Professor Deborah Paredez Wins Writers’ League of Texas Poetry Book Award for 'Year of the Dog'

BY Rebecca Pinwei Tseng, September 15, 2021

Associate Professor of Writing Deborah Paredez was recently awarded the 2020 Writers’ League of Texas Poetry Book Award for her collection, Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, 2020).

 

First established in 1991 as the Violet Crown Award, the Writers' League of Texas Book Award is an annual award that recognizes exceptional storytelling for Texas authors in the genres of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, picture books, and middle grade/young adult books. Winners receive $1000 and a commemorative award. The largest literary arts organization in Texas, the Writers' League of Texas offers services and programs to writers, including a Summer Writing Retreat, an annual Agents & Editors Conference, and online courses on craft and publishing.

 

Year of the Dog, Paredez's second poetry collection, was previously awarded the Humanities War & Peace Initiative Grant from Columbia's Division of the Humanities in the Arts and Sciences. Additionally, the book was a New York Times New & Notable Poetry Book, one of Big Other's "Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2020," and it made The Rumpus's list of "What To Read When 2020 Is Just Around the Corner.”

 

The title of this collection of poems takes its name from the year 1970—the year of Paredez's birth, the year her father prepared for deployment to Vietnam alongside other Mexican-American immigrant soldiers, a year of great upheaval in the United States, and the Year of the Metal Dog in the lunar calendar. The poems evoke the Greek myth of Hecuba, the queen of Troy who is so struck by grief from witnessing the horrors of war, she begins to howl until she is transformed into a dog.

 

Year of the Dog also engages with the haunting myth of La Llorona, the weeping woman in Mexican folklore who roams the riverbanks mourning her children. By incorporating iconic photographs from the Vietnam Era and her father's snapshots during his service into the text, Paredez weaves together images, myth, memory, and history to recontextualize significant moments of the 1970s, including the arrest of Angela Davis, the Kent State Massacre, and the napalm attacks on Vietnam villagers. The collection tells the untold story of a Latina daughter, who as Natasha Trethewey writes, lives “in the aftermath of national and personal trauma...the casualties and collateral damage of war and injustice.”

The grief of war in this collage of photographs and poems resonate from the 1970s to the present. In an interview with Texas Public Radio, Paredez states, “I really wanted to take that idea of what it means to be a woman who's going to look into the face of disaster—as women often have had to do—and to bear witness to it and to not sort of let it go. And I finished the book in another Year of the Dog, 2018, which at that time was the year that recorded the highest numbers of school shootings in the nation's history. For me, finishing this book [is] about a historical moment, but in a moment in which the legacy of war, the sort of never-ending war [that] was very present to me.”

 

Publishers Weekly gave Year of the Dog a starred review, calling it "an astonishing book.” In a review of Year of the Dog, Hoa Nguyen writes, “Collectively the poems speak with chilling and touching clarity as they address systemic brutality and militarized power in service to state, nation, and whiteness. This book is fierce, moving, and necessary.”

 

Deborah Paredez is the author of the poetry collections This Side of Skin (Wings Press, 2002) and Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, 2020), and of the critical study Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory (Duke, 2009). Her poetry and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Boston Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. She is the co-founder of CantoMundo, a national organization dedicated to Latinx poets and poetry. She holds a PhD in Interdisciplinary Theatre and Performance Studies from Northwestern University. Paredez is currently at work on a book of essays about divas.