José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was awarded the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize, and it was named a top book of 2018 by NPR and the New York Public Library. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he is co-editing the forthcoming anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He is the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods, and a recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo, Poets House, the Bronx Council on the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and the Conversation Literary Festival. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. In 2018, he was awarded the first annual Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association and named a Debut Poet of 2018 by Poets & Writers.
Here, he talks about OMG birria, eating a sweet potato pie alone, and gives his apologies to vegetables.
On his all-time favorite meal:
My all-time favorite meal is birria. Birria is Spanish for OMG! Birria is proof that God loves us. Whenever, I eat birria, I order extra tortillas. If I’m eating by myself, I might break into dance or start crying.
I don’t know when I ate birria for the first time, but on lucky weekends my dad would come home with the stew, homemade tortillas and all the fixins. I make tacos with the stew until there are only bones left, then I drink the stew like it’s water.
The last time I had birria was with the transcendent poet Joseph Rios in LA. We were trying to decide where to go and Joe said birria, and that was that. We walked over to the spot in downtown LA and now I think we’re cousins.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
This is a beautiful question. My favorite meal is breakfast. I take my coffee black, and please don’t ask me any questions until I’ve had two cups of coffee. Usually, my partner and I will prepare chia pudding or overnight oats the night before. On a good day, sunlight pours into our living room, so bright it makes me squint. It feels warm on my arms. I leave the lights off & I eat in the sunlight.
On snacking while writing:
I don’t really snack while writing, but I drink a lot of water.
On his go-to late-night snack:
I have a mean sweet tooth. Late at night, if I’m left to my own devices, I will devour cookies (preferably chocolate chip, but listen, I’m a simple man: Oreos or whatever will satisfy me.) or cakes or ice cream. I try not to keep any sweets like that in the pantry, but sometimes I can’t help it. The last time my partner went out of town, I bought a sweet potato pie from Whole Foods. If you’re judging me, it’s cool. I accept the judgement and regret nothing.
On his final meal request:
My final meal request is something like this. All my favorite people gather in a room big enough to hold us. DJ Ca$h Era is there eating and also spinning music. People are dancing. People are playing cards. Liquor is abundant. If you bring vodka, then you were never invited. Thank you to everyone who brings tequila and bourbon and Hennessey. The appetizer is a lentil soup, or perhaps a butternut squash. Butternut squash soup is excellent in the winter. Then we’re having duck carnitas from Cosme. Shout out to duck carnitas. Thank you, Enrique Olvera. Then we’re having Harold’s Chicken with mild sauce on. Which Harold’s? I like the one on Stony Island. Are we having vegetables? I love vegetables, but probably not. My apologies to roasted Brussels sprouts & chiles rellenos, & broccoli. At this point, we are probably full and arguing and dancing. I gotta admit, I’m not much of a dancer, but maybe I hit a little two step, or nod my head enthusiastically. For dessert, we’re having ice cream. My favorite ice cream flavor is cookie dough, so that’s what I’m having.