As a poet, lawyer, teacher, and activist in Greater Boston, Martín Espada was the ideal person to launch the Artist-in-Residence program at the Gardner Museum. During his residency, he kicked off the Fall 1992 season's Eye of the Beholder lecture series with a program in the Spanish Cloister addressing Latin American identity. He also conducted three poetry workshops at the Museum with juniors and seniors from Boston Latin School, and organized a reading from two collections of his poems: Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction (Bilingual Press, 1987) and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands (Curbstone Press, 1990).
Espada was deliberately selected by former Norma Jean Calderwood Director Anne Hawley to set the tone for the program, one that was not uncritical of the Museum’s atmosphere of Western European triumphalism. His residency coincided with the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the celebration of which was widely protested by Latin American and Indigenous populations. Espada discussed this in his Eye of the Beholder talk, giving a political spin to objects in the Spanish Chapel and Cloister, including the 15th-century effigy of a knight from Salamanca (coincidentally, the home of Espada’s ancestors); tiles from Puebla, Mexico; and John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo.
Martín Espada lives and works in Shutesbury, Massachusetts. He has published more than fifteen books. His collection of poems, The Trouble Ball (Norton, 2011), received the Milt Kessler Award, a Massachusetts Book Award, and an International Latino Book Award. He has received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Creeley Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist.
His work has been widely translated and published in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Chile. Espada’s book of essays, Zapata's Disciple (South End Press, 1998), was banned from the Tucson public schools after the city’s successful Mexican-American Studies Program was outlawed by the state of Arizona in 2010. In 2018, Espada was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which commemorates a living US poet for their lifetime accomplishments. He is the first Latino poet to receive the award.