[(interview date April 1997) In the following interview, conducted in April 1997, Espada and González discuss the mix of personal experiences and political events that inform Espada's poetry.]
Martín Espada is a writer who upsets many people by putting so much on the line every time he speaks and writes. He disturbs audiences by reminding them of both their complacency and the cost of getting involved in one's own cultural history. He is a poet whose work is created to uphold a sense of community in a time when numerous political forces are working against his people. As a political poet thriving in a literary community that dreads those who speak too loudly, Espada is good at shaking things up. He has to in order to live up to his ideals. His poems and readings find ways to make audiences aware of life and death issues. As a Latino writer, he continues the traditions generated in the highly politicized decades of the sixties and seventies when Chicano and Puerto Rican poets were reading to rallies of thousands of people. Yet, Espada is an activist for the next century. As a highly published author, a leading figure on the poetry circuit, and a university professor, he has learned to use the most effective tools at hand. Espada's poems are filled with the rich and tragic history of his native Puerto Rico. They confront the racial dilemmas of the United States, a country that seems to be having more trouble dealing with the diversity of its population. Most important of all, Espada's writing shows how the lone, committed individual can embrace the spirit of cultural and family traditions to create a poetry for audiences from any country.
Espada was born in Puerto Rico, but grew up in Brooklyn. He is the author of five poetry collections: The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero (OP), Trumpets in the Island of Their Eviction (Bilingual Press, 1987), Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover's Hands (Curbstone Press, 1990), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (Norton, 1993), and Imagine the Angels of Bread (Norton, 1996). He is also the editor of two poetry anthologies: Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (Curbstone, 1994) and El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poets (University of Massachusetts, forthcoming fall 1997). A collection of his essays and poems, whose working title is Zapata's Disciple and Perfect Brie, will be published by South End Press in fall 1998. His poems have appeared in Harper's, The Nation, The New York Times Book Review, and other journals. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, and a 1997 Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. A former tenant lawyer in Boston, he is also a professor of literature at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
This interview was conducted in April 1997 in a crowded and loud O'Hare International Airport, one hour before Espada's departure from a reading at the University...