Finalist for the 2019 PEN/Jean Stein Award.
“Citizen Illegal is right on time, bringing both empathy and searing critique to the fore as a nation debates the very humanity of the people who built it.” —Eve Ewing, author of Electric Arches
In this stunning debut, poet José 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.
José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. He is a co-host of the podcast, The Poetry Gods. A winner of fellowships from Poets House, The Bronx Council On The Arts, The Poetry Foundation, and The Conversation Literary Festival, his work has been published in The BreakBeat Poets and elsewhere. He is the Marketing Manager at Young Chicago Authors.
“Citizen Illegal is right on time, bringing both empathy and searing critique to the fore as a nation debates the very humanity of the people who built it.”
—Eve Ewing, author of Electric Arches
“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
“Citizen Illegal is a stunning piece of artwork from beginning to end. A vivid journey on José’s real life experiences which open-heartedly allows you to discover many of the things people don’t often talk about: love, anxiety, fear, and hopefulness. This book is inspirational and culturally rich, giving you all types of feelings with first hand insight on what it feels like to be Latino. Poets like José and books like Citizen Illegal are essential to our community.”
—Luis Carranza, poet & member of Young Chicago Authors 2017 Bomb Squad
“When I read this book, I can hear José reading these poems out loud to me, into a microphone, in conversation. There is not one time that I read his collection that I didn’t cry. I cried of joy, of sadness, of just seeing and feeling the printed celebration and exploration of what it means to be a first-generation Mexican-American. If and when I need to be reminded of the love I have for being a first generation Mexican American, I am able to turn to these moments in this collection: a neighborhood in which we can be as open and loud and soft as we want to be. In this neighborhood, I can also find all the deafening shame and heart- breaking fear my family and I have tried to hide. José pulls this love and this family and these secrets onto a platform we, as a community, can celebrate, acknowledge, laugh, and cry juntitos. Muchísimas gracias a José por siendo tan valiente y integro. Llevaré estas poemas conmigo por siempre.”
—Vicky Peralta, poet & member of Young Chicago Authors 2017 Bomb Squad