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By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

GW Spanish professor wins poetry contest

Poetry is one of the most delicate ways in which I can express life, the universe and the people I meet, said Gladys Illarregui, a GW professor who was awarded the International Jorge Luis Borges 1999 award for her book of poems.

Illarregui, who is a Spanish professor, will have her book, Poema a Medianoche (Poems of Midnight), published and receive $25,000 as the first-ever winner of the poetry contest honoring Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Argentinean-born Illarregui said she combined five different traditions, including Greek, Chinese and classical to come up with an original voice for her book.

In her writings, she tries to capture what makes it beautiful to keep on living, keep on trying, no matter what difficulties, one faces, she said.

The contest started this year in honor of the 100th anniversary of Borges’ birth and invited previously published authors to submit unpublished Spanish and Latin American works in the categories of short story and poetry.

Illarregui said she loves all of Borges’ work. However, she said she would not want to copy or emulate another author, and she said she prefers to create her own identity.

While Illarregui has a different literary style than Borges used, she said there is one important similarity. She said she integrates all of her experiences into her writing to create literature that relates to a variety of cultures, just as Borges did in his works.

Illarregui said she left Argentina for the United States 16 years ago to escape political turmoil and live in a free country that accepts differences.

She has traveled all over the world, including Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe, and sees anthropology as a key element in poetry.

Her works were influenced by visits to Southwestern Native American reservations and the Buddhist temples of China, she said.

I love the differences in people, places, and geography, Illarregui said, saying that many places have identity because of the poets they have.

She said in Russia there are statues of poets whose influences are found in every corner and said Shakespeare is synonymous with England.

(At) some points of struggle, poets said what no one else could say (about their countries), Illarregui said.

She said she keeps politics out of her poetry and aims for her works to go beyond this particular moment.

Illarregui’s book will be published by a major Argentinean-based editorial house and distributed throughout Latin America. She plans to use her prize money to travel, particularly to China, she said.

She has written several other books of poetry. Her book, The Guide for the Perplexed, won the Garcia Lorca Award, and Indian Journeys earned her the Plural Prize. Like a Traveler and Her Postcards is her most recently published work.

Illarregui said she tried to write in English but found that her voice is still in Spanish. Translated versions of her work are available.

Illarregui said she studied psychology at college in Argentina and philosophy, English and Spanish at Catholic University.

Teaching at GW for the last three semesters, Illarregui said she is fulfilling her desire of always want(ing) to teach and write.

She advised aspiring writers to believe in your writing, follow your heart and be convinced of what you are doing.

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