AMHERST, Mass. - A book of poetry by University of Massachusetts English Professor Martin Espada has been awarded the American Book Award by the Before Columbus Foundation, a group based in Oakland, California, which recognizes achievements of people of color. The award will be presented at the American Book Sellers'' Convention in Chicago on June 1.
The book, "Imagine the Angels of Bread" (Norton), was nominated earlier this year for a prestigious National Book Award. It is Espada''s fifth collection of poetry and continues the tradition of overtly political poems begun in Espada''s earlier collections. As critic Ray Gonzalez said in The Nation: "Martin Espada defines political poetry for the turn of the century."
A Puerto Rican who was born in Brooklyn, Espada has won two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Massachusetts Artists'' Fellowship, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, and the Paterson Poetry Prize. In presenting the PEN/Revson Award in 1994, poets Carolyn Forche, Charles Simic, and Daniel Halpern said: "He brings to American poetry an imagination and a sense of history which it has not previously known. This is political poetry at its best."
In addition to writing poetry and teaching at the University, Espada has been a tenant lawyer in Chelsea, Mass., a factory worker, and the desk clerk on the night shift at a transient hotel. He also regularly volunteers his time to work with disadvantaged children in Holyoke, Springfield, and Hartford.
As well as writing five books of poetry, Espada has also served as the editor of a collection of political poetry, "Poetry Like Bread: Poetry of the Political Imagination" (Curbstone Press). He also was one of the translators of a collection of poems by revolutionary poet Clemente Soto Velez, who was imprisoned for his advocacy of independence for Puerto Rico.
Espada has been described as being "well on his way to becoming the Latino poet of his generation" by Earl Shorris, author of "Latinos: Biography of the People."
Espada joined the University faculty in 1993.