Javier Zamora

Salvadoran Poet

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Stealing From Marquez
  • An Evening with Javier Zamora

“Every line resonates with a wind that crosses oceans.”―Jamaal May

“Javier’s experience and message are crucial amid today’s political confusions, and we look to him as a beacon to the future.” –Narrative Magazine

“Javier Zamora’s distinctive work challenges us to see immigrants, and our own landscapes, differently. Resonant and timely now, his vivid, energetic poems stand as a memorable testament to determination, justice, and redemption.” –Don Share, Poetry Magazine 

Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador in 1990. He is the author of the chapbook Nueve Anos Inmigrantes/Nine Immigrant Years, which won the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts Contest, and Unaccompanied, published by Copper Canyon Press in 2017.

Javier’s father fled El Salvador when he was a year old, and his mother fled when he was about to turn five. Both parents’ migrations were caused by the US-funded Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992). In 1999, at the age of nine, Javier traveled unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the United States to be reunited with his parents. He migrated through Guatemala, Mexico, and eventually the Sonoran Desert; before a coyote abandoned his group in Oaxaca, Javier managed to make it to Arizona with the aid of other migrants. Unaccompanied explores how immigration and civil war have impacted his family.

In a 2014 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Blog, Zamora stated, “I think in the United States we forget that writing and carrying that banner of ‘being a poet’ is tied into a long history of people that have literally risked [their lives] and died to write those words.” After selecting Javier as winner of the 2017 Narrative Prize, co-founder and editor Tom Jenks said: “In sinuous plainsong that evokes the combined strengths, the bright celebrations, and the dark sorrows of two Americas sharing and transcending borders, Javier Zamora’s verse affirms human commonality and aspiration.”

His poetry was featured in Best New Poets 2013 and has appeared in several journals including American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Kenyon Review, and New Republic.

Zamora is a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He was a recipient of the Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow by The Poetry Foundation and a Lannan Award in 2018. He holds fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University (Olive B. O’Connor), MacDowell, Macondo Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Saltonstall Foundation, and Yaddo. In 2016, Barnes and Noble granted him the Writers for Writers Award for his work in the Undocupoets Campaign. He is a member of the Our Parents’ Bones Campaign, whose goal is to bring justice to the families of the ten thousand disappeared during El Salvador’s civil war.

He currently lives in San Rafael, CA.


Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador, in 1990. He holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied and taught in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program Zamora earned an MFA from New York University and is currently a 2016–2018 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He is the recipient of scholarships to the Bread Loaf, Frost Place, Napa Valley, Squaw Valley, and VONA writers’ conferences and fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University (Olive B. O’Connor), MacDowell Colony, Macondo Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Saltonstall Foundation, and Yaddo. In 2016, Barnes & Noble granted him the Writer for Writers Award for his work with the Undocupoets Campaign. He was also the winner of the Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Fellowship and is a member of the Our Parents’ Bones Campaign, whose goal is to bring justice to the families of the ten thousand disappeared during El Salvador’s civil war. You can learn more about it here.


UNACCOMPANIED (Poetry, 2017)

“Every line resonates with a wind that crosses oceans.”―Jamaal May

Javier Zamora was nine years old when he traveled unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the United States to be reunited with his parents. This dramatic and hope-filled poetry debut humanizes the highly charged and polarizing rhetoric of border-crossing; assesses borderland politics, race, and immigration on a profoundly personal level; and simultaneously remembers and imagines a birth country that’s been left behind.

Through an unflinching gaze, plainspoken diction, and a combination of Spanish and English, Unaccompanied crosses rugged terrain where families are lost and reunited, coyotes lead migrants astray, and “the thin white man let us drink from a hose / while pointing his shotgun.”


EL SALVADOR

Salvador, if I return on a summer day, so humid my thumb
will clean your beard of  salt, and if  I touch your volcanic face,

kiss your pumice breath, please don’t let cops say: he’s gangster.
Don’t let gangsters say: he’s wrong barrio. Your barrios

stain you with pollen, red liquid pollen. Every day cops
and gangsters pick at you with their metallic beaks,

and presidents, guilty. Dad swears he’ll never return,
Mom wants to see her mom, and in the news:

every day black bags, more and more of us leave. Parents say:
don’t go; you have tattoos. It’s the law; you don’t know

what law means there. ¿But what do they know? We don’t
have greencards. Grandparents say: nothing happens here.

Cousin says: here, it’s worse. Don’t come, you could be    …
Stupid Salvador, you see our black bags,

our empty homes, our fear to say: the war has never stopped,
and still you lie and say: I’m fine, I’m fine,

but if  I don’t brush Abuelita’s hair, wash her pots and pans,
I cry. Like tonight, when I wish you made it

easier to love you, Salvador. Make it easier
to never have to risk our lives.

SONORAN SONG

Mom didn’t know, Dad didn’t know
even if they’d run across fences
before, they didn’t foresee my knees
crashing into cactus needles that night
one shoe slipped off. She says Coyote
said I’ll carry him to your front door
myself, Pati. She didn’t know 110 degrees,
saguaros, no compass to run
north when like Colorado River toads
we slid under bushes—officers yelled
¡On your fucking knees! You couldn’t have
known this could happen, Mom.
You couldn’t have. No es su culpa.
No lo es.