Twenty Puerto Rican Writers Receive the Inaugural Letras Boricuas Fellowship

Letras Boricuas title card

New $25,000 Fellowship, Created by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Flamboyan Foundation’s Arts Fund, Aims to Enrich and Sustain Literary Tradition in Puerto Rico and Across the US Diaspora

(NEW YORK, NY AND SAN JUAN, PR – November 16, 2021)  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Flamboyan Foundation’s Arts Fund today announced the inaugural cohort of Letras Boricuas Fellows – 20 Puerto Rican writers whose dynamic work spans genres including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and children’s literature. A first-of-its-kind fellowship, Letras Boricuas was created to identify, elevate, and amplify the voices of emerging and established Puerto Rican writers on the island and across the United States diaspora. 

The fellowship provides crucial support both across the diaspora, and to the community of writers in Puerto Rico who have endured and continue their practice through repeated natural disasters and ongoing political turmoil, despite historically limited opportunities to share their work with a broader audience. By providing unrestricted funds and fostering connection among its recipients, the fellowship will support Puerto Rico’s celebrated literary lineage — a discipline traditionally under-resourced and underfunded both in Puerto Rico and in the United States — illustrate the diversity of these writers’ experiences and showcase incredible Puerto Rican literary voices.

“Twenty vibrant Puerto Rican voices make up this remarkable initial cohort, each one resonant and powerful. These are writers who convey the depth and breadth of Puerto Rico’s stories and histories across literary genres and a range of styles, and who affirm the vital significance of the word through their work,” says Elizabeth Alexander, President of the Mellon Foundation. “We at Mellon are delighted to continue our multi-year commitment to Puerto Rican writers, and to partner with the Flamboyan Foundation to support these 2021 fellows with the unrestricted funding and flexibility that is so important to their craft.” 

“The Letras Boricuas Fellowship exemplifies the Flamboyan Arts Fund’s goal of supporting and sustaining Puerto Rico’s vibrant humanities ecosystem. We are proud to announce a diverse cohort of 2021 fellows — writers of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and children’s literature — and to deepen our commitment to this work with the Mellon Foundation,” says Carlos Rodríguez Silvestre, Executive Director of Flamboyan Foundation Puerto Rico.

The 2021 Letras Boricuas Fellows are: 

Fiction 
Amina Lolita Gautier 
Cezanne Cardona
Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Francisco Font Acevedo 
Juanluís Ramos
Luis Negrón
Manolo Núñez Negrón 
Sergio Gutiérrez 

Creative Nonfiction
Mercy Romero
Vanessa Mártir
Xavier Valcárcel 
Yara Liceaga Rojas

Poetry 
Amanda Hernández
Carmen R. Marín
Francisco Félix
Jonatan María Reyes
María Teresa Fernández Rosario a.k.a. Mariposa
Martín Espada 
Mónica A. Jiménez 

Children’s Literature
Mrinali Álvarez Astacio 

The 2021 Letras Boricuas fellows were selected by a committee of acclaimed Puerto Rican writers based on the archipelago and in the United States, including Mayra Santos Febres (Puerto Rico-based), Eduardo Lalo (Puerto Rico-based), Félix Joaquín Rivera (Puerto Rico-based), Carina Del Valle Schorske, and Aracelis Girmay (US-based). The selection process was also supported by poet Willie Perdomo who served as special advisor to the committee. 

The Letras Boricuas Fellowship furthers The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s commitment to sustaining and enriching the archipelago’s vibrant cultural, knowledge, and memory ecosystems and the individuals working within them. Since 2018, the Foundation has committed more than $13 million — with an additional $10 million being committed by the end of 2021— to a multi-year initiative that aims to sustain and enrich Puerto Rico’s vibrant cultural and humanities ecosystem, ensuring that the arts and humanities will continue to flourish both on the archipelago and through connections across the diaspora.

For the past two years, the Flamboyan Foundation has worked through its Flamboyan Arts Fund initiative to preserve, amplify, and strengthen the arts in Puerto Rico. In response to the devastating effects of hurricanes María and Irma, the Fund has committed over $10 million and has provided critical support to more than 600 artists and artists and 100 arts organizations including museums, theaters, arts education programs, and concert venues to maintain the integrity of their programming, increase their visibility, and sustain their impact. 

In 2020, the two foundations worked together in immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing $1 million in emergency relief to 89 arts organizations and 600 individual artists. The emergency relief fund was established to help alleviate the devastating impacts of the pandemic on the arts and culture sector in Puerto Rico by providing grants of $5,000 to $20,000 to support staff salaries, rent, and other basic needs during the emergency, as well as the creation or expansion of virtual arts programming. 

This partnership will continue with the selection of the next class of Letras Boricuas Fellows in 2022, for which applications will be available in spring 2022. Participating fellows will also be hosted for a gathering in San Juan, Puerto Rico tentatively scheduled for April 2023. Writers interested in applying can visit www.letrasboricuas.org for more information and to submit applications in Spanish or English.

About the Fellows

Francisco Font Acevedo was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Puerto Rican parents, on September 15, 1970. He grew up in Rincón, Puerto Rico, the country where he lived until July 2018. Since then, he has lived in exile in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he assumes the border identity of being a Puerto Rican islander who neither assimilates nor wishes to assimilate to the equivocal category of Latino. On that side of the Atlantic, he works as an interpreter and writes fiction. His most recent publications are Santurce, un libro mural (in collaboration with the artist Rafael Trelles, Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades, Puerto Rico, 2020) and La troupe Samsonite (Folium, Puerto Rico, 2016). 

Mrinali Álvarez Astacio was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on January 12, 1973. She is a visual artist, illustrator, and author. She studied fine arts at Columbus College of Art and Design in the US and has a master’s degree in children’s book illustration from Cambridge School of Art in the UK. She has published books with the publishing house of the University of Puerto Rico as an author and illustrator, for some of which she received the Latino Book Awards and the Publisher’s West Award. She has exhibited her illustration works in Galleria Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy, and at Coningsby Gallery and Candid Gallery in London. In 2017, she received the mention of Highly Commended Artwork in the Macmillan Prize for Children’s Book Illustration competition. In 2016, she was one of three winners at the Beginning, Middle, and End competition of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators-British Isles, in London, UK. Her illustrated artist books were featured at the Norwich Artist Book Fair and Gallery Above in Linton. Her most recent publication is Piecitos de bebé (Baby feet, Editorial Destellos, Puerto Rico, 2021). 

Cezanne Cardona was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, on January 28, 1982. He is a writer, teacher, and columnist. In 2018, he received the Premio Nuevas Voces in 2019 and the Premio Nacional del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña for his book of short stories Levittown mon amor (Ediciones Callejón, 2018). Some of his short stories have been published in various anthologies and adapted to the theater. Currently, he is an opinion columnist for the newspaper El Nuevo Día and teaches Comparative Literature courses at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. 

Martín Espada has published more than 20 books as a poet, editor, essayist, and translator. His latest book of poems, Floaters (2021), is a finalist for the National Book Award. Other collections of poems include Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016), The Trouble Ball (2011), and Alabanza (2003). His honors include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. A former tenant lawyer, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Francisco Félix was born on September 18, 1990, in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. He grew up in Carolina and Trujillo Alto. He is a writer. He studied sociology and Hispanic studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He published the books of poems Esta Isla (Alayubia, 2019) and Sobre los domingos (La Impresora, 2019). He participated in the La Práctica program of Beta Local in 2019. El Nuevo Día has reviewed his texts, and some of his poems have been translated into English and Portuguese. Other poems have been published in the Low-Fi Ardentía, Demoliendo Hoteles, and Fracas magazines. In his blog, Rumiares Repetidos, he comments on literature. Currently, he lives in western Puerto Rico.

María Teresa Fernández Rosario, better known as Mariposa, is a proud Puerto Rican of African descent, born and raised in The Bronx. Her work demonstrates her pride in her Nuyorican roots and a profound commitment to her community. She is an award-winning poet, writer, educator and activist, whose work has been featured on HBO Latino (in the critically acclaimed series Habla Ya! and in the documentary Americanos: Latino Life in the U.S.), also on BET and PBS. She has performed at numerous colleges and universities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and abroad.

Amina Lolita Gautier is the author of three short story collections: At-Risk, Now We Will Be Happy, and The Loss of All Lost Things. More than 130 of her stories have been published, appearing in Agni, Boston Review, Callaloo, Cincinnati Review, Glimmer Train, Greensboro Review, Gulf Coast, Joyland, Kenyon Review, Latino Book Review, Los Angeles Review, Mississippi Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Quarterly West, Southern Review, and Triquarterly, among other places. She is the recipient of the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award, the Eric Hoffer Legacy Fiction Award, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award in Fiction, and two International Latino Book Awards. 

Sergio Gutiérrez was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, on September 14, 1986. This novelist and short-story writer currently lives in Oberlin, Ohio. In 2017, the Hay Festival selected him as part of Bogotá39, a list of 39 promising writers from the continent under 39. Two years earlier, in 2015, the Festival de la Palabra de Puerto Rico recognized him with the “Nuevas Voces” award, given to young Puerto Rican authors. His second novel, Dicen que los dormidos, won the National Novel Prize awarded by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in 2012. His most recent publication is Los dias hábiles (Destino, México, 2020).

Amanda Hernández (San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1990) is a poet, editor, and co-director of La Impresora. She studied Literature and Cultural Management at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, and has independently published Entre tanto amarillo (2016), El momento de las cosas (2017), and Estrategias atómicas (2018). In 2019 she edited Memoriza: poemas para aprenderse de memoria, a game of “memory” that doubles as an anthology of contemporary Puerto Rican poetry. Her most recent work, La distancia es un lugar, was published by La Impresora in 2020.

Mónica A. Jiménez is a poet and historian. She is currently assistant professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research and writing explore the intersections of race, law, and colonialism in Latin America and the Caribbean. She holds a PhD in history from the University of Texas at Austin and a JD from the University of Texas School of Law. A Canto Mundo and Ford Foundation Fellow, her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in WSQ, Latino Studies, Society and Space Magazine, and sx salon, among others.

Yara Liceaga Rojas is a queer mother, poet/writer, performer, cultural manager, grant writer, and educator. She was born in Puerto Rico, where she was raised right in front of the beach. Now she lives on stolen land of the Massachusetts and Pawtucket people [Cambridge, MA]. Her most recent publication is Hacernos el adiós (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, Puerto Rico, 2019). In 2022, she expects to publish the bilingual version, translated by Puerto Rican poet Sabrina Ramos Rubén. She has received many awards, grants, and fellowships in the city of Boston.

Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City. She is a product of the Puerto Rican communities on the island and in the South Bronx. The hardcover edition of her first novel, Daughters of the Stone, was shortlisted as a 2010 Finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. Since its publication, this novel has been listed as required reading in more than 20 colleges and universities. The English and Spanish language editions of her second novel, A Woman of Endurance (Spanish title, Indómita) will be released in March 2022. 

Carmen R. Marín was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on February 18, 1975, and raised in Yauco. She currently lives in San Juan. She is a writer, editor, and proofreader; founder of Con Acento; writing and creative writing teacher; and a high school Spanish teacher. Her bachelor’s degree in Hispanic studies is from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, and her master’s degree in Spanish is from Binghamton University (State University of New York). She also has courses leading to a doctorate in Hispanic language and literature from Stony Brook University (SUNY Stony Brook). She worked as an editor at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture Publishing House. In 2013 she published her first book, the collection of poems Salvahuidas (Erizo Editorial). Her most recent publications are the poetry book Encamadas (Trabalis Editores, Puerto Rico, 2020) and the hybrid textbook Cosmogonías y otras sales (Editora Educación Emergente, Puerto Rico, 2019).  

Vanessa Mártir is a reformed extrovert, living the introvert life in the woods of upstate NY; a big-hearted 1980s Bushwick-raised “bocona,” learning the breath of silence; an oil-and-water combination of imposters syndrome, ambition, procrastination, certainty, insecurity, and drive. She writes essays, memoirs, and novels. She is a wannabe poet and playwright, and the founder of the Writing Our Lives Workshop and the Writing the Mother Wound Movement. 

Luis Negrón was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico, on March 15, 1970. He currently lives in Santurce. He is a writer and bookseller. Claridad and The New York Times have published his work. His book of short stories Mundo cruel has been made into theater and film and published in 18 countries. Its English translation, by Suzanne Jill Levine (Seven Stories, 2013), won the Lambda Literary Award in 2013. In 2017, he published the book of chronicles Los tres golpes (ICP, 2016) and El jardín, a piece of musical theater (Ediciones La Esquina, 2021), went on stage. In 2007, he was a co-anthologist in Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora (Tiempo Nuevo, 2007).

Manolo Núñez Negrón was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, on June 6, 1980, and raised in San Sebastián. He is a professor of literature and a writer. He studied literature at the University of Puerto Rico, at New York University, and at Harvard, where he received his doctorate in 2010. He was an assistant professor of Hispanic Studies at Wellesley College and Spanish and Comparative Literature at the University of Puerto Rico, in Río Piedras. He was a columnist for the Buscapié section of El Nuevo Día and published the short novel Barra china (2010) and two books of stories and a chronicles book. His most recent publication is Burundanga Express (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, Puerto Rico, 2019). He received the “Nuevas Voces” Award from the Festival de la Palabra in 2016. For reasons beyond his control, he has devoted himself to the practice of law.

Juanluís Ramos was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico on March 25, 1985. He is the author of the short story books Reyerta TV (Libros AC, Puerto Rico, 2009), for which he won the 2009 National Short Story Prize awarded by the Pen Club of Puerto Rico; and Shadowplay (ICP, Puerto Rico, 2017). In 2017 he received the Nuevas Voces (New Voices) Award from the Festival de la Palabra. He has published academic and literary works and reviews in local and international magazines. 

Jonatan María Reyes was born on July 31, 1984, in Santurce, Puerto Rico and currently lives on Long Island, New York. This poet and screenwriter published the books Data de otro ardor (Verbum, Spain, 2018), Databending (Barnacle, Argentina, 2019) and Lo común también cruje (La Impresora, Puerto Rico, 2020 / Herring Publishers, México, 2020). He was awarded the XI International Poetry Prize “Gastón Baquero” and was a finalist for several poetry awards. Some of his works have been translated into Italian, Greek, English, French, and Portuguese. He edits the poetry magazine Low-fi ardentía.

Mercy Romero is a writer and professor. She was born in Connecticut, raised in New Jersey, and lives in the Bay Area in California. She received a PhD in ethnic studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and teaches American literature and American studies at Sonoma State University. She is the author of Toward Camden (Duke University Press, 2021). Her awards and honors include being named the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Scholar in Residence and the National Endowment for the Humanities-Ford Foundation Fellow 2021–2022, and receiving the Duke University Press Scholars of Color First Book Award of 2021. 

Xavier Valcárcel was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on February 13, 1985. He grew up in Loíza, where he lived for 31 years. He is a writer, visual artist, and cultural manager. He studied Fine Arts and Architecture Education at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, where he also completed a master’s degree in Cultural Management and Administration. In 2009, together with Nicole Delgado, he created the guerrilla publishing house Atarraya Cartonera. He has published seven books of poetry, including Cama onda (2007), Palo de lluvia (2010), Restos de lumbre y despedida (2012), El deber del pan (2013), and Fe de calendario (2016). His most recent publication is Aterrizar no es regreso, a personal chronicle (Ediciones Alayubia, San Juan, 2019). He has participated as a guest writer in various conferences, fairs, artistic residencies, readings, and exhibitions in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, the United States, and Germany. Some of his texts have been translated into English, German, and Portuguese. 

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About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. 

About Flamboyan Foundation
Guided by the belief that all children deserve the opportunity to live a fulfilling life, the Flamboyan Foundation works to ensure every child in the US and Puerto Rico receives an outstanding education. In Washington, DC, Flamboyan is accelerating student learning by helping educators and school systems transform their relationships with families. In Puerto Rico, Flamboyan is ensuring students are reading in Spanish on grade level by third grade while building a thriving philanthropic and nonprofit sector, which includes arts and cultural organizations. http://www.flamboyanfoundation.org

About Flamboyan Arts Fund
The Flamboyan Arts Fund is a partnership between Flamboyan Foundation, Lin-Manuel Miranda, his family, and the Broadway musical Hamilton to preserve, amplify, and sustain the arts in Puerto Rico. Since Hurricane María devastated the island last year, many artists and arts organizations like museums, theaters, arts education programs, and music venues are at risk of cutting back services or closing. The fund supports all facets of the arts community including music, theater, visual arts, dance, literature, and youth arts education to ensure that the arts and culture continue to flourish during the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.   
 

For more information:

Visit https://flamboyanfoundation.org/letras-boricuas-fellows/.

Media inquiries: media@mellon.org.