Marcelo Castillo

A Sacramento State alumnus and lecturer is winning wide praise for his poetry, recently receiving two prestigious national awards.

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo has taught English courses at the University this year and attended classes on campus as an English major from 2008 to 2011. He is the recipient of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize, which includes publication this fall of his manuscript Dulce by Northwestern University Press. And his collection Cenzóntle took the top spot in the 16th annual A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, for which he will receive $1,500 and publication next spring by BOA Editions.

“I have wanted to publish a book of poems since I was in middle school,” Hernandez Castillo says. “When, after about 10 years of waiting, I received the call that my book was selected as a winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. and Drinking Gourd prizes, I felt outside of my body.”

Hernandez Castillo refers back to his family history for inspiration in much of his writing. He came to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was 5. While at Sacramento State, he worked two jobs to pay for tuition because he was undocumented. He has since attained permanent resident status but says that, given the current political climate, even that is under fire, making for an uncertain future. He majored in English at Sacramento State and lists Professors Josh McKinney, Hellen Lee, Brad Buchanan, and Susan Wanlass among his biggest influences.

After Sac State, Hernandez Castillo attended the University of Michigan, where he became the first undocumented student to graduate from the MFA program in Creative Writing.

The works in Dulce have been described as “a lyrical force rife with the rich language of longing and regret that disturbs even the most serene quiet.”

Poet Brenda Shaughnessy describes him as “(a) magnificent soul-magic talent.”

His work also has been adapted into an opera in collaboration with composer Reinaldo Moya, and he has co-translated poems of contemporary Mexican poet Marcelo Uribe.

Winning the two awards was a bit overwhelming for Hernandez Castillo, but he says he is starting to settle back into his life. Most recently, he sold his collection of hybrid lyrical essays/memoir to the global publishing house Harper Collins at auction.

“I’m going to take a year off of teaching to go on a book tour and focus on my next book as well as taking care of my first baby, who will be born in November,” he says.

Find more information about Hernandez Castillo and his work through his Twitter account, – Craig Koscho