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St. John’s Welcomes Award-Winning Author to 13th Annual Caribbean Speaker Series

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

More than 140 members of the St. John’s community filled Marillac Auditorium on March 12 to hear Puerto Rican writer Yolanda Arroyo-Pizarro deliver the keynote address for the Dr. M. T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery’s exhibit, Citizen: An American Lyric

Inspired by the 2014 book of the same name—poet Claudia Rankine’s acclaimed examination of racism in America—the St. John’s exhibit is part of the 2018 National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read, a national effort to promote literacy as a vehicle for social justice.

Ms. Arroyo-Pizarro’s address, a reflection on Citizen: An American Lyric, included excerpts from the book and also explained her own observations on racial intolerance.

Citizen is an anatomy of American racism in the new millennium,” she said. “For me—for my skin, for my hair, for my lips, for my hips—the book is a novel. It is a memoir. It is a hip-hop lyric. And it is a love song—a sad one.”

The book, a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry, is also a winner of the NAACP Image Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry.

“Ms. Arroyo-Pizarro’s focus on intersectional identities—as an Afro-Puerto Rican lesbian—made her presentation ideal for the St. John’s community,” said Matthew Pucciarelli, Associate Provost of Global Studies. “We are grateful to her for sharing her story and talents with us, and grateful to our students for the rich dialog that followed the formal part of the event.”

Ms. Arroyo-Pizarro is herself an award-winning author whose latest book, afrohistoria, is a collection of her columns, essays, and articles on race and gender from the past decade.

According to Ms. Arroyo-Pizarro, some of the most difficult passages to read in Citizen: An American Lyric involved abuse at the hands of women. “That just breaks my heart,” she said. “We are feminists and we keep fighting for equality and our rights. Knowing that some of the women referenced in this book do not even care about each other is very sad.”

After her keynote, Ms. Arroyo-Pizarro engaged in an informal conversation with Vanessa Valdés, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at The City College of New York, as well as a Q&A session with audience members.

“It was interesting to hear her perspective on the history of racism here in the United States and in Puerto Rico,” said Francisco Perez, a junior from Puerto Rico who is studying Government and Politics. “I know my history, but it was compelling to hear someone else’s personal experiences in that area. It was quite powerful.”