Saturday, February 24, 2018

A.K. Smith series comes to a close with a reading by González

NATALIE WEINSTEIN ’14

ARTS EDITOR

On Tuesday, Dec. 4 students gathered into the Rittenberg Lounge in Mather Hall for the final reading in this year’s A.K. Smith Series. The common hour event featured Trinity’s own Kevin González, who joined the school’s creative writing program earlier this year. The reading capped off the series with the works of a professor who has quickly become a favorite among his students at the school.

Kevin González was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and brings this sense of his culture to his writing. As an accomplished writer and professor, he has fellowships from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. In the past, he has received the Narrative Prize, the Playboy Fiction Prize, and the Michener-Copernicus Award for his works. In addition, his stories have appeared in Playboy, Virginia Quarterly Review, Narrative Magazine, and in two editions of Best New American Voices, along with other magazines and anthologies.

González is currently the editor of jubilat, a publication geared toward publishing the best contemporary American poetry, along with a varied selection of reprints, found pieces, art, and interviews with poets and other artists. The magazine creates a discussion that displays the beauty and uniqueness of the ordinary. At the same time it shows how experimenting with language and imagery allows for self-expression. The jubilat is funded in part by support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the UMass Arts Council.

In addition to his affiliation with jubilat and his various accomplishments, Carnegie Mellon University Press published González’s first collection of poetry, entitled “Cultural Studies,” in 2009 and he is currently working on a new novel.

During the reading, González chose to share an excerpt from his novel in progress. He commented on the passage he chose to read and the fact that it “has a narrative arc, not dissimilar to short stories.” González pointed out that although this flashback is a part of his novel, it is more than capable of standing on its own as a short story separate from the work.

The novel is written in the present tense from the first person point of view of the protagonist, but in telling the story of his father’s youth, it reads like a third person narrative. The setting is 1962 in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Hector, the protagonist’s father, goes to Phillips Academy and proceeds to get kicked out of school. The narrative progresses to a scene where Hector’s father gives him a car for his birthday, not knowing he has been kicked out of school, demonstrating González’s use of humor in his writing.

The excerpt details Hector’s birthday, which begins with his friends beating on him and ends with him coming into contact with a tiger. González’s writing flows effortlessly from serious topics that are then lightened by fantastic ones. Throughout the reading, the words of his work were given an extra sense of authenticity due to González’s Spanish affectation. His writing is filled with humor and comic relief, yet manages to tackle the more difficult topics of race relations and sexuality.

At one point he writes, “It had taken Hector 16 years and a trip over seas to realize he wasn’t white,” indicating the race issues experienced by an adolescent male in Puerto Rico. In the story, Hector is not accepted at Andover because of his race, providing the audience with the unfortunate truth about certain prejudices during this point in time. González adds a sense of reality to the text and goes on to describe how people called Hector a “spic” at Andover, a negatively charged racial slur toward his race. González’s balance of honesty, humor, and reality combine to create a narrative that flows easily and entertains.

González’s writing style is very lyrical, and even though he read a short story, it read like a poem. The humorous story encompassed a wide range of topics including the death of one’s mother, the question of sexuality, the struggle with one’s racial identity, and the ever-classic coming of age tale. His reading was inspiring because it evoked such a strong reaction from the audience. One student who attended the reading stated, “I have not had the chance to take a class with him [González] yet, but after listening to this reading I would be interested in signing up for one of his creative writing courses.” González’s use of detailed facts and his Puerto Rican heritage authenticated the plot of the story and gave the audience a true sense of what it meant for Hector to live and mature in Puerto Rico in 1962.

The A.K. Smith Series ended with an enjoyable and inspiring reading by one of Trinity’s new and esteemed professors. González captivated the audience with his unique writing style and his ability to evoke images with his authentic Spanish accent and his well-written words.

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