Citizen Illegal

Day 2: November 15, 2023 | 9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m., Varsity Hall

Session Video

Session Description

The son of formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants, award-winning poet José Olivarez writes poems that use the lenses of immigration, in-betweeness, gender, class and family to examine and praise the world. These are poems written to be shared and to start conversations. In this inspiring talk and performance of some of his poems, he 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. These poems provide pathways to talking about our communities and the futures we want to imagine for ourselves and our loved ones. Drawing from his book, Citizen Illegal, Olivarez performs poems that investigate the Latinx identity, call out mental health, make you think about gender to ones that teaches love.


José Olivarez

José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a top book of 2018 by The Adroit Journal, NPR, and the New York Public Library. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he co-edited the poetry anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He is the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods.
In 2018, he was awarded the first annual Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association and named a Debut Poet of 2018 by Poets & Writers. In 2019, he was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere.

Thumbnail of speaker José Olivarez.