Rigoberto González returned to Queens College as a guest reader after almost 10 years on Monday, Nov. 14. The author and poet was the first visiting professor in the Queens College MFA in Creative Writing and Translation program founded in 2007, when he taught poetry and translation.
González began the reading with his short essay, “Living in the Age of President Trump.” His discussion about the past election caught many audience members off guard, Mr. González provided hope and inspiration to the audience and said, “Everything is going to be alright.”
The essay captivated the mix of reactions unfurling across the country within the first week post-election.
“What we’re experiencing here is not a wake-up call unless we haven’t been paying attention,” Mr. González said. “That we have enough strength to survive it.”
His inspirational words rose above concern that lingered amongst the crowd and was met with a roar of applause.
Reading from his lyrical memoir, “Autobiography of My Hungers,” a collection of lyrical forms about his childhood in poverty and hunger, González began with his poem “Potato.” Through a mixture of English and Spanish, “Potato” described the fascination González had as a child with “the apples of the Earth,” reflecting on a time when he awoke in the middle of the night asking his mom to fry one for him.
González followed with his poem “Lift,” an experience he had at age ten riding in a hospital elevator. Quoting his abuela’s instructions, “When we get inside you have to hold on,” González transformed an elevator ride into a childhood adventure. With lines such as “bracing ourselves for lift off,” and “swift ride into the air,” he illustrated that any experience is a poem waiting to be told.
“Trash,” provided an insight on the pressures González faced growing up in poverty, describing a day when he was taking trash bags of laundry to be done at his aunt’s house. 10-year-old González became distracted by his Aunt’s remarks from the week prior, in which she told her neighbor, “Every time there’s less for that woman to wash because their rags have more holes.” The sting of her words led him to throw the bags into a dumpster, only to be overwhelmed with sadness by what he had done, pulling them right back out.
Following the reading, González discussed his identity as writer. Having written 10 books of prose, two bilingual children’s books, three young adult novels and three nonfiction books.
González, who claimed to never experience writer’s block, explained how identity could diversify portfolio. He suggested writing outside typical forms because it allows one to always have something to write about. González also shared that part of the poetic process is understanding the labor put into a poem and knowing when it is time to let it go and share it with the world. Refuting the misconception that poetry is a luxury while exemplifying that voices “need to be heard,” González pointed out that poets all over the world are being arrested and executed for their work.
González also revealed “Autobiography of My Hungers” began here at QC. While he says it was extremely painful to share his experiences, he added it was something he needed to get out.
A crucial message of González’s reading was the importance of bravery. As it was bravery that kept González intact following the deportation of his family, death of his mother and growing up hungry. Refusing to shatter, González advocates bravery for those who need it. A man who came into this country as an undocumented child with illiterate parents reminded everyone— “in this country, such a journey is possible.”
A journey with foreign roots that stumbled upon QC is an honor to say that Rigoberto González was a part of our community and we hope he’ll grace us with more readings in the future.