Who says you can’t make a living writing poetry?
Martín Espada is managing to do it. A professor of English at UMass Amherst, Espada is the 2018 winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a prestigious literary honor that comes with a $100,000 cash prize.
Espada is the first Latino poet to win the award, which honors a living US poet for outstanding lifetime achievement. The award is administered by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, and will be presented to Espada at a ceremony at the Poetry Foundation June 11.
Born in Brooklyn, Espada earned a BA in history at the University of Wisconsin and a law degree from Northeastern. As an attorney, he was a supervisor at Su Clínica Legal, a legal services program for low-income, Spanish-speaking tenants in Chelsea. As a poet, his 2006 collection “The Republic of Poetry” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His latest collection of poems is “Vivas to Those Who Have Failed.”
Espada was typically eloquent in acknowledging the award, saying: “To receive a lifetime achievement award in the form of the Ruth Lilly Prize is a great honor that causes me to reflect: on my father, as artist and activist, who died four years ago; on Jack Agüeros, the first poet I ever met; on the days I sat outside the courtroom, scribbling poems on legal pads; on the people in the poems I write, Whitman’s ‘numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known.’ ”