Stephanie Stio: On the Paz Prize for Poetry and Dinapiera Di Donato’s Colaterales/Collateral
Meeting a need has been the founding principle and continuing objective of The National Poetry Series for the last 35 years. Poetry needs to be published, and NPS sees to that. And so, when discussions about a possible prize to honor Spanish poetry ensued in Miami among the Book Fair crowd in 2011, NPS Director Daniel Halpern came up with a plan.
Working closely with Alina Interián of The Center at Miami Dade College, Dan began to set up the parameters of an annual competition to honor a book of poetry written originally in Spanish by an American resident. It was immediately evident that this would fill a void in the poetry world—a new prize specifically geared to bring attention to Spanish poetry/poets in the US The partnership with Miami Dade seemed obvious, with The Center already advancing Spanish arts programs to admired heights.
With the formulation of an award comes the development of an advisory board—the challenging task of asking esteemed and very busy people to contribute their thoughts to your venture. Dan’s decades of work with and devotion to translation brought many names to the table. In the end, authors like Sandra Cisneros, Gary Soto, Julia Alvarez, and Campbell McGrath had signed on, as well as the much-respected Eduardo Padrón and Mitchell Kaplan.
Dan and Johnny Temple, friends from years back, discussed the idea of Akashic signing on as the publisher for the prize. Interests and objectives meshed well, and we had a home for the book.
Schedules and guidelines were drafted and it was time to name the prize. I could spin a tale of back and forth debate, but it was really just one question from Dan that sealed the deal: “Hey, guys, a thought: Why don’t we call this The Paz Prize for Poetry, in honor of Octavio Paz, the great Mexican writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990, and who passed away in 1998?” With all in agreement, The Paz Prize for Poetry was announced.
Approaching Victor Hernández Cruz as our first judge seemed obvious. Highly regarded, and with a previous working relationship with The National Poetry Series, Victor was happy to take the lead.
With a lot of promotional help from Lissette Mendez at The Center, the first submission period brought in sixty-two applicants from across the country, with a large concentration in the Miami area. This very respectable response for a new prize with a specified audience has justified the work that has gone into establishing this important prize. Victor graciously agreed to read them all, telling me from Puerto Rico, “I will put some oil on the ropes holding up the hammock. I’ll do some good reading with the tropical breeze.”
So, as Victor reviewed, Dan and I received his occasional feedback that the manuscripts were strong and the poets talented. As the entrants awaited word on a decision, I was seeing daily emails expressing gratitude to NPS for creating a venue for this community of poets to compete for publication. I love my job.
A decision was made in the beginning of October: Dinapiera Di Donato was our first winner of The Paz Prize for Poetry. A New York City poet, fiction writer and teacher, a very humble Dinapiera accepted her award from her home near The Cloisters. Her winning work, Colaterales, is an eleven-year overview of, in her words,“. . . looking between the letters and images to cross river’s narratives made of ghost’s towns of war.”
Dinapiera and Johnny were introduced, and it was on to production and the search for the right translator. It has been a great privilege in my fifteen years at NPS to develop relationships with many of the winners of our annual open competition. I love bringing these poets back into the NPS conversation, so that’s where I went for translation advice. I reached out to recent winner Idra Novey and former Robert Fagles Translation Prize recipient Eléna Rivera to discuss what best direction to take for Dina’s translation. Idra’s thoughtful suggestion of poet and translator Ricardo Maldonado, managing director at the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center, was our choice.
Johnny took the reigns on the project from there, and with great polish and punctuality, Colaterales/Collateral has been beautifully produced. Dan’s initial reading left him utterly impressed: “. . . unlike anything being written—mystical at times, surreal at other times. Smart, sensual, unpredictable, historical, religious . . . . What an awesome way to begin this prize.”
NPS is hopeful that The Paz Prize for Poetry will continue to have such remarkable results. In the words of Victor Hernández Cruz as he delivered his decision, “Que viva el español!”
STEPHANIE STIO has been the coordinator of The National Poetry Series since 1998, seeing 75 (and counting) books of poetry into publication. With a degree in Communication/English from Seton Hall University, she enjoyed a successful career in marketing and fundraising prior to her work at NPS. Stephanie lives in Lawrenceville, NJ with her husband and two children.
Posted: Dec 4, 2013
Category: Akashic Insider | Tags: Akashic Insider, Colaterales/Collateral, Dinapiera Di Donato, The Paz Prize for Poetry, Dan Halpern, Miami Dade College, Octavio Paz, Victor Hernández Cruz, Sandra Cisneros, Gary Soto, Julia Alvarez, Campbell McGrath, Eduardo Padrón, Mitchell Kaplan, Stephanie Stio
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