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Guam native wins prestigious literary fellowship

Craig Santos Perez praises the Pacific through poetry

An established poet, educator and literary genius, Guam native Craig Santos Perez was recently awarded the prestigious Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, recognizing the meritorious and potential work of the blooming literary artist.

The Lannan Foundation, which awarded Perez, is a family-based organization that is dedicated to cultural freedom, diversity and creativity, awarding monetary prizes and a month-and-a-half long residency at the Lannan properties in Marfa, Texas.

The opportunity grants Perez the time and environment to immerse himself in an ideal writing environment among other Lannan recipients, where the authors will have the space to create their next work of art.

The Lannan Literary Fellowship is Perez’s second distinguished honor in a short period of time; also having received the 2015 American Book Award for his poetry book “unincorporated territory [(guma’)”.

Guam son

A native Chamorro and former resident of Mongmong, Perez relocated to California with his family in 1995 and found roots in Manoa, Oahu in 2010 where he has resided since.

Perez currently works as an associate professor in the English department of the University of Hawaiʻi, Manoa, where he teaches creative writing and Pacific literature.

The accomplished literary artist has co-edited two anthologies of Pacific literature, authored three books of poetry, released his first audio poetry album “Undercurrent” in 2011, and is the co-founder of Ala Press – the only Pacific literature publisher in the United States, according to Perez.

Perez’s poetry, essays, fiction, reviews and translations have also been published in more than a hundred national and international scholarly and literary journals and anthologies, he said.

In 2010, the Guam Legislature passed Resolution No. 315-30, which recognized and commended Perez as “an accomplished poet who has been a phenomenal ambassador for our island, eloquently conveying through his words, the beauty and love that is the Chamorro culture,” according to the resolution.

Upon receiving the Lannan Literary Fellowship, The Guam Daily Post interviewed Perez as he prepares for his Lannan residency where the poet might write his next masterpiece.

Q&A with The Poet

Q: What was your reaction to being nominated, and then winning the prestigious Lannan Literary Fellowship? What does the award and recognition mean for you as a poet?

A: I felt surprised, then grateful. To me, the award shows that my poetry is being valued and appreciated by literary experts. The recognition means that my poetry is circulated and being seen on a national level.

Q: As a native of Guam, how does it feel to be the first Pacific Islander/Chamorro to receive the fellowship? What does this mean for aspiring poets and authors back home and across the Pacific?

A: Usually, Guam and Chamorros are invisible in America. I became so used to being invisible and marginalized that being seen in this way feels strange. At the same time, it feels empowering because now I have a platform to highlight my culture, history, and experiences. I hope this means that more attention will be given to all the other talented authors writing back home and across the Pacific.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most during your residency at the Lannan properties in Texas? What are you hoping to gain out of your experience and time there?

A: I am looking forward to having quiet time to work on my next book of poems, which will focus on the themes of nature, ecology, environmental justice, climate change, animals and food.

Q: Where did the young Craig Santos Perez get his inspiration and talent for writing poetry? Can you share a memory or experience that prompted you to start writing?

A: I have been very inspired by my parents, who are both engaging storytellers. I always remembering sitting around the table with them during family gatherings and listening to all their stories. Plus, they are both voracious readers and they always bought me children's and young adult books, comics and poetry when I was young. From these beginnings, I was inspired to start writing in high school when my family migrated to California. I had three wonderful English teachers that taught me the value of literature and creative writing: Jeff Kass, Kami Tomberlain, and Thomas Seaton.

Q: As an accomplished poet, author, and assistant professor at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, what is one piece of advice you can impart to your students and aspiring poets across the Pacific?

A: To students and aspiring poets, I advise to write with creativity, passion, truth, wonder, love, respect and fierceness. Write about the everyday and the eternal. Write about the spiraling connections between the past, present, and future. Write about your family, your village, your island, your ocean. Write about your memories and migrations, your fears and your dreams. And read other writers, Pacific and non-Pacific. Share your work at open mics and send it out for publication. And always value your stories.

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