The Buzz: Jose B. Gonzalez
By Rick Koster
Who: Jose B. Gonzalez, 39, of New London.
Why you should know him: Gonzalez is a professor of English at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. He was recently named Poet of the Year by the New England Association of Teachers of English and he read his work at the NEATE 2006 Fall Conference in Nashua, N.H. Gonzalez also oversees the www.latinostories.com Web site, an online clearing house/resource center for teachers, writers, agents, publishers, students — and anyone interested in learning about Latino literature.
The seductive possibilities of poetry: A native of El Salvador, Gonzalez moved with his family to New London when he was 8. After graduating from New London High School, he obtained his undergraduate degree from Bryant University, his master’s from Brown University, and his doctorate from the University of Rhode Island. Gonzalez instinctively gravitated to poetry as a creative outlet, despite the obvious affection for all forms of literature you’d expect from a PhD. Seated in a coffee shop, Gonzalez is a friendly, eloquent guy, easy to laugh — and as far from the casting couch image of a poet as you could hope for. “Writing poetry offers a musical and emotional truth that other genres don’t offer me so easily,” Gonzalez says. “You can capture humor or tragedy, for example, in different ways and contexts than you might with a short story.”
Awards are more than fun: Though Gonzalez knew he was one of five finalists for the NEATE award, that he won was exciting on several levels. “That your peers recognize you is very gratifying,” he says. “As a Latino poet, to receive the award is validation not just of my work but also my life. I write about my experiences as a Latino, and those of my parents as immigrants here. That other people think my experiences are important is humbling. Finally, my kids (ages 2-7) were legitimately excited for their dad. They were like little adults when they saw the plaque.”
So when’s the Gonzalez anthology coming out? There are no books of Gonzalez’ poems — yet. He did, though, co-edit a compendium of Latino poetry and literature called “Latino Boom,” which was published earlier this year by Longman Pearson Press. In addition to works by many established Latino writers such as Dagoberto Gilb, there are some of Gonzalez’s poems also included. His work has also appeared in such prestigious publications as Callaboo, Palabra, and Calabash.
Sure, you can see what he’s up to: If you go to www.latinostories.com, you can find examples of Gonzalez’ poetry as well as such things as one of his essays, “A Bilingual Conundrum,” that was read last year on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Speaking of that Web site, there’s some pretty cool stuff there: In addition to such features as statistics on Latino Americans across the country there are author sites, lists of recommended Latino films, high school and children’s reading guides, and Best Of lists of Latino authors — from biography and essays to literature to genre writers such as mystery author Marcos M. Villatoro.
Literature is magical, but what about that Marquez guy? At the academy, the Gonzalez curriculum reaches expansively across the canon of literature. But a course he taught on magical realist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel-winning Mexico City author of “Love in the Time of Cholera” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” was truly an experience. “In retrospect,” Gonzalez laughs, “I probably got too excited. I think I assigned way too much reading for the students to read. You could do a whole year on ‘Solitude’ alone and I was just going crazy.” He says the kids liked it, though. “I’ve heard back from a lieutenant out on the fleet who took that course, and he met some enlisted Latino guys who couldn’t believe he knew so much about Marquez. So that was good.”
And to whom does Gonzalez relate? “There are so many of them. But Langston Hughes. Anything by Hughes. You can hear the sounds of the city when you read him. You can’t read him without sensing so much going on.”