You Are What You Eat: Interview with Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, winner of The Paz Prize for Poetry

Miami Book Fair, in collaboration with The National Poetry Series, is proud to present the return of The Paz Prize for Poetry.

The submission period for this year’s contest is May 1 – June 15.

Named in honor of the late Nobel Prize-winning poet, Octavio Paz, the award recognizes a previously unpublished poetry book written in Spanish by a poet residing in the U.S. The winning book will be published in a bilingual edition by the prestigious independent publisher, Akashic Books, and its author will receive a $2,000 cash prize. Celebrated poet Rigoberto González will serve as judge.

Past winners include Dinapiera Di Donato for her collection Colaterales, Carlos Pintado for his collection Nueve Monedas/Nine coins, and Legna Rodríguez Iglesias for Miami Century Fox.

We thought you might enjoy getting to know our previous winners so we asked them to answer a few questions about their career and writing process. The questions we asked are deceptively simple but you’ll find the answers are anything but. This week, we speak to Cuban poet and playwright Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, winner of the Prize for her poetry collection Miami Century Fox. Read the interview below for Legna’s thoughts on the writing process, the impact the award has had on her work, and her one big tip for new writers: “My advice would be to eat healthy,” she writes with characteristic wryness, “Literature is food and you are what you eat.”

Rodriguez-Iglesias_LegnaCan you tell us a little about your experience as a writer to date?

The question might be too broad, especially considering that it’s the only thing that I’ve truly done out of my own volition in my short 33 years. For better or for worse, that’s the only thing I’ve done. Stuffing my mouth with an enormous spoonful of rice is a probably a good gesture to describe the experience. That, and not knowing what to say.

Your poetry collection Miami Century Fox was the winner for the 2016 Paz Prize. Can you remember what encouraged you to enter the competition?

I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was around this time in 2016 that I received notice, more or less, and that was a little over two years ago. I was homeless then, and felt hopeless in almost every possible way. I was also unemployed and this, in the United States, can annul any and all poetic gesturing. The first person who told me about the prize was the Cuban writer Ernesto Hernández Busto, one of the few people that was aware of the dire state I found myself in. Submit, he said, and I thought this book, Miami Century Fox, was the ideal submission for a prize for Hispanic writers in the United States.

Has winning the award had an impact on your writing?

No. Prizes and awards don’t ever influence my work. Prizes are a form of recognition that can be sometimes be necessary, especially if the writer has stopped believing in herself. Of course, the joy of publication, of seeing the manuscript transformed into a page-filled object that anybody can access, is always gratifying. This is what I answered the last time I was asked a question like this: “Los Premios no cambian la vida, pero ayudan a hacérsela más digna a quien los recibe” / “Prizes won’t change your life, but they can dignify it for those awarded them.”

What would you say to someone who is considering entering the competition, but is unsure whether they have enough experience as a writer?

I would tell them to make sure they’ve chosen the right words, because that’s the most important thing, and after having made sure of this, to submit, no matter what.

What’s your one big tip for a new writer?

I’m the one that needs advice! I’ve always been a beginner, and always will be. If I’m permitted one tip, I would tell them to eat healthy. Literature is food and you are what you eat, after all.

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