Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

Earth Conservation Corps members
Watch Video
Read Transcript
July 20, 2007

"We have to deal with this paradox that there are 40 million Latinos in this country and, yet, we're invisible."

Whether as an award-winning poet or as a tenant lawyer for Boston's Latino community, Martín Espada's aim has remained the same: "to speak on behalf of those without an opportunity to be heard."

"Not that they couldn't speak for themselves given the chance," he explains in his interview with Bill Moyers. "They just don't get the chance."

Martín Espada began writing poetry at an early age, growing up in the Linden Projects, a tough, racially mixed neighborhood in East New York, Brooklyn. At age 13, he and his family moved to Valley Stream, Long Island, where Espada says life was even tougher:

"We were the only Puerto Rican family, and I caught absolute hell. It was much more traumatic than anything that ever happened to me on the so-called mean streets of East New York."

With an undergraduate degree in history from University of Wisconsin and a law degree from Northeastern University, Espada first began working in the field of bilingual education law, and then switched to housing law, all while continuing his writing pursuits. "To me, there's no contradiction between being an advocate as a lawyer and being an advocate as a poet. I mean, to me, it was all in the same spectrum."

Espada published his first collection of poems in 1982, THE IMMIGRANT ICEBOY'S BOLERO, which included accompanying photographs taken by his father, and focused on Espada's life growing up in the harsh conditions of the Linden Projects, and the everyday people who made his life work.

Espada would eventually cease his duties as a lawyer and dedicate himself completely to writing. He has published 13 books as a poet, essayist, editor and translator, including ALABANZA: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, which received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was named an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year; IMAGINE THE ANGELS OF BREAD, winner of the American Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and REBELLION IS THE CIRCLE OF A LOVER'S HANDS, recipient of the PEN/Revson Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize.

Espada's most recent book, THE REPUBLIC OF POETRY, is a collection of poems that followed an invitation from Chile for Espada to come celebrate Pablo Neruda's Centenary. It was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

Espada currently teaches poetry and English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and was recently named Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts.

Read selected poems from Martín Espada as well as from Aracelis Girmay, teacher and poet, for which Espada has served as mentor.

Photo by Robin Holland

Related Media:
References and Reading:
Martín Espada's Web Site
Read selected poems from Espada's two most recent collections, THE REPUBLIC OF POETRY and ALABANZA: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS.

Read a collection of poems, essays, speeches, and analysis of Espada's work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

DreamYard Prep School Web Site

PEN American Center: Martin Espada
In 2005, Martín Espada participated in the World Voices Festival. Find more information about the festival and listen to excerpts from the panels.

Online NewsHour: Martín Espada on 9/11
The NewsHour's Ray Suarez talks with poet Martín Espada about how Americans have changed since Sept.11, 2001.

A Bard from East New York: Martín Espada
by Gabriel Thompson, THE BROOKLYN RAIL, April 2007.
"A poet can be a teacher, a historian, a journalist, an organizer, a preacher, a caretaker, or a bard. And a poet can be a political activist, one who participates in the great changes that the world is always going through. We can go back to a poet that used to wander the streets of Brooklyn in the mid-19th century: Walt Whitman."

Read a short bio and selected poems from one of Espada's greatest influences, Pablo Neruda

Selected poems by Walt Whitman, another important influence for Espada

Read an interview with Martín Espada from the Poetry Foundation
"Being seven years old in 1964, and with no other explanation forthcoming, I concluded that my father must be dead. I would hold a snapshot of him in my hands and cry. One day, to my amazement, he walked in the door. Once he established that he was not dead, he realized that he had to explain his absence. That was, you might say, my political awakening. I wrote a poem about it 30 years later."

Read Espada's 2007 commencement address at Hampshire College entitled, "The Republic of Poetry"

Watch Martín Espada on DEMOCRACY NOW!

Also This Week:

Bill Moyers gets in on the joke with two impersonators who use satire to make serious points about media consolidation, journalism, business ethics, and separating fact from fiction in a world of spin.

Bill Moyers talks with poet Martin Espada about the power of words to effect social change.

>Watch teacher and poet, Aracelis Girmay, read her poem.

>Read selected poems from Martín Espada and Aracelis Girmay

Bill Moyers highlights your comments, questions and suggestions.

>Have your own question and comment for Bill Moyers? Join the conversation on the Blog.
WATCH last week's show
EXPLORE the archive
Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ