When Carmen Giménez Smith watched the television show “Revenge,” she was more than entertained. She had found an unlikely muse that would lead her on an award-winning journey to a Guggenheim Fellowship.
As she watched the series, the Department of English professor took notes and discovered the show was a perfect vehicle to help her think about anger and revenge in a way she could express through her writing.
One poem became several. Giménez Smith began to gain a better sense of how she could incorporate television into her writing.
“I had a learning curve in how to write about something so temporal,” she said. “They can cancel a show tomorrow. And how do you do the critical thinking needed for that type of writing?”
But as Giménez Smith looked back at her work from other projects, she pulled out the television poems and started to see the beginnings of a book.
Then there was her annual ritual of applying for a Guggenheim Fellowship. For 10 years she had persevered with the submission process.
“If you want something,” she said, “you have to go for it and not stop until you get it.”
And through her book project, “Nostalgia Has Such a Short Half-Life,” she found success in her longtime goal. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded her a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship. Giménez Smith was one of 168 scholars, artists, and writers accepted out of more than 3,000 applicants.
Giménez Smith, a self-described night owl, will continue the project this summer once she finishes her book tour for her latest endeavor, “Be Recorder,” published by Graywolf Press.
“Nostalgia Has Such a Short Half-Life” considers the construction and meaning of identity through media in terms of fans, aficionados, collectors, and viewers.
“I wanted to write about television,” Giménez Smith said. “There is a way in which these shows are new mythologies. They tell us about our anxieties, fears, and frustrations. But they also communicate back to us how culture wants us to behave. These are ripe for examination.”
Her collection will also include poems centered on the work of Asco, a 1970s and 1980s Chicano art collective from Los Angeles and its No-Movies series. Through staged stills, the collective alluded to unmade Chicano arthouse films. Giménez Smith said it is a critique of Hollywood’s exclusion of Latinx identity in film, which she said is still a problem to this day.
This theme speaks to her passions as an advocate for underrepresented voices in the literary arts, particularly those of Latinx poets. As a codirector of the national organization CantoMundo, she organizes an annual retreat for young writers and serves as a mentor. In 2013, she co-edited “Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing,” an anthology of contemporary Latinx poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
But “Nostalgia Has Such a Short Half-Life” also relates to the depictions of bipolar disorder, a maverick antihero, and weight-loss shows. And the media involved is not just television oriented; it also includes movies, memes, GIFs, and Vines.
Giménez Smith was born in New York City to emigrants from Peru. She received a B.A. in English at San Jose State University and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow.
Her published poetry collections include “Odalisque in Pieces,” “The City She Was,” “Cruel Futures,” and “Goodbye, Flicker,” which won the Juniper Prize for Poetry in 2012. “Milk and Filth” was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle award in poetry.
Giménez Smith is the author of “Bring Down the Little Birds,” which won an American Book Award. This lyric memoir is a meditation on motherhood and daughterhood.
In addition, she co-translated “Song of the Old Man” by Pablo de Rokha in the anthology “Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin America,” and she is co-editing and translating an anthology on the Peruvian countercultural group, the Kloaka Movement, and, with the poet Zachary Payne, Mariela Dreyfus’s first collection of poetry.
The Howard Foundation at Brown University awarded her a 2011–12 Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction, and she has received grants from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation, the Hermitage Foundation, and CantoMundo.
Giménez Smith is a member of the poetry faculty of the Bennington Writing Seminars. With Steph Burt, she edits poetry for The Nation.
She is also the publisher of Noemi Press. Noemi has published more than 40 full-length collections of poetry and fiction, which have received reviews in the Boston Review, Publishers Weekly, The Rumpus, The New Yorker, and Pleiades. With Francisco Aragon, she co-founded The Akrilica Series, a co-publishing venture between Noemi Press and Letras Latinasto that showcases innovative Latinx writing.
Giménez Smith also established Infidel Poetics, a series of short-form books of poetics on gender, radical identity, and the 21st century.
Written and photographed by Leslie King