USA Literature Panel for 2009

Major Jackson

Poet, and Associate Professor, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

Jeff Chang

Writer, and USA Ford Fellow, Oakland, CA

Alan Michael Parker

Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing, Davidson College, Davidson, NC

Robert Polito (Chair)

Director of Graduate Program in Creative Writing and Professor of Writing, The New School, New York, NY

Anne García-Romero

Lecturer in Playwriting, Department of Theater and Dance, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA

Statement by Anne García-Romero

In his 1933 lecture, “Play and the Theory of Duende,” Federico García Lorca, celebrated Spanish playwright and poet, articulated a consideration of the power present in art. A work infused with duende, he explained, is “in search of new landscapes and unknown accents... announcing the constant baptism of newly created things.” I’ve long admired García Lorca’s exhortation to create work infused with this ineffable, infectious power. I’ve also come to understand that duende not only inspires one in the moment but can also initiate a series of shape-shifting events that may alter the course of nature.

As a young girl, my Anglo mother attended a flamenco concert in New York City. The duende of the dance so mesmerized her that she instantly fell in love with the culture, and this led her to take Spanish lessons from her Cuban next-door neighbor and learn to play the castanets. Years later, while living in Madrid to pursue a graduate degree in Spanish literature, my mother met and married my father, a local Spanish photographer and artist. After my parents relocated to the Boston area, I was born and would one day write plays exploring the collisions and intersections of my two cultural worlds. So, in essence, I’m here because of duende.

I was honored and humbled by the opportunity to read the work of the 52 applicants for a USA Fellowship in Literature for 2009. As I made my way through two huge binders of material, the duende spirit leaping off the page of a poem, short story, novel, essay, or play moved and uplifted me time and again. Further, the thoughtful and careful consideration of the applications by my fellow writers and panelists, Robert Polito (panel chair), Jeff Chang, Major Jackson, and Alan Michael Parker, was not only informative but also inspiring as duende-like, passionate discussion would fill the conference room on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The remarkable writing of this year’s USA Fellows includes work about a young boy coming of age in an orphanage, a group of brothers bonding over their father’s salsa dancing, a woman reconnecting with her former lover, a young girl’s desire for snow, a man experiencing the birth of his child, and a couple engaged in a mysterious role play to evoke the memory of the departed among many other topics. These writers also provide us with a stirring collection of texts that reflect the complexity of twenty-first century life in this country. With the support of this USA Fellowship, these writers will continue onward with many of these projects as well as start new ones. Consequently, their writing has the opportunity to reach a wider and broader readership and audience. Infused with duende, these “newly created things” will also have the potential to change the shape of the way we live.