Every artist and writer that I know wants the luxury, convenience, and opportunity to focus on their art without the weight of worry and financial preoccupation. I’ll risk cliché here and say that being an FCA grantee was a blessing. I was able to get a taste of being an independent artist and concentrate on my writing.
- Willie Perdomo, December 14, 2021
Willie Perdomo is a poet and teacher who challenges how we perceive the possibilities of our existence through a fresh, lived language. His work is characterized by a stylistic plurality that pushes the bounds of poetry.
Perdomo’s book Smoking Lovely: The Remix (Haymarket Books, 2021), based on a previous edition published in 2003, explores the neoliberal city at the intersection of community and commodity. In this revision, Perdomo shifts the poem into mostly second person, further accentuating its self-reflexive and complex exploration of self-and/as-other and of the simultaneous othering, commodification, and spectacularization of Afro-diasporic bodies and cultural forms.
His book The Crazy Bunch (Penguin Poets, 2019) chronicles the weekend adventures of a group of friends coming of age in the 1990s at the dawn of the hip-hop era in East Harlem, where Perdomo grew up. The story is told through poems written in couplets, vignettes, sketches, riffs, and dialogue.
He is also the author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (Penguin Poets, 2014) and Where a Nickel Costs a Dime (W. W. Norton & Company, 1996) and the co-editor of the BreakBeat Poets anthology LatiNext (Haymarket Books, 2020). His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, The Best American Poetry, and African Voices.
Perdomo is the winner of the New York City Book Award in Poetry (2019), a Lucas Fellowship from the Montalvo Arts Center (2018), a New York Council on the Arts/New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship in Poetry (2009), a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency (2008), and the PEN Open Book Award (2004). He was a finalist in poetry for the National Book Critics Circle Book Award (2014) and for the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award (1996).
Perdomo received an M.F.A. from Long Island University Brooklyn. He is a Core Faculty member of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Writing Workshops and an Instructor in English at Phillips Exeter Academy.
Lately, memory is where my work sets up its domicile. Because my last two books came as inquiries, and those inquiries opened the door to a generative voice, I'm paying more attention to the questions I'm asking and how the answers stir my imagination. The interplay of vernacular, documentary and decolonized poetics, hybrid genres, cinematic techniques opening space for more than one voice in a book of poems, and the role of resistance is in an ongoing dialectic when I sit down to write. The challenge to tell a story that can be passed on from teller to listener (or Western reader), such that listener becomes teller has also been a point of curiosity. Who is on the other side of your story? And how will they tell it once you're gone? Fragments, too. How many fragments must I collect before I can begin a project? I'm not concerned with ephemera so much, but I watch for the missing links, and more often than not, the missing links like to hang out uptown after midnight. I've discovered that as an artist I don't want to live for my art; I want to live in my art.
- December 2020