In Sutter County, fear drove an immigrant to find his voice in poetry, and now he is nationally acclaimed


The Sutter County Library is hosting nationally acclaimed poet, and Yuba-Sutter resident, Marcello Hernandez Castillo for an evening of poetry readings and a conversation about writing and immigration issues. The Friends of the Sutter County Library and Yuba Sutter Arts are coordinating the July 13 event, which is free and begins at 5:45 p.m., and putting on a reception with refreshments following Mr. Castillo’s discussion.

The library is located at 750 Forbes Avenue, Yuba City.

Castillo will read from his poetry and discuss the important part the library played in his life and his work. He will share his impressions of the community growing up and offer advice to other young writers.

A poet, essayist and translator, Castillo is the author of the pamphlet, DULCE, winner of the 2017 Drinking Gourd Poetry Prize. His debut full-length poetry collection titled Cenzontle was just published and was awarded the A. Poulin, Jr. prize for poetry.

Castillo’s work has appeared in the New York Times, PBS Newshour, People Magazine, The Paris Review and the New England Review. He currently teaches in the MFA program at Ashland University in Ohio, but calls Marysville home where he lives with his wife and son.

At a young age, language was Castillo’s best defense. Growing up undocumented, he has said that fluency in English and, later, poetry were the tools with which he could protect against deportation. Writing was “a way to kind of offset any questions or any suspicions about my documentation status,” he said. “By way of fear, along came poetry.”

Castillo, who entered the U.S. from Mexico with his family at the age of five, did not address his own story in writing until recently. After he received exemption from deportation under Deferred Action for Child Arrivals or DACA, a policy that applies to people who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and before 2007, he earned a BA at Sacramento State and then became the first undocumented student to earn an MFA at the University of Michigan. And then he returned to Mexico for the first time in 21 years.  Those two experiences gave him a new perspective on the trauma that had pervaded his experience with the U.S. immigration system.