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Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient: Cindy Williams Gutiérrez

We’re excited to be featuring the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients on our blog this spring! The applications for 2017 fellowships are due THIS FRIDAY, June 24, 2016 and you can read the guidelines and download an application by clicking here.

2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient

Cindy Williams Gutiérrez




Selected by Poets & Writers Magazine as a 2014 Notable Debut Poet, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez draws inspiration from the silent and silenced voices of history. Her poetry collection, the small claim of bones published by Arizona State University’s Bilingual Press, placed second in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards.

Q&A with Literary Arts

1. What are your sources of inspiration?

I am deeply inspired by the complexity of what it means to be human, by the beauty and ferocity of the human spirit, by what we’re capable of—from beneficence to malice—in both the personal and the political realm. Through a political lens, I am compelled to give voice to the silent and silenced voices of history and herstory. On a personal level, I am driven to claim the wholeness of my own story, to pursue my truth.

For poetry, my sources of inspiration are ubiquitous—a film or photograph, a bird or clouds, a conversation or rite of passage, a historical figure or event. I love writing in response to other writers’ prompts. Lately I’ve been writing in response to my own prompts (which I developed for classes I have taught) and have been wonderfully surprised by the resulting poem. My plays are often inspired by poetry and by the desire to reconcile something seemingly irreconcilable.

2. How would you describe your creative process?

In a word, “constant.” It is a constant curiosity—a process of asking questions, of digging deeper and deeper to see what I could not see before, of striving to understand—or at least hold—contradiction, of feeling—and striving to transform—sorrow and pain, of feeling—and striving to capture—empathy and awe.

That said, I haunt cafes to read and eavesdrop and dream. I often write by hand in these venues. I am also prone to periods of immersion in which I spend hours a day at my computer writing or editing or both. I do a lot of research for my work with a cultural and historical context. I try to notice when ideas, notions, historical events appear in more than one spot in my world and pay attention to synchronicity. I try, as William Stafford advised, not to “let go of the thread.”

3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

I was thrilled to receive this vote of confidence from Literary Arts, an organization I greatly admire. As the first recipient of the Oregon Literary Fellowship for Writers of Color, I was excited to be part of Literary Arts’ commitment to the panoply of diverse voices telling their unique stories and singing their singular verse throughout Oregon.

4. What are you currently working on?

I just finished writing the first draft of a new play called The House. It’s a memory play dealing with the formative years of childhood through the eyes of an adult. What does it mean to return to our childhood home? What does that childhood house hold for us? What tugs us to it? What pulls us away from it? How do we construct memory? If we could reconstruct our childhood memories, what might we see that we didn’t see the first time?

I’m also finalizing the chapbook manuscript that garnered the fellowship. Called Recipe for Remembering, this work explores women’s lot in the world as well as my relationships with the important women in my life. In particular, I explore the roles of wife, mother, daughter, and la femme artiste in both the political and personal realms.

5. What advice do you have for future applicants?

Persevere. I applied five times before receiving the fellowship. Create and submit work that resonates deeply with you—this is what truly matters. Use the application process as a way to learn more about who you are as an artist, what you stand for and why. Prepare your application as if you were responding to Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel’s question: “To what do you lend your tongue?”

OLF Judge’s Comments

“Darkness cannot be waved away with wings,” writes the poet, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez. “The dark surrounds. / See through it.” The poems here dare to look and listen; summoning the stories silenced by time and history, Gutiérrez’s work sings with clarity and urgency, risking the sentimental for the greater reward of deep recognition and compassion. Calling out from the voices and bodies of women subjected to the forces of industry, power, and cultural hegemony, the poems move with precision and an unflinching gaze. From “Recipe for Remembering,” which catalogues the maps, menus, feathers, and pebbles of the forgotten, to the masterful sestina reflecting on the daily violence survived by women, Gutiérrez’s dynamic range and poetic powers are on full display. The poet, Muriel Rukeyser, once asked “what would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.” Here are many worlds, split open and speaking.

—Brynn Saito

Excerpt from current work:

Dream Diary 

  1.  Raven Woman,

I want to say I offer medicine—
say I can heal and shield from harm.
I want to say I have learned to feed my own
self cures for the spirit.
But I cannot descry the cerulean of the sky.
I cannot glide through the dark.
I cannot float in the mire.
The news from worlds away and here
grinds my feet in clay.
My rent heart keeps me stitching
the air into a fraying patchwork.
News from your clawing beak could nourish
or trick me. Best of all:
your wings could shroud darkness, render it invisible.
Call to me with light.
Enfold me in the luminous.


  1. Dear Fireless Poet,

Don’t quarrel with blindness—
with the bound feet of unwanted girls,
with the rapacious kidnapping of school girls,
the trafficking of child-girls,
the torture of activist girls,
the beating of wife-girls,
the molesting of small-boned girls.
Darkness cannot be waved away with wings.
The dark ensnares.
Cut through it. Adjust the blades
of your eyes: trace unholy shapes
into processions of grace—these aspens
a radiant silver beneath the new moon.
Move like aspen. Stir like aspen.
Make a rush of sound that shakes the world.

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