José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal – Teach Living Poets and #THEBOOKCHAT archive


cit ill#THEBOOKCHAT #TeachLivingPoets #aplitchat UNITE!

Last week, several Twitter chat groups united to discuss José Olivarez’s new book Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Press, 2018). The chat was moderated by Adrian Nester, Scott Bayer, Joel Garza, and me, and educators and poetry readers from all over the country participated. This post will attempt to curate our chat and share some of the highlights that are useful if you are considering teaching Citizen Illegal in your class. 

The coolest thing to come out of the chat, in my opinion, is this Hyperdoc, created by Scott Bayer, with a little help from the chat leaders. You could use this HyperDoc as an independent reading guide for literature circles or choice reading, or you could work through it as a whole class. 

A question preview was released the day before that chat:


The Chat – How it all went down


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Q1 highlights

Q1: “if the boy (citizen) (illegal) grows up (illegal) and can only write (illegal) this story in English (citizen), does that make him more American (citizen) or Mexican (illegal)? Does Olivarez ever answer this question which ends his title poem? 

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Q2 highlights

Q2: Based on Olivarez’s collection, what challenges or benefits are unique to first-generation Americans? 

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Q3 highlights

Q3: Olivarez wanted his collection to feel like a block party – a joyful community event. In what ways does this collection feel like a block party? 

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Q4 highlights

Q4: Citizen Illegal is very explicit about nationality and ethnicity. In what ways does this collection inform or complicate your understanding of masculinity and vulnerability? 

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Q5 highlights

Q5: There’s a lot of Mexican-American bi-ethnic duality throughout the collection. But Heaven in Mexican. Why? 

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Q6 (my personal favorite) highlights

Q6: Olivarez’s speaker says, “white folks is crazy,” “white folks on TV kill people every day & they don’t feel a thing,” and “there are no white people in heaven.” How would you respond to a student, parent, colleague, or administrator complaining about Olivarez’s speaker’s characterizations of white people?

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Huge thank you to José Olivarez for joining us! 


Check out this really awesome activity you could teach in class tomorrow with Olivarez’s title poem “(citizen)(illegal)” – thank you for the engaging lesson, Matt Brisbin! 

If you’re curious to know more about teaching full poetry collections, you can check out this post on Clint Smith’s Citizen Illegal, written by Adrian Nester. As well as this post that could apply to any collection. 

For more of #THEBOOKCHAT and #TeachLivingPoets, you can check us out on Twitter at the next chat or at NCTE! We’d love to meet you in person! 

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Thank you for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter @MelAlterSmith

One thought on “José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal – Teach Living Poets and #THEBOOKCHAT archive

  1. Pingback: Get your students engaged with poetry collections with this hands-on hexagon activity! | #TeachLivingPoets

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