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Javier Zamora

Piper Writers Studio Visiting Writer 2019

About Javier Zamora

Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and migrated to the United States in 1999 when he was nine—traveling unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the US to be reunited with his parents. Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press 2017), his first poetry collection, explores how immigration and civil war have impacted his life and family. He is also the author of the chapbook Nueve Anos Inmigrantes/Nine Immigrant Years, which won the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts Contest. 

In a 2014 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Blog, Zamora stated, “I think in the United States we forget that writing and carrying that banner of ‘being a poet’ is tied into a long history of people that have literally risked [their lives] and died to write those words.” After selecting Zamora as winner of the 2017 Narrative Prize, co-founder and editor Tom Jenks said: “In sinuous plainsong that evokes the combined strengths, the bright celebrations, and the dark sorrows of two Americas sharing and transcending borders, Javier Zamora’s verse affirms human commonality and aspiration.” 

Zamora holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied and taught in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program. Zamora earned an MFA from New York University and was recently a 2016–2018 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Zamora has been granted fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University, MacDowell Artist Colony, the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and Yaddo. The recipient of a 2017 Lannan Literary Fellowship, the 2017 Narrative Prize, and the 2016 Barnes and Noble Writer for Writers Award; Zamora’s poems appear in Granta, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New York Times, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Our Parents’ Bones Campaign, whose goal is to bring justice to the families of the ten thousand disappeared during El Salvador’s civil war.

He lives in Cambridge where he is a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard University.

Find Classes with Javier Zamora

Date: Saturday, September 14, 2019, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Type: Generative Workshop, Workshop
Genre: Poetry, Social Justice

What keeps us engaged? What drives us down the page to the end of the poem? We will explore “speed” or “momentum,” by analyzing poems that keep our attention. But also, we will explore how as writers, we can be engaged with our surrounding world, to the point that we must do something about it. We will look at poems that have been a “call to arms” of sorts. To inspire our creativity, we will look at the current headlines to draw poetry from the media. This workshop will be half generative and half revision.

More About Javier Zamora

Zamora, Javier. "The Shatter of BirdsFour Way Review, November 14, 2013.

Javiercito, you’re leaving me tomorrow
when our tortilla-and-milk breaths will whisper
te amo. When I’ll pray the sun won’t devour
your northbound steps. I’m giving you this conch
swallowed with this delta’s waves
and the sound of sand absorbing.

Hold it to your ear. I’m tired
of my children leaving. My love for you shatters windows
with birds. Javiercito, let your shadow return,
alone, or with sons, but soon. Call me mamá,
not Abuelita. All my children learned the names of seasons
from songs. Tonight, leaves fall.

There’s no autumn here. When you mist
into tomorrow’s dawns, at the shore
of somewhere, listen to this conch.
Don’t lose me.

Yu, Brandon. "Salvadoran poet Javier Zamora retraces trauma and memory across bordersSFGate, November 1, 2017.

When asked about his relationship to the past, after arriving in the U.S., Zamora said, “I’m still trying to explore that question. I think because I was so small, the trauma — what it did to my memory was to black things out.”

The deeply affecting poems from “Unaccompanied” dug up memories that he had repressed, along with the memories of his family members, offering glimpses of horror and sorrow. In “from The Book I Made with a Counselor My First Week of School,” Zamora writes, “Javier saw a dead coyote animal, which stank and had flies over it / I keep this book in an old shoe box underneath the bed. She asked in Spanish / I just smiled, didn’t tell her, no animal, I knew that man.”

Palomo, Willy. "Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora (Copper Canyon, 2017) Reviewed by Willy PalomoMuzzle.

The best word I have to describe the emotional relentlessness of the collection, and the unwillingness of its characters to surrender against the most absurd odds, is faith—a word wholly inadequate and inappropriate for its religious baggage and sentimentalism. But we need a word for those who risk everything, who almost die attempting to cross the border numerous times, yet “try again / and again, / like everyone does.” We need a word for the fathers who “still [carry] unopened water bottles,” for the tias who keep “looking at stranger’s left feet / to see if the big toe and the two next to that are missing” in the infinitesimal chance they find their long-lost brother, disappeared by the military decades past.

Paredez, Deborah. "Unaccompanied: An Interview with Javier, October 1, 2017. 

 I came to poetry my last year of high school. A visiting poet brought some of Neruda’s work. I got obsessed with Neruda, and my mom bought me my first poetry book, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, for my eighteenth birthday. The book was the first time I saw Spanish and English, side by side, with equal importance. This had a profound effect on me. But I was not completely “convinced” of poetry just yet.