By Ben D’aurizio
1. Jenny Browne
An amazing San Antonio voice and a professor at Trinity University, Jenny Browne has found constant critical acclaim for her poetry. She’s released five works: Glass, At Once, The Second Reason, Dear Stranger and, most recently, Welcome to Freetown. In 2016, she was named San Antonio’s third poet laureate by Mayor Ivy Taylor after an extensive selection process.
2. Martín Espada
Martín Espada is a world-renowned poet and a professor at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Heavily featuring the subject of Puerto Rico in his poetry, Espada was born in Brooklyn to a civil rights activist father who helped lead the Puerto Rican community.
Winner of over 25 major awards, Espada was named a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2007 and has an International Latino Book Award and a Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement under his belt.
3. Nikki Grimes
In 2012, Nikki Grimes released a picture book entitled Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope that eventually became a #1 New York Times bestseller. In the context of the rest of her career, though, a best selling work almost feels like just another day at the office for Grimes.
A world-renowned author and poet, Grimes has long been a leading voice in poetry and literature. She has won a Coretta Scott King Award, a NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children and a Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”
4. Laurie Ann Guerrero
San Antonio’s own Laurie Ann Guerrero was named Poet Laureate of San Antonio in 2014 and then of the entire state of Texas in 2016. She has won the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, a Panhandler Chapbook Award and a Helen C. Smith Award for poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters.
Her first collection of poetry, A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying, won the 2012 Award Citation for the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. From author Ross Gay, “[A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying] is a powerful, necessary book” containing poems “crafted with tremendous skill.” Guerrero next released a chapbook entitled Babies under the Skin, which won a Panhandler Chapbook Award. She has also won a Helen C. Smith Award for Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters for her most recent collection of poetry, A Crown for Gumecindo.
5. Morgan Parker
Morgan Parker has come on to the poetry scene in the last couple years and received a well-deserved heaping of critical acclaim. Parker’s poetry speaks to a younger generation. Her reading of poetry is like a conversation among 20-somethings. This is not the poetry you read in a textbook in high school. It’s alive and urgent and demands you listen.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is her second release, following Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night. Other People’s Comfort was a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award and won the 2013 Gatewood Prize.
6. Sheila Black
Sheila Black joins the San Antonio Book festival this year to promote her work Iron. Ardent. Black is a director of the San Antonio literary institution Gemini Ink and a poet who deserves all the critical acclaim she receives. The Library of Congress recognized her work and awarded her with a Witter Bynner Fellowship. In 2000, she also won the Frost-Pellicer Frontera Prize.
7. Hayan Charara
Hayan Charara has travelled across American teaching poetry and creative writing to college students. He has taught at Queens College, Jersey City University, the City University of New York- La Guardia, and the University of Texas at Austin, Trinity University, Our Lady of the Lake University and the Honors College at the University of Houston.
He’s written three poetry collections: Something Sinister, The Sadness of Others and The Alchemist’s Diary and has edited Inclined to Speak, a collection of Arab American poetry.
8. David Biespiel
Originally set out for competitive diving, David Biespiel traded in athletics for literature. Widely successful as a professor in addition to his poetic achievement, Biespiel has taught at Stanford, Wake Forest, the University of Maryland, George Washington University, and Portland State University.
Biespiel’s recent books have all been met with critical acclaim. The Poetry Foundation selected The Book of Men and Women as one of the Best Books of the Year and his work A Long High Whistle won him a Frances Fuller Victor Award.
Look out for his talk with Will Schwalbe the day of the festival on “Books Saved My Life: Why I Read.”
9. Emmy Pérez
Emmy Pérez’s most recent collection, With the River on Our Face, comes with the following quote at the top of the front cover: “In divided times, Emmy Pérez’s voice speaks not only from America, but from the Americas, north and south. A wise, healing poetry – Sandra Cisneros.”
Pérez has won a number of awards for her work, including an Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award and a James D. Phelan Award. She helped launch the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley and continues to inspire her poetry students.
10. Alexandra van de Kamp
A director at the San Antonio literature institution Gemini Ink and a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Alexandra van de Kamp has released five collections of poetry: The Park of Upside-Down Chairs, Rain/Hierarchy, The Photographer’s Interview, A Living Book and The Rainiest May in the Twentieth Century, and two chapbooks: Dear Jean Seberg and Red Glass Books.
Dear Jean Seberg earned van de Kamp a win at the Burnside Review Chapbook contest in 2010 and The Rainiest May in the Twentieth Century won the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize.
11. Sharon Olinka
Colette Inez said of Sharon Olinka’s collection The Good City, “With narrative drive and empathy for her subject, Olinka invites us to inhabit present and past worlds in turmoil. Her book deserves a wide audience.”
Olinka has released three books: A Face Not My Own, Old Ballerina Club and The Good City and an anthology entitled Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam.
Naomi Shihab Nye had this to say about her most recent work, Old Ballerina Club: “Sharon Olinka writes with an almost unearthly instinct for imagery, narrative, and piercing detail. Her poems are blunt, lush, and seductive. Whether describing childhood, local mythology, or the mysteries of the present and future, they pull us in with powerful magnetism.”