Available Now: The AmeRícan Poet: Essays on the Works of Tato Laviera

By Clarisel Gonzalez

Stephanie Alvarez remembers the first time she read poet Tato Laviera’s La Carreta Made a U-Turn, a life-changing event.

“The words, the rhythm, the Spanish, the English, the Spanglish, the voice y la política resonated in me in ways like nothing else I had read in my entire life,” writes Alvarez in the foreword of Centro’s new book The AmeRícan Poet: Essays on the Work of Tato Laviera, edited by her and William Luis. The book is a collection of 13 essays, an introduction and a foreword by Alvarez and 14 more established and emerging scholars. It also includes four of Tato's poems and his last play, King of Cans.

This remarkable book is now available for $24.99 either online at www.centropr-store.com or at Centro’s Meet the Author panel and book launch from 6-8 pm Tuesday, April 29. The Meet the Author event will be held at Hunter College’s 68th Street Campus, Faculty Dining Room, West Building and is open to the public.

In the foreword, Alvarez writes that the book serves as a way of not only acknowledging Laviera’s importance as both an AmeRícan and American poet, but also to thank him for “giving voice to the many and varied experiences of many Nuyoricans, Ricans, puertorriqueña/os, Latina/os, Americans (hyphenated or not) and all of humanity.”

‘Tato Laviera is one of the most important New York poets in recent memory,” her co-editor Luis says in the book’s introduction titled “The Birth and Rebirths of Tato Laviera,” which he dedicated to Laviera’s sister Ruth. “His work is a testament to his national and international reputation,” Luis said.

Despite Laviera’s many successes, his literary career did not run smoothly.  According to Luis, Laviera faced many challenges including his battle with diabetes, but he never accepted defeat, rising to a “higher and even stronger personal and literary plane.”

Calling Laviera “the prophet of his people,” Luis says, “his poetic destiny was already outlined in his classic La Carreta Made a U-Turn.”

The Laviera book took years in the making. At first the editors wanted to publish a collection of essays on Laviera’s work that had been previously published. But the editors soon realized there was “the need for more new scholarship on Tato’s work,” Alvarez says.

“Understanding the importance of Tato’s life’s work and the need for more scholarly books that focused on a single Latino/a author, we commissioned from both seasoned and up-and-coming scholars previously unpublished essays on Tato’s writings,” she says. “The response from the literary community was tremendous.”

Alvarez, a cubana born and raised in the United States, recalls how she became immersed in Laviera’s poetry to the sounds of Ismael Rivera’s music in the spring 2005. She was pregnant with twin girls and writing a dissertation at the time.

“I discovered a Spanglish poetic world on the written page that had previously been kept hidden from me,” she writes, adding that she also discovered a dearth of scholarship that focused on Laviera’s work or any Latina/o poet. That led her to writing a chapter of her dissertation on Laviera, which she submitted to the peer-reviewed CENTRO Journal. The essay was published and accepted in the fall of 2006.

In the spring 2007, she received hand-written messages from Laviera in her mailbox, which she did not answer because her initial reaction was that he was going to tell her she got the article wrong. But Laviera was persistent. After many messages, she called him back one day. “To my relief, Tato was thrilled with my publication,” she states. “He went on to express his gratitude to me for my essay and helping him understand his own work.” He told her that he had gone blind because of his diabetes and wanted to meet her. She quickly moved to make that meeting happen, and in March 2007 Laviera visited the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) where Alvarez taught.

“If reading Tato had an impact on me, meeting him, watching him perform and teaching with him completely changed me as a person,” she states. His visit impacted many people and led to many collaborations over the next few years, including the creation of Cosecha Voices, a collaborative project designed so migrant farmworker students may document their experiences in print, oral and digital formats. Cosecha Voices was Laviera’s “brainchild.” He would spend three semesters at UTPA working with Cosecha Voices and the MFA program in English.

Alvarez and Luis will be present at Centro’s Meet the Author panel and book launch on April 29. For more information about the event and/or to RSVP Click Here .