The 2018 Writers @ Grinnell Armando “Mando” Alters Montaño Memorial Reading
Sometimes one has a bit of unforeseeable luck–as if we’d rubbed the proper coins. Sometimes there’s implicit history to that luck as was the case when I was invited to read poetry and nonfiction at Grinnell College in rural Iowa. The reading series honors Armando Montano, a young writer and journalist and a graduate of Grinnell who died in Mexico City just as he was starting his career. The reading program created in his honor asks writers to speak about human rights, creativity, and perhaps, just perhaps, optimism, for Armando–“Mando” to his friends–is remembered at Grinnell for his enthusiasm for others, his multiple satisfactions as a Mexican-American, half white, gay writer whose every impulse, so far as I know, was generous in the manner of Walt Whitman. Trust me, I spoke with a lot of his friends and former faculty. So I was reading at an event unlike other visiting writer gigs. I wasn’t there to tout myself. I didn’t show up to feed my ego as Robert Bly once put it when describing the deleterious effects of being the parachute poet who drops in and recites.
Mando was the extra man in the crowd, Elijah at the table. And I’m here to tel you I felt his presence and hoped that, in my own way, I could evince some of his hope. In a jaded age when academia or academics who labor in it tend to believe optimism is unfashionable, suspect even, I found the very act of reading in this series absolutely restorative. I do believe in positive change. I also imagine words matter and that anyone can take up the art of poetry with the right encouragement and examples.
At this stage I’ve given a lot of readings in many places. But I’m certain this year’s Mando Lecture was the best public performance this poet has given and I tip my hat to Armando and all the people who’ve seen fit to create a reading program in his honor.
Thank you, Ralph Savarese, for the invitation to participate.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger