’s MFA program since 2008, is the author of 15 books of poetry and prose, including novels, memoirs, young-adult novels and bilingual children’s books. He also edited Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing, Alurista's new and selected volume Xicano Duende: A Select Anthology, and a 2019 issue of Ploughshares. He has accumulated a long list of prestigious honors throughout his career, including Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships. He was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and is a winner of the American Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry, The Poetry Center Book Award, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize (from the Academy of American Poets), the Shelley Memorial Award (of The Poetry Society of America), and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award. He also received The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Publishing Triangle.
I'm especially touched that my work, with its focus on migration, working-class lives and the borderlands, is being recognized in such a significant way.
In addition to teaching and writing, González serves as critic-at-large with the L.A. Times, is a contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, and writes a monthly column for NBC-Latino online. He sits on the boards of three national literary organizations: Zoeglossia – A Community for Writers with Disabilities, the Poetry Society of America, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
PEN America has been at the forefront of writing, politics and activism for nearly 100 years. Founded in 1922, the organization works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. The group counts in its membership more than 7,200 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.
As this year’s panel of judges—Cornelius Eady, Deborah Paredez, Linda Gregerson, and Monica Youn—writes, González has “devoted his writing life not only to the development of his astonishing voice as a poet and non-fiction writer but to his astute and discerning craft as a reviewer and steadfast advocate for other Latinx voices.”
In accepting this latest award, González remains firmly connected to his roots, the basis for much of his award-winning writing.
“I'm especially touched that my work, with its focus on migration, working-class lives and the borderlands, is being recognized in such a significant way,” says González. “I'm the son of undocumented, illiterate Mexican farm workers. My upbringing has not hindered my success and ambition. On the contrary, it has inspired me to be as dedicated, proud and hard working as my parents.”