García wins American Book Award for debut poetry collection

Ángel García and the cover of his poetry collection, TEETH NEVER SLEEP
Photo credit: Courtesy photo

September 5, 2019 by Erin Chambers

English doctoral candidate Ángel García has received the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award for his debut poetry collection, Teeth Never Sleep. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the American Book Awards, which recognize outstanding literary achievement—without limitations or restrictions—from the entire spectrum of America's diverse literary community. The 2019 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized at a ceremony in November at the San Francisco Public Library.

Published by University of Arkansas Press after winning the 2018 CantoMundo Prize, Teeth Never Sleep was also a finalist for the prestigious PEN Open Book Award earlier this year. The collection, written in both Spanish and English, explores themes of ethnicity, gender, and culture. From the publisher: 

Drawing on folklore and fantasy, childhood memory and hallucination, and marked by a tone of piercing divulgence, Teeth Never Sleep nimbly negotiates the split consciousness a culture of dominance requires of men (especially men of color), highlighting the fissures in selfhood created by the pressure to seek submission over intimacy while still wanting desperately to be loved, and tracing the contorted route by which emotional pain finds expression in violence. “The night my girlfriend tells my mother I beat her, / I feel betrayed. This was a secret we kept between us. / That night, I was no longer my mother’s loving son,” the speaker in one poem confesses, and later “I never wanted to be this kind of animal.”

And yet, through the lens of Ángel García’s sharp imagining, men frequently appear as beasts (sometimes literally)—as hybrid beings both tender and brutal—that he steadfastly refuses to let off the hook as he obsessively catalogs the origins of toxic masculinity (the first time I made my mother cry, the first time I pitied my father, the first time I saw a girl bleed) and its quiet, lasting effects: “Still a part of me believes a / man shouldn’t cry in front of a woman, even in the dark.”

In a culture of weaponized masculinity, the poems in Teeth Never Sleep make a doorway of a wound, inviting readers to walk through and sit down inside the raw pain they harbor to meditate on two central, urgent questions: what it means to be a man and how, as a man, to love.

The proud son of Mexican immigrants, Ángel García was born in Texas and raised in Southern California. Ángel earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Redlands and an M.F.A. from the University of California, Riverside. His work has been published in the  American Poetry ReviewMiramarMcSweeney’sHuizache, and The Good Men Project, among others. He has received fellowships from CantoMundo, Community of Writers-Squaw Valley and Vermont Studio Center. In addition to his creative work, Ángel is also the cofounder of a non-profit organization, Gente Organizada, that works to educate, empower, and engage communities through grassroots organizing. He is currently an English Ph.D. student specializing in creative writing at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.