The season’s first campus visit of the GLCA New Writers Award (NWA) took place Monday, October 28, at Kalamazoo College. Marcelo Hernandez Castillo is the 2019-20 winner of the NWA poetry award for his collection entitled, Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018).
Castillo is a poet, essayist, translator, and immigration advocate. He was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and immigrated at the age of five with his family to the California central valley. As an AB540 student, he earned his B.A. from Sacramento State University and was the first undocumented student to graduate from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan. His immigration case was used by the Supreme Court to justify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) under president Obama.
His visit to Kalamazoo encompassed a series of events with students who were interested in his life as well as his writings. In the morning he visited a sociology class on “Race and Racism,” taught by Dr. Francisco Villegas. At lunch he met with creative writing students and faculty. In mid-afternoon he met with an English class on “Reading the World: Identities,” taught by Dr. Shanna Salinas. In the evening he presented a public reading and book signing at the College’s Intercultural Center.
Kalamazoo College had structured Castillo’s visit to recognize and celebrate his achievement not just as a writer, but as one who has experienced the life of an undocumented immigrant. His poems and comments expressed what the GLCA poetry judges called, “a story of undocumented immigrants, border crossing, transgression, and the tantalizing fictions and facts of the American dream.” During the reading Castillo described his determination in writing to “take back the joy in life” from the state of uncertainty that has often characterized his experience.
Over 40 people attended Marcello Castillo’s reading and book-signing at Kalamazoo College. He has scheduled readings at several other GLCA member colleges in the winter and spring terms.