Award-Winning Poet & Spoken Word Artist
José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/ Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a top book of 2018 by The Adroit Journal, NPR, and the New York Public Library. Read More >
I Loved the World So I Married It
Getting Ready to Say “I Love You” to My Dad, It Rains
The son of formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants, award-winning poet José Olivarez writes poems that use the lenses of immigration, in-betweeness, gender, class and family to examine and praise the world. These are poems written to be shared and to start conversations. In this inspiring talk and performance of some of his poems, he explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios and everything in between. These poems provide pathways to talking about our communities and the futures we want to imagine for ourselves and our loved ones. Drawing from his book, Citizen Illegal, Olivarez performs poems that investigate the Latinx identity, call out mental health, make you think about gender to ones that teaches love. As part of his talk, he’ll also take time for a question and answer session.
José Olivarez's poems have been incorporated into curriculums all across the country, including Chicago Public Schools and by education non-profits like Get Lit, Youth Speaks and more. Additionally, his book, Citizen Illegal, has been included on syllabi for Latinx Studies, Creative Writing and English departments at universities across the country. Olivarez has been teaching poetry for over 10 years. During this experience, Olivarez guides teachers and students through poetry and creative writing workshops to help participants tap into their stories with style. He’ll cover his own poetry that investigates the humor, joy and intimacy of the Latinx identity, calls out mental health, makes you think about gender and teaches about love.
“Citizen Illegal is right on time, bringing both empathy and searing critique to the fore as a nation debates the very humanity of the people who built it.”
“Citizen Illegal is a fearless, instrumental, honest collection of poetry. In other words, the book is fire. Skilled, tender, funny, yet undecorated, Olivarez’s poetry navigates the razor sharp duality and utter contradiction of citizenship. These poems helps us carry the weight of biases, the absurdity of our prejudices; they help us seek documentation for our humanity which cannot, by any means, be dictated by policy makers. Let it be said that these poems are also love poems. Olivarez chooses to use his voice, sometimes brutal, sometimes bloody and blistered, to confront our monstrosity, yet he never shies away from love, even when he exposes the lies we keep in order to live. Keep an eye out for José Olivarez: he might be the poet you need when it’s time to cross a line, destruct borders, and still come out on the other side with your dreams intact.”
“Citizen Illegal is a stunning piece of artwork from beginning to end. A vivid journey on José’s real life experiences which open-heartedly allows you to discover many of the things people don’t often talk about: love, anxiety, fear, and hopefulness. This book is inspirational and culturally rich, giving you all types of feelings with first hand insight on what it feels like to be Latino. Poets like José and books like Citizen Illegal are essential to our community.”
“When I read this book, I can hear José reading these poems out loud to me, into a microphone, in conversation. There is not one time that I read his collection that I didn’t cry. I cried of joy, of sadness, of just seeing and feeling the printed celebration and exploration of what it means to be a first-generation Mexican-American. If and when I need to be reminded of the love I have for being a first generation Mexican American, I am able to turn to these moments in this collection: a neighborhood in which we can be as open and loud and soft as we want to be. In this neighborhood, I can also find all the deafening shame and heart- breaking fear my family and I have tried to hide. José pulls this love and this family and these secrets onto a platform we, as a community, can celebrate, acknowledge, laugh, and cry juntitos. Muchísimas gracias a José por siendo tan valiente y integro. Llevaré estas poemas conmigo por siempre.”
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