UMBC’s English Department Reading Series invites writers of all backgrounds to share their literary art with students on campus. On April 11, the English department happily welcomed poet and memoirist Rigoberto Gonzalez to read select poems.
Gonzalez is a phenomenal poet whose creative writing has found great success. Gonzalez has written 17 books of poetry and prose, some of which have won awards such as the American Book Award, Lambda Literary Award and the Independent Publisher Book Award for Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Non-Fiction.
Despite his successful career, Gonzalez suffered a very difficult childhood and upbringing. Gonzalez, a child of Mexican immigrants, grew up in a Hispanic community in California.
His immigrant parents knew less about American culture than he did, so Gonzalez was left to discover his place in the world alone. This left him with the pressure to suppress his emotions which led him to find a sense of comfort and safety solely when reading, and later writing.
These moments of vulnerability, states of confusion and traditional experiences within his own culture and family inspired many of Gonzalez’s writing pieces.
Gonzalez truly believes that writing is cultural labor and that the creativity that writing demands is absolutely essential for activism. Therefore, with his writing, Gonzalez aims to touch those with like experiences who advocate persistence and determination in life.
At his reading in the skylight room, Gonzalez picked a select few poems to read to the UMBC students. He began with a piece titled “Take a Guess”. The piece reminiscences his day as a substitute guesser. The entire piece carried a story-telling like tone. It was embellished with vivid adjectives and imagery that allowed the readers to visualize themselves in Gonzalez’s place.
Gonzalez also read a poem titled, “In a Village of Missing Fathers” which followed the community of men who have children but failed to fulfill their roles as fathers. It specified how, above all, the children suffer most from such a circumstance, for they are robbed of a relationship every child innately deserves.
It was a devastatingly beautiful poem that prompted a sense of newfound awareness and consideration for people in similar situations. Gonzalez read his pieces in a primarily conversational tone mostly because these topics are indeed conversational for him.
He writes from experience, and so his poetry reading was a literary narration of his past, making such a tone appropriate. The blatant comfort of which Gonzalez shared the stories of his difficulties helped the audience further empathize with and accept Gonzalez’s past experiences.
His reading tone almost normalized his experiences and helped the audience members relate to his pieces. All of Gonzalez’s pieces share one distinct quality: they all prompt the readers to develop empathy for his experiences with a very rare ease.
It’s a beautiful quality that many pieces unfortunately lack. The way Gonzales delivers his messages through his writing is very subtle, they are strategically hidden in these poetic stories. This parallels with real life: you will typically understand the significance of events when recounting your experiences in memory.