La Poeta

Luisa Murillo’s trilingual poetry earned her a prestigious grant from the Rhode Island Foundation


Four years ago, Luisa Murillo decided to take a course in poetry. She liked to write in private, but then she entered the classroom of Peter Covino, a respected poet and translator at the University of Rhode Island. The experience was a revelation.

“He inspired me with his vibrant teaching and unconditional support of my writing in three languages,” says Luisa. This was important to Luisa, because she was born in Bolivia, and she wanted to express herself in English, Spanish, and Quechua, the indigenous language of the

Andean mountains.

This year, Luisa received a MacColl Johnson Fellowship from the Rhode Island Foundation, which provides $25,000 to a Rhode Island-based artist; this year’s two other winners were Mary-Kim Arnold of Pawtucket and Chrysanthemum Tran of South Kingstown. As Americans have become more cognizant of “whitewashing” in creative fields, this year’s fellows demonstrate a growing interest in diversity: Mary-Kim, a poet and novelist, is Korean-American, while Chrysanthemum, a performance poet, is Vietnamese-American and a transgendered woman.

“The selection of three women of color as MacColl Johnson fellows will inspire future generations of writers of color,” Luisa asserts. She notes that the Rhode Island Foundation partners with the advocacy group Alliance of Artists Communities, which oversees the application process. “For children to see writers of color publish and pursue such a noble dream makes it even more possible for them to believe in the dream of being

a writer.”

This effect on others means a great deal to Luisa; during the day, she serves as director of special programs for Progreso Latino, a Central Falls-based organization that advocates for Latino residents and recent immigrants.

So, what will she write? Luisa’s manuscript is called Collita Love, a cycle of poems that combines personal experience with magical realism. The spirit of social justice pervades the manuscript, along with an intimate exploration of Bolivian life. In particular, Luisa has relished the opportunity to express herself in Quechua, a language that dates back to

Incan civilization.

“I am in love with Quechua,” says Luisa. “My style of writing strives to convey the beauty of Quechua and promote an appreciation of Bolivian culture. There will also be a trilingual glossary to offer the translation of words in Quechua and Spanish. My poems are like a tricolor aguayo, weaving three languages to immerse the reader.” -Robert Isenberg