Filipino-American poet and writer Patrick Rosal’s fourth book “Brooklyn Antediluvian” has won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, one of the 2017 American Poets Prizes which is among the most valuable poetry prizes in the United States.
The Academy of American Poets, the largest member-supported nonprofit organization fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets has been giving the award, which comes with a $25,000 prize. The Academy recognized and honored Brooklyn Antediluvian as the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States in the previous year. Past recipients include Charles Wright, Patricia Smith, and Kevin Young. The judges were Rigoberto González, Vijay Seshadri, and Susan Wheeler.
“This prize is a nice boost for me. I’m hoping to buy a house soon, so this is a huge help,” Rosal told the Asian Journal. “The prize also means visibility and recognition. Truth is, there were many people, maybe hundreds or thousands, who read my books and found something that delighted them or that resonated with their own story. Most of those readers have been people of color. Many of them are young people. The vast majority of them had no power to award prizes. I wrote for them and I continue to write for them.”
Rosal admitted that he has paused a number of times since he got the news a few weeks ago to think that he is the first Asian American and first Filipino to win this particular literary prize.
“There are so many incredible writers of Filipino descent who are filling crucial gaps in our historical and cultural knowledge of America. One of the bad habits of the literary world is that a person of color who gains some visibility becomes representative and so publishers, editors, and many audiences assume they only have to read this one book and they know a whole culture,” he shared.
“I hope that this award points to the wealth of Filipino writing happening in the United States, in the Philippines, and throughout the Filipino diaspora,” Rosal added.
Rosal’s Brooklyn Antediluvian (Persea Books, 2016) was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award for Poetry. About this winning book, judge Rigoberto González said: “Brooklyn Antediluvian sings as both lament and celebration: it connects histories, landscapes, and stories of times past to the joyous rhythms of the present. Nothing left behind is forgotten or lost, but so too will the sorrow and surprise of separation be woven into the narrative of a continuing hard-won journey. Rosal’s poems are energetic, curious, and attuned to the momentums of the never-ending search for community and home.”
His earlier books: Boneshepherds (Persea Books, 2011), My American Kundiman (Persea Books, 2006), and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive (Persea Books, 2003) were all full-length poetry collections. Boneshepherds was named a small press highlight by the National Book Critics
Circle and a notable book by the Academy of American Poets. My American Kundiman won the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, received the Asian American Writers Workshop Members’ Choice Award.
“I’m deeply grateful to my friends and family who have supported me and listened to me. My writing corresponds to many worlds because so many people have offered their friendship,” Rosal said. “Out of that intimacy, my stories, my poems, my language itself has grown. None of my achievements means much without acknowledging everyone who has touched me in this way.”
Earlier this year, Rosal won a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship.
“It was a surprise. I’ve been an outsider to the academia and the publishing world in a lot of ways. I bridge worlds between books and performance so it felt special to get that kind of recognition from such a prestigious organization such as John Guggenheim,” Rosal told us a few months ago.
These awards and recognitions feel like a celebration that is much bigger than him, he shared. It is a celebration of his family and their history.
“I kept thinking back to my parents and grandparents and my own history about how unlikely it is that a son of Ilocano immigrants who came here to the United States before 1965 has written these books and has been embraced by the American literary community,” he added.
Asked about how his parents reacted when he told them he wanted to become a writer, he said his mom died before “she saw me straighten my life.”
“I actually failed out of college twice. I was banned from Rutgers University for ten years. I’m now the director of a graduate program at a university that I was kicked out. My mother didn’t live to see me do that. My mother really knew me as somebody who was lost. She just wanted me to be happy. I think if I told her I wanted to be a poet she would have been very supportive,” Rosal shared.
“My father on the other hand, he had all deferred dreams, he wanted to be a lawyer so he wanted me to become a lawyer. His reaction was a lot more stern, unforgiving. I think later on, when he saw my book and me being published and invited to respected institutions such as Columbia and Harvard, those were the things he could understand, but not the life of an artist. He had a hard time understanding how I had a future in the field,” he added.
Rosal has received teaching appointments at Penn State Altoona, Centre College, and the University of Texas, Austin, Drew University’s Low-Residency MFA program and Sarah Lawrence College. He taught creative writing for several years at Bloomfield College and twice served on the faculty of Kundiman’s Summer Retreat for Asian American Poets.
In addition to conducting workshops in Alabama prisons through Auburn University, he has taught high school workshops through the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Sarah Lawrence College’s Summer Writing Conference for High School Students, Urban Word NYC, and the Volume workshops in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He currently directs the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden where he is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing.
Asked about possible lessons that can be imparted to the younger Fil-Ams, he quipped, “So many.”
“Among other things, that their stories are important. There’s incredible richness and wonder in the strangeness of these stories. And not to be ashamed of the strangeness because this strangeness is what they have to offer to the world,” he said. “We’re a genius people because we are slightly outside of the kind of American culture that we have such incredible fluency in. If we honor what’s outside of that American culture, that’s where the transformation is where it’s going to be.”
A riveting performer, Rosal has been featured throughout South Africa with the likes of Mutaburuka and Jean Binta Breeze, in addition to appearances in Greece, the UK, Argentina, the Caribbean, the Philippines and venues all over the United States, including the Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Book Festival, NJPAC and elsewhere. His prose and poetry have appeared in the New York Times, Grantland, Tin House, the Harvard Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, and many other journals, magazines, and anthologies.