A modern-day Woody Guthrie: Poet Espada to read at COA

BAR HARBOR — Martín Espada, winner of the 2018 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, will read from his work and discuss his writing in a question-and-answer session at College of the Atlantic’s Thomas S. Gates Jr. Community Center on Friday, May 18, at 7 p.m.

This free, all-ages event is sponsored by the COA Diverse Voices Series and is part of the Bateau Press Reading Series.

Espada, a PEN/Revson Fellow, has published 15 books of poetry, three collections of essays and a translation of selected poems by Clemente Soto Vélez, and has produced three poetry anthologies as editor. Espada has received numerous fellowships and awards, including a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, an Independent Publisher Book Award, an International Latino Book Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.

The 2018 Lilly Prize, which was just announced this month, honors a living U.S. poet for outstanding lifetime achievement and comes with a $100,000 purse. Espada is the first Latino poet to win the award.

“I like to think of Martín as a modern-day Woody Guthrie with stacks of poems instead of a guitar, and on the back each book he has written, you’ll find the words, ‘This Machine Kills Fascists,’” said Dan Mahoney, COA writing lecturer and editor-in-chief of Bateau Press.

Espada’s books include “Vivas to Those Who Have Failed” (W.W. Norton 2016), “The Meaning of the Shovel” (Smokestack Books 2014), “His Hands Were Gentle: Selected Lyrics of Víctor Jara” (Smokestack Books 2012) and “The Trouble Ball” (W.W. Norton 2011). Espada’s collection of poems “The Republic of Poetry” (W.W. Norton 2006) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1957, Espada grew up writing poetry. A former tenant lawyer in greater Boston’s Latino community, he has dedicated much of his career to the pursuit of social justice by giving voice to those who would otherwise be voiceless. He is now a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Martín Espada has chosen the larger task: to go outside the self-absorbed terrain of most contemporary poets into a landscape where others — bus drivers, revolutionaries, the executed of El Salvador — sit, walk, or lie dead ‘without heads.’ There’s no rest here. We’re jostled awake by the starkness of these moments, but occasionally roll from Espada’s political humor,” the poet Gary Soto said.

Espada’s appearance at COA continues Bateau Press’ second annual reading series, which aims to cultivate a diverse literary community on Mount Desert Island and beyond. The event is made possible with the ongoing support of College of the Atlantic and is underwritten by COA’s Diverse Voices Speaker Series.

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