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Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez


Citizen Illegal by José Olivares


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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.

Selected praise:

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

“José Olivarez is fearless in Citizen Illegal, his debut poetry collection about life as a first-generation Mexican American. The book looks inward and outward, both intimate and expansive — highlighting the shared frustrations and fears of fighting prejudice and systemic bias, while shouting what should be obvious: Mexican immigrants (like any population) are not a monolith. Olivarez forces readers to reckon with the very human consequences of our nation's actions at the border and beyond, at a time when those actions have created a real humanitarian crisis. Olivarez's writing is vital in both senses of the word — full of life, and absolutely necessary.”
Buzzfeed Books

“Citizen Illegal is a poetic assault on the state and cultural processes that continue to stamp out empathy and humanity within the rise of today’s migratory drift and its management by the state.”
The Brooklyn Rail

“Incredible... Olivarez gives us the poem as incantation, using language to transcend the limits of social constructions and the physical, temporal world.”
The Rumpus

“José Olivarez’s work shines a spotlight on the often-overlooked stories of Mexican-Americans in the Midwest. This identity is illustrated throughout Citizen Illegal in all of its complexities—the connections between Mexican-Americans and labor and the all too familiar feeling of being ni de aqui, ni de alla (not from here, nor there).”

“To be Mexican in America is to be talked about, to be labeled and debated, all without being asked and respected. Citizen Illegal is pitch-perfect.”
The Millions

“A high-octane take on the rhythms and contradictions of life as a first-generation child of Mexican parents.”

“A necessary read... With a searing precision, José Olivarez takes aim at the American paradigm and how ‘folding’ oneself to fit into it is fruitless.”

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