He remembers it vividly. William González was seven years old when he became mesmerized by the book kept in a small yellow drawer in his grandmother's house. It was Azul (Blue) by the poet Rubén Darío. He began to read it and to recite Darío's poems in school activities without ever imagining that poetry would be the refuge that would help him cope with the displacement and uprooting that he experienced years later.
This is the story of the 22-year-old poet, who has spent half his life in Madrid, Spain, where he began his career as an author. In 2022, he was awarded a prize for Los Nadies (The Nobodies), his first published book of poems. Me Duele Respirar (It Hurts to Breathe), his soon-to-be-released second book, also won an award.
González lived his childhood in the San Luis Sur neighborhood of Managua, in the home of his maternal grandmother, Cándida Guevara. When he was six years old, his mother, Jenny Guevara, had to emigrate for economic reasons to Madrid, Spain, so he was left in the care of his aunt Rosa and uncles Douglas and Salvador.
"The values my aunt, my uncles, and my grandmother instilled in me have been perhaps the most important in my life. Their teachings have been vital," says poet González.
Once González' mother settled in the Carabanchel district in Madrid, she managed to bring her three children to live with her. By then William was eleven years old and describes his move as an abrupt change right at puberty. "You start a new life, you have to meet people, make new friends, adapt to a new school, with new geographies to learn," he recounts.
González attended the Lope de Vega school, a multicultural school where he was accompanied closely by his teachers. This helped him adapt, not only to a new educational system, but also to a new culture and society. "Going to school became the best part of my life. I met my best friend and received a lot of love and teaching from my professors," he recalls.
William González and poetry as refuge
Although he wrote his first poem at the age of seven in Nicaragua, it was in Spain that González really began to concentrate on poetry. "The act of emigrating and coming to Spain completely reinforced my connection with poetry. It became my refuge, it became my daily life," he describes.
González' form of therapy to cope with this stage of life was to immerse himself in books and verses. His mother worked late at night as a household assistant, so he spent a lot of time alone, which allowed him to read and write non-stop.
"I wrote all the time and everywhere. I wrote and wrote and wrote, for myself,” recalls González. His poems deal with his own immigration process and they describe the realities of immigrants in Spain, the obstacles and bureaucracies there, the cultural diversity of his neighborhood, as well as the marginalization, poverty and other conditions he observed around him.
The Nobodies: Inspired by immigrants, the marginalized, and the poor.
Ilias Derni, William Gonzalez's best friend, was the one who insisted that he share his art with the world and convinced him to compile his poems into a book. González did so and gave it the title The Nobodies. He also entered it in a literary contest, which he won.
On September 23, 2022, the Nicaraguan poet became the first Latin American to receive the prestigious "Antonio Carvajal" Young Poetry Award, inaugurated in 1997 to promote young poets and give them the opportunity to publish their works through Ediciones Hiperión, which specializes in poetry. "I didn't expect it, because great poets who had competed in previous years entered the literary contest, and this was my first time,” admits González.
The book The Nobodies (2022) is a retrospective on how the author felt when he emigrated from Nicaragua and his experience in a new place. "I realized that the way I felt, other people also shared those feelings. The Nobodies are those who feel marginalized, the lost teenagers, the immigrants,” says González.
The Nobodies also includes poems dedicated to the people González loves and who have been fundamental in his life. He begins with a tribute to his teachers. He also wrote the poem "Lejía" (Bleach) dedicated to his mother, who lost her fingerprints after years of using bleach in her work as a maid. Part of the dedication reads: "To the Latin American maids who take care of the elderly and clean buildings. My mother, a worker from Monday to Monday, has hidden herself from the cosmos. Her fingerprints have disappeared." Another of the poems is dedicated to his grandmother, and he closes the book with a dedication to Nicaragua, written from a nostalgic vision of his childhood.
The back cover has a blurb by Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, who was the first person to read the book and described it as "very deep and beautiful".
The Nobodies can be purchased in bookstores in Spain and online through Amazon, la Casa del Libro or El Corte Inglés. In the Americas, you can contact Hiperión publishing house and, if you are in Nicaragua and want to order it, William himself is available to help you make that happen: [email protected].
"It Hurts to Breathe"
It Hurts to Breathe is González' second book. It is connected to the massive protests that sprang up in Nicaragua starting in April 2018 and forced many Nicaraguans into exile in Spain. "It made me very angry and it was so painful to see so many deaths, including that of a close childhood friend. Seeing the persecution, the forced exile, the jail and censorship happening in Nicaragua motivated me to document it," he says.
The title is taken from the phrase cried out by Álvaro Conrado, the martyred teenager of the April Rebellion of 2018, who died due to lack of medical attention in a public hospital after being shot in the throat while delivering water to the protesters.
González decided to use that phrase as the title of his book to refer to the often suffocating pain many Nicaraguans experienced when they lost a loved one. "It hurts to breathe when there is so much injustice, suffering, and precariousness. It hurts to breathe for Nicaraguans who are in Nicaragua, and it hurts to breathe for those of us who are here as well," he says, referring to the thousands of Nicaraguans who are exiled in Spain.
"I started out doing an investigative journalism report, but it ended up as a series of poems based on some of the interviews I did. The theme of Nicaraguan exiles here in Spain played a fundamental role –the exodus, or rather, the exodus that has been taking place in recent years– so I talk about their experiences, the difficulties they go through, the misfortunes they face here," González says.
It Hurts to Breathe was nominated for and won the IV "Francisco Ruiz Udiel" Hispanoamerican Poetry Prize. More than 500 poets who are 30 years old or younger participated in this contest, and the recognition includes the publication of the winning book in the Poetry Collection of Valparaíso Ediciones, which is distributed in Spain, Colombia and the United States.
Gonzáles is currently finalizing the last details with the publishing house, and the back cover will feature a blurb by Nicaraguan poet and novelist Gioconda Belli. "I met Gioconda at the Centroamérica Cuenta festival. She was in charge of saying a few words at the presentation of my first book, The Nobodies. I thought of her for the back cover of It Hurts to Breathe and she agreed to write something," says González.
Qué buena noticia!! Wlliam González es la novísima promesa de la poesía nicaragüense. Es muy bueno. Se vino a España a los 11 años con su madre y ya ganó aquí un prestigioso premio de poesía en Granada. Felicidades a William. @ReporteNi https://t.co/yuCMAQKZG9
— Gioconda Belli (@GiocondaBelliP) October 12, 2022
Belli, the first to read the book, was moved to find it "so strong, so full of pain and so beautiful". She also told González she would like the book to come to Nicaragua, but fears that it will be censored, as happened with Tongolele No Sabía Bailar (Tongolele Didn't Know How to Dance) by Sergio Ramírez.
It Hurts to Breathe will be released to the public in May and will be promoted at the Book Fair to be held from May 26 to June 11, 2023 at El Retiro Park in Madrid. Days before, González will hold a book launch and invite his readers to participate in the Fair, where he will sign copies.
After the book launch, González plans to focus on finishing his degree. He is studying Language and Literature, as well as Journalism, at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. He wants to get a master's degree and even a doctorate. "I will surely continue writing, and my poetry will always take the side of the poor," he says.
William González has written more than four hundred poems. Some have won awards in Spain. Among the most important are:
- Second Place in the National XLV Short Story and Poetry Awards of the IES Miguel de Cervantes de Alcázar de San Juan (2019).
- First Place, Poetry Award of the Mari Puri Express Contest of the City Council of Torrejón de Ardoz (2020 and 2021).
- Special Mention in the X Literary Poetry Contest of the University of Deusto (Bilbao, 2021).
- Second Place in the XLII Poetry Contest organized by the Colegio Mayor Universitario Isabel de España (2022).
Although González is now known in Spain, he wants his poems and books to reach the Latin American public, especially in the country where he was born. Like Gioconda Belli, he fears that his book will be censored. "Writing It Hurts to Breathe has condemned me to not returning to Nicaragua. I have already received threats on social media. Most likely it will be like what happened to Sergio Ramírez with his book. That makes me a little sad. But," he insists, "it was necessary for me to write the book."
González is nostalgic for his homeland, for his family still in Nicaragua, and for his grandmother's house, where he found the yellow drawer that held the book that awakened his great passion.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our