10 Afro-Latinx/Black Latinx Books & Poems You Need Right Now

Today is the beginning of Mother’s Day weekend. Today the city of Houston (where I live) basically shut down because of another May day flood, which means I spent the whole day mothering Luz Maria and have managed to survive on Chex Mix and chicken nuggets. This week, I spent three out of the five days solo parenting my precious baby Luz Maria because my partner in life and in poetry had to leave town for a family funeral. This week I have barely had time to sleep, eat, or breathe much less write. This year, I’ve had to devote all my time and energy into mothering. This year I started a new job and released a book. This year I’ve forgotten, then remembered, then forgotten, then re-remembered who Jasminne is/was/is becoming.

But then, today as I was feeding Luz Maria some pollo con papas, I got a DM in my Instagram account. I looked and realized that someone (the beautiful Suzy Q.) had taken a screenshot of my 2017 10 Afro-Latinx Poetry Books You Need Right Now and thanked me for “doing the work.” She said she was using it to help write up some notes for a lecture on Afro-Latinx writers and that my post helped her learn about poets she didn’t know.

I originally curated that list out of frustration. Frustration at the endless end of year listicles that consistently failed to represent Afro-Latinx poets or writers and their work. OR only managed to include ONE of us as a token. I decided to use my website and my platform to amplify the voices, books, stories and experiences of my Afro-Latinx familia. Suzy Q.’s message reminded me of the necessary work I’ve done and of how much work STILL needs to be done.

I’ll admit, motherhood this year has been hard. I’ve barely managed to keep up with remembering to brush my teeth everyday and keep another human alive. Between grad school, my book tour, random readings, Tintero Project events, the InkWell podcast, teaching, a new job, and doing laundry and the dishes…doing THIS work has fallen by the wayside. (Aside from the occasional angry tweet, FB post or Instagram pic yelling “Anti-blackness is real in the Latinx community!”) I/WE cannot afford to let this work fall by the wayside any longer.

This past week I was part of a panel discussion on Afro-Latinx cultural capital. We (all from different countries of origin) shared our experiences of what it means to be Afro-Latinx. And while it felt so good to be among people who share my experience…there is still SO MUCH WORK TO DO. I hope that with grad school coming to a close, and limiting my commitments to other projects, I can refocus my energies on uplifting and supporting my Afro-Latinx/Black Latinx familia as best I can. I want to mother this project and my fellow poets and writers as much as they have mothered and nurtured me.

So, with that, I give you my current “MUST READ” list of Afro-Latinx poets. (And folks this is just the tip of the iceberg. Do the work and keep looking for and sharing the work of ALL Afro-Latinx poets and writers alike)

Read. Share. Enjoy.


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The Crazy Bunch

Poetry Collection by Willie Perdomo, Penguin Poets 2019

Willie Perdomo’s poetry has been around for decades. His poetry never disappoints and as someone who had him as a teacher and a mentor for a brief time during a VONA workshop, I can tell you his passion and knowledge of poetry and the craft is something to be admired.

“If Jean Toomer had written toward Harlem rather than Georgia, and done it in the age of hip hop rather than jazz, the book to emerge might read a lot like Willie Perdomo’s fourth collection, The Crazy Bunch . . . Using imagined dialogues, riffs, and long Whitmanesque lines that taper to a trickle, The Crazy Bunch feels less like a book of poems than a dramatic psalm of memory to a time and place that isn’t always easy to recall.” -John Freeman, LitHub executive editor


"Set during one weekend in the early 1990s, Perdomo’s fourth book celebrates a crew of hip-hop-loving friends in East Harlem with his customary heart and bravura language.” — The New York Times Book Review


YESENIA MONTILLA

Yesenia Montilla

Yesenia Montilla

:: Searching For My Own Body:: & To Cast

2 Poems by Yesenia Montilla, poets.org, 2018 & The Rumpus, 2019

I call Yesenia a friend, a mentor, a soul sister, hermana, poet goddess extraordinaire. Her words and her spirit are a light during these dark despairing times. She touches the pain with sensuality and grace in a way few poets ever manage to do. She is fierce and tender and everything in between. She writes her poems like she lives her life: with attitude and without apology.

Read the two poems linked above and find out what I mean! (Did you like it?) I’m sure you did! So go ahead and pick up a copy of her debut poetry collection: The Pink Box, Willow Books. and read her Plátano Poetry Cafe Interview!


Ugly Music

Poetry Collection by Diannely Antigua, Yes Yes Books, 2019

Diannely’s heart and poetry is as big (if not bigger) as her gorgeous hair. Her crown as I like to call it. She dubs herself “little poet, big hair” but her work speaks loud and is one collection you will want to add to your library today!

When I interviewed her for the Plátano Poetry Cafe series, Diannely described her work in the following way:

“My writing style is like a mother possum with babies on her back caught in headlights while trying to cross the road late at night. At first the sight is rather frightening--a cluster of beady eyes staring back at you, long rat-like tails following behind. But it then grows hauntingly beautiful when you realize even the weirdest of things exist on this earth and deserve to live. My poetry is like that, born out of strangeness with an instinct to survive.”

Pick up her debut poetry collection: Ugly Music and decide for yourself! Is it as strange and as beautiful as a mother possum?

“Diannely Antigua’s debut collection Ugly Music is a cacophonous symphony of reality, dream, trauma, and obsession. It reaches into the corners of love and loss where survival and surrender are blurred. The poems span a traumatic early childhood, a religious adolescence, and later a womanhood that grapples with learning how to create an identity informed by, yet in spite of, those challenges. What follows is an exquisitely vulgar voice, unafraid to draw attention to the distasteful, to speak a truth created by a collage of song and confession, diary and praise. It is an account of observation and dissociation, the danger of simultaneously being inside and outside the experiences that mold a life. Ugly Music emerges as a story of witness, a realization that even the strangest things exist on earth and deserve to live.”


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Poetry Collection by Malcolm Friend Inlandia Books, 2018

The last time I made one of these lists, I highlighted Malcolm’s chapbook Mxd Kd Mixtape (Glass Poetry Press). Today, I am thrilled to share that Malcolm’s first full-length poetry collection debuted last year! Malcolm as a person and a poet is a kind, rhythmic and musical soul. His words like his life are musical score focused, precise, and executed with the utmost care for each note In my Platano Poetry Cafe interview with him he described his poetry as: “shouting over and over again until your voice overlaps with the echo to make a new sound.”

“In Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple, Malcolm Friend coasts the curvature of the blue note, revealing in his brooding, songful, and formally masterful verse heritages that pull from the ancestral into the vibrancy and violence of this moment. He guides us carefully through the intricacies of his landscape and identiy as Afro-Latino, all while felxing his linguistic and literary dexterity. The balance of beauty and punch is maintained in English and Spanish with meaning and metaphorical integrity upheld. “- Raina J. Leon


JOHN MURILLO

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A REFUSAL TO MOURN THE DEATHS, BY GUNFIRE, OF THREE MEN IN BROOKLYN

(American Poetry Review, 2019)

&

Mercy, Mercy Me (poets.org, 2018)

2 Poems by John Murillo

I’ve only met and spoken to John on two occasions and he was kind and sweet to me. Our conversations were short and he listened more than he spoke. But what I have become familiar with his work and what I can tell you is, his poems are definitely not as quiet as he is.

Of John Murillo’s work, the following has been said: “Murillo’s poetry chronicles his childhood and youth so that the reader feels like a beloved cousin who knows secrets, or a neighbor who bears witness to events in the neighborhood….He writes ‘sin verguenza’…and Murillo’s openness with his own learning, his own growth, both as a human and a poet is a reminder to take stock of what we’ve experienced and to move forward into one’s future with confidence.” —Michele Russo, Dodge Poetry Festival 


black/Maybe: an Afro Lyric

Poetry Collection by Roberto Carlos Garcia, Willow Books, 2018

I have had the privilege of meeting and sharing the stage with Roberto. I’ve come to know him and his work as a narrative that is in conversation with my own and I am excited to follow his journey as a writer, father, Afro-Latinx man in America dealing with many of the same issues I face on an every day basis. If you’re looking to better understand the Afro-Latinx narrative, its history, the tensions, trauma and joy, black/Maybe is a great place to start.

“Garcia's black / Maybe is the new standard for American race work in the 21st century. Through bouncy and superbly rich elegies, odes and essays, Garcia decimates notions of monolithic blackness and/or Dominican culture with language that haunts, hopes and howls. Every piece in this collection tugs at tomorrow while fueling itself with crumbs of yesterday. Masterful writing looks and sounds like black / Maybe.” 
—Kiese Laymon, author of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Long Division, and the forthcoming Heavy


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Crown

Poetry Collection by Natasha Carrizosa, 2019


Natasha “Natty” Carrizosa is a living light. She graces the stage in the same way she graces the page: with heart, humor, humility and healing. She is a master of her craft and I wanna be like her when I grow up! Her poetry spills forth from a well insider her that is overflowing with water and warmth. She has a lot to say and isn’t afraid to say it, write it, yell it, sweat it, or sage it. She is, in my opinion, the baddest MejiAfricana you will ever get to know.

In her own words:

she enters 

the everything

dragging sanguine song

out of god's belly

stardust hanging onto halo/mane

flame will be come footprints

. . . 

- from lion calling

Her latest poetry collection Crown is out now!


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GABRIEL RAMIREZ

Whenever I Look Over My Balcony, Button Poetry 2018

 “God if you be at all, be a song that gets me out bed…”-Gabriel Ramirez

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Gabriel in person on one occasion, he was gracious enough to attend a reading I did in NY. And though we did not speak much, I know his poetry like his fashion sense is fierce and fabulous. Check out this performance piece to find out what I mean. His words will definitely get you out of bed!


My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter

Poetry Collection by Aja Monet, Haymarket Books, 2018

I heard Aja read her work at the AWP conference in Tampa, FL. I was completely mesmerized and enthralled with her words and her stage presence. If you are a mother, daughter, or have a mother or daughter or you simply have a pulse, this debut poetry collection is not to be missed!

"Powerful, poetic meditations on motherhood, sisterhood, spirituality, solidarity, displacement/gentrification, racism, and sexism.

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is poet Aja Monet’s ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world.

Textured with the sights and sounds of growing up in East New York in the nineties, to school on the South Side of Chicago, all the way to the olive groves of Palestine, these stunning poems tackle racism, sexism, genocide, displacement, heartbreak, and grief, but also love, motherhood, spirituality, and Black joy.”


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Afro-Latinx Poetry Issue - Queen Mob’s Teahouse

Edited by Jasminne Mendez

Want to read more poems by Afro-Latinx writers? Check out this special issue I curated and edited over at Queen Mob’s Teahouse earlier last year! As I said in my letter from the editor and I’ll say it again:

EACH POEM IN THIS ISSUE IS A SONG. THESE POEMS SING LOUD. I AM EXCITED AND HONORED TO SHARE THESE POEMS WITH YOU.