José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants and the author of the book of poems, Citizen Illegal, a finalist for the prestigious PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. In 2018, he was awarded the
first annual Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he is co-editing the forthcoming anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He is the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods and a recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo, Poets House, the Bronx Council on the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, & the Conversation Literary Festival. José is a master teaching artist. in 2017-2018, he was the Lead Teaching Artist for the Teen Lab Program at the Art Institute in Chicago, IL. In the past, he has led writing workshops & diversity trainings for
institutions such as: Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Studio Museum of Harlem, The Adirondack Center for Writing, Inside Out Literary Arts, & many more community organizations & universities. In his book Citizen Illegal, Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. Drawing on the rich traditions of Latinx and Chicago writers like Sandra Cisneros and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olivarez creates a home out of life in the in-between. Combining wry humor with potent emotional force, Olivarez takes on complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration using an everyday language that invites the reader in. Olivarez has a unique voice that makes him a poet to watch.
His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, Chicago Magazine & elsewhere.
“Citizen Illegal is a fearless, instrumental, honest collection of poetry. In other words, the book is fire. Skilled, tender, funny, yet undecorated, Olivarez’s poetry navigates the razor sharp duality and utter contradiction of citizenship. These poems helps us carry the weight of biases, the absurdity of our prejudices; they help us seek documentation for our humanity which cannot, by any means, be dictated by policy makers. Let it be said that these poems are also love poems. Olivarez chooses to use his voice, sometimes brutal, sometimes bloody and blistered, to confront our monstrosity, yet he never shies away from love, even when he exposes the lies we keep in order to live. Keep an eye out for José Olivarez: he might be the poet you need when it’s time to cross a line, destruct borders, and still come out on the other side with your dreams intact.”
—Willie Perdomo, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon