A Husker’s recently published book of poetry is among finalists for the 2019 PEN Open Book Award, a national honor that recognizes exceptional works by authors of color.
Ángel García, doctoral student in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s creative writing program, was nominated for his novel “Teeth Never Sleep.” Six years in the making, the novel was published by University of Arkansas Press in October 2018.
“The immediate feeling is a sense of gratitude. This is something I’ve been working on for a long time, and to have my work recognized is pretty significant,” García said. “It’s also important to know that people of color are writing and being published and that there’s a larger narrative to be told.”
Also the winner of the 2018 CantoMundo Poetry Prize, “Teeth Never Sleep” explores the concept of toxic masculinity. The verse follows a character trapped in a cycle of harmful behavior who strives to be a better man.
Started in 2012 as a part of his master’s thesis, the manuscript is an intimate reflection of García’s own life experiences.
“Because I was silent about so much of what I was experiencing, I became a teeth-grinder,” García said, explaining the dual meaning of his book’s title. “It was a way for me to cope with depression, stress and anxiety, and that developed into drinking and other ways to cope with those difficulties. (The book title) also speaks to a ritual of violence — how it’s made or replicated, particularly for young boys or men.”
For García, “Teeth Never Sleep” presents an opportunity for valuable dialogue on a subject that isn’t often discussed.
“Gender is complex, and a lot of that conversation — for good reason — has been focused on women,” García said. “I’m interested in men having those conversations, in terms of how gender constraints or expectations can be really limiting. Maybe we should be asking ourselves really difficult questions about what it means to be a man.”
While grateful for the recognition he’s receiving, García says he owes much of his success to those who have helped him along the way.
“My name is on the book, but I like to think of it like a mosaic in terms of how many people have influenced me, how many poets I’ve read, who has taught me, and my family who has made all of this possible,” García said. “Yes, I wrote the poems, but the poems wouldn’t have been possible without all of these other individuals showing interest over the years.”
The winner of the 2019 PEN Open Book Award will be announced Feb. 26.