Berkeley English honors student Jo Alvarado has received the American Cultures Essay Prize for her essay “Loving What Goes Away: Ross Gay’s Gratitude for Loss and Life.” Alvarado’s essay was written in Professor John Alba Cutler’s 166AC course “Racial Joy,” offered in the Department of English this past Spring. Congratulations, Jo!
The prizewinning essay responds to a prompt from the course about the relationship between “racial joy” and poetic form. The announcement of the prize winners on the American Cultures website quotes from Professor Cutler’s letter supporting Jo’s nomination: “Jo’s essay is not only a brilliant close textual analysis of Ross Gay’s poem but also a sensitive and moving consideration of how Black poetry provides resources for joy and abundance in the face of racial violence and discrimination.”
In a short video for the American Cultures Prizes Ceremony, Jo explains that Professor Cutler’s course asked students “to reimagine the narratives of racial trauma and immiseration, acknowledging that to understand the multidimensionality and bountifulness of historically marginalized people means opening up to possibilities of beauty, liberation, ecstasy, joy, and wholeness. That was the great task of this semester: to embark on a rigorous pursuit of love, connection, and solace, against the backdrop of adversity, catastrophe, and loss.” That video, in which Jo also speaks about her essay and recites the last few lines of Ross Gay’s “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” can be found here.
(Photo courtesy of Jo Alvarado.)