Event Recap

Compelling Conversation with José Olivarez on September 23

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The 2021-2022 Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) “Compelling Conversation Speaker Series” sponsored and presented by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion kicked off on September 23 as a part of Hispanic Heritage Month in collaboration with the BHCC One Book Program. The first speaker in the series was José Olivarez, the author of the 2021-2022 BHCC One Book Program selection, Citizen Illegal. José Olivarez read aloud several poems from Citizen Illegal and generously shared a couple of his new poems with the 100 bustling and engaging audience at the event. As one of the audiences said so aptly in the chat, it was “Incredible how much life you have given the words we read already just by reading them out loud.” During the poetry reading, the audience exchanged their reactions to topics of the poems, such as “VapoRub” or “tortillas,” in the chat in such a lively way. After his 40-minute poetry reading, facilitated by Professor Carlos Maynard, Olivarez and students made the virtual space deeply communal. For the remaining 50 minutes, students flooded the space with a nonstop stream of questions for Olivarez: “raised hands” of different colors constantly popped up on the Zoom black screen, and the chatbox brimmed with questions from the audience.

Jose Olivarez headshotOlivarez took students’ thoughtful and poignant questions to heart and responded to and elaborated on them in his generous, sincere, and touching manners. One of the powerful moments was when a student asked a question in Spanish, he responded to it in Spanish, and no one asked for an intervening translation. That moment reveals that our community values multiple languages as a form of cultural wealth. To the question about what he learns from writing poems, he answered that poetry reminded him that “I can consider other ways of being” and that “caring for my people and caring for myself is important.” 

Olivarez added that writing the book Citizen Illegal “taught me to value the liminal space” and “gave me reasons to believe in ambiguity, not always having to have a definitive answer.” 

Those are compelling conversations in this unprecedented and uncertain time. We look forward to another lively interaction between José Olivarez and students when he returns on Thursday, April 29, 2022, at 1 p.m.

The September 23 recording of One Book Author José Olivarez is copyrighted and for educational purposes only. To request special access to the recording, please contact Kevin Wery at kwery@bhcc.edu