Writer shares 'Memorias' in poetry

A Gettysburg College grad shared work from his debut collection of poetry Friday.

Writer shares 'Memorias' in poetry
Mauricio Novoa reads selections from his debut poetry collection on the stage at Waldo's and Co.

Sitting in front of a crowd of about 30 people at Waldo’s & Co. Friday night, poet Mauricio Novoa kept an unassuming presence. He wore just a pair of black athletic shorts, a red Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls t-shirt and a pair of sneakers. He spoke quietly, telling short anecdotes about the ‘wheres’ and ‘whys’ behind his debut collection of poetry, “Memorias from the Beltway.” If it weren’t for the posters of his poems hanging on the walls around the room, one could be forgiven for mistaking the event as an open mic night.

But once he began reading, the audience understood that Novoa’s poems are powerful enough, he doesn’t need a loud voice to speak the truth about his experiences.

Growing up in Glenmont, Maryland, his love for hip hop and basketball lived side-by-side with his awareness of how being the son of Salvadoran refugees set him apart in the majority White DC suburbs. Writing helped him cope, and rap music especially gave him a framework to put his thoughts on paper. Hearing lyrics on rapper Nas’s album “Illmatic” was “the first time I heard something that intricate but that I could understand,” Novoa said.

“Rap, that’s where I learned [to write],” the poet told the crowd. “I didn’t pay attention in school. They couldn’t teach me anything.”

“Memorias from the Beltway” features images and stories of Novoa’s family as a strong thematic element throughout the poems. It’s more than a literary device, though. It's a reflection of the way he sees the world.

“A lot of what I write is about other people or my surroundings. What I was seeing from my window. It’s a lot about them, which is also me processing how I think of the world through them,” he said.

When asked how his family responds to being such a central feature of his work, Novoa laughed. ‘They’re happy with it,” he said. “At least that’s what they tell me.”

Novoa came to Gettysburg as a student at Gettysburg College and stayed after his 2014 graduation. He worked with initiatives that advanced the cultural awareness and support of the Latino community in Adams County, with a focus on education. He then moved to Austin, Texas, where he continued this work by volunteering with the Barrio Writers, a program that provides free writing classes to children in underserved areas.

During this time Novoa earned his Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing through a low residency program with Queens University of Charlotte. Connections through volunteering led him to Red Salmon Arts, a grassroots cultural organization in Austin that, according to its website, focuses on Chicano, Latino and Native American literature. This led to the publication of his book in 2020 by Red Salmon Press and Flowersong Press.

Novoa returned to Gettysburg last year and currently works as the community liaison of Casa De La Cultura. He plans to continue writing, and he still listens to a lot of rap music.

Editor's Note: The original version of this story listed Novoa's job title at Casa De La Cultura as executive director. He is the community liaison.

Visit www.mauricionovoa.com for more information on the poet and to purchase a copy of "Memorias from the Beltway."