June 15, 2020
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Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, poet and professor of Spanish, achieves international acclaim while writing and teaching at Kenyon.
His book, desde un granero rojo (“from a red barn”) recently received the Alfons el Magnànim International Poetry Prize in Valencia, Spain, an award that carries with it a cash prize as well as the publication of his book by the prestigious publishing house, Hiperión. In addition, the Shanghai Writers’ Association awarded him an artist residency in Shanghai, where he has been giving readings and lectures on his poetry to Chinese writers since September.
Of course, Rodríguez Núñez was something of a rock star of Hispanic poetry before these most recent awards. One of Cuba’s most noteworthy contemporary writers, he has published more than 20 books of his poetry, won other major poetry prizes in several countries, compiled influential anthologies of Hispanic poets, edited cultural journals and written numerous introductions and essays on Spanish American poetry. He keeps changing and evolving as an artist, he said, by challenging the very notions that have made him successful.
“If you want to be a truly great writer, you can’t keep writing the same way, you have to try new ways,” he said.
His most recent poem, thaw (“of a thousand verses”) from Arc Publications (UK), for example, is the first to mine the beauty of the Kenyon countryside. His wife and translator, Associate Professor of Spanish Katherine M. Hedeen, described it as a “pastoral that challenges the genre, where the beauty of a combine harvester counts for as much as a daffodil’s or a groundhog’s. It is the essential experience of otherness: fear and fascination with the Ohio landscape, so unlike the tropics of the poet’s native Cuba.”
In the poem, Rodríguez Núñez writes about the Ohio nature using an unconventional conversational tone structured in 10-line stanzas popular in Spanish poetry. It’s all part of his effort to build an identity unbounded by ethnicities, cultures and countries. “I want my work to emphasize what I have in common with other people and places,” he said. “Poetry without borders is my goal, in content and form.”
He credits Hedeen for “helping me to accomplish my goal to write better every day.”
He also acknowledges the atmosphere at Kenyon for helping him thrive as an artist.
“Kenyon is a place where I could maintain a balance between teaching and writing,” he said. “The College allows its faculty to be great teachers, as well as great scholars and researchers. If we ever lose that, we lose everything.”