Fresno State Alumni Finalist for 2020 National Book Awards

Anthony Cody's debut collection came out on April (Courtesy of Jefferson Beavers)

Born and raised in the Central Valley, Anthony Cody entered Fresno State’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Creative Writing Program back in 2016.

Cody’s enrollment in the MFA program stemmed from his fascination and interest in poetry that flourished from an undergraduate class at Fresno State taught by the first Latino U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera. 

Herrera introduced Cody to a lot of relatable poetry, and those poems seemed familiar to him. This gateway of looking at poetry gave Cody the realization that he could write poems like that too. 

As a newly graduated student from the MFA program, Cody was not only awarded the 2020 Graduate Dean’s Medalist for Fresno State’s College of Arts & Humanities, but he was also the winner of the 2018 Omnidawn Open Book Contest. 

Among Cody’s poetic and academic success, the publication of his debut collection, “Borderland Apocrypha,” has landed itself among the top five finalists in the 2020 National Book Awards (NBA), which recognizes and celebrates the best writing in America. Cody’s book was selected as a top five finalist in the poetry category.

With “Borderland Apocrypha,” Cody’s poetry has left an impact on those across the country with his explorative form and his recount of the events that occurred after the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

“‘Borderland Apocrypha’ is a really historical kind of examination of the history of the southwest following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” Cody said. “That acquisition of land sort of propelled a series of lynchings and crimes against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.” 

“Borderland Apocrypha” also tells the story of how past crimes, such as those that occurred following the treaty, are still present today in our world but in different forms. 

He said he used his book to examine how over time the crimes related to the signing of the treaty connected similarly to the crimes that still occur today. 

“The lynching turns into the hate crime, turns into issues in policing and issues that are now here today,” Cody said. 

While working towards connecting the past and present effects of colonization, Cody’s work also relates directly to him and his experiences as a biracial man of Mexican and Irish descent, which initially triggered his book’s creation. 

The first poem in “Borderland Apocrypha” was inspired by an encounter with an old man at Walgreens when he was trying to take a picture for his passport. 

“The old dude just walked up to me and was like, ‘So are you afraid of us? Are you afraid of this country? Where are you trying to run off to?’ ” Cody said. “And it was one of those things where, like was it humor? Maybe there was some humor, but it was still an aggressive act.”

Cody’s book is far from ‘standardized’ poetry form due to its intricate and explorative style. When flipping through his book, words appear dispersed across the page in various directions and shapes. 

“I’ve always been interested in what I’m writing about and how I’m moving across the page,” he said. 

“I think about it in terms of slowing down, a true slowing down because there’s a lot of different ways to dive into the work and entry points,” Cody said. Am I going to read horizontally? Am I going to read vertically? Am I going to go back and forth across the page?”

Cody said allowing readers the option to begin reading in whichever way they chose helps them reflect, engage and understand the impact of the stories he’s sharing. 

“I definitely want there to be an artifact that we can keep and return to and face because the last thing I want us to do collectively is to look away. I want us to look in,” Cody said when describing what he hopes to accomplish with his book. 

“I wanted it [the book] to be there for us to have to face and to use our own imagination to show how we have been complicit in these things [these crimes], in the small and the large.”

“Borderland Apocrypha” challenges readers in a new way. It helps readers see how these past traumas against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have influenced present actions and policies against communities of color in various forms today.

Towards the end of Cody’s book, he said he began thinking about how we survive and protect ourselves and our energy within.

“Not like how do we protect the exterior, but how do we protect the tenderness, the things that are in us that maybe we can refuse to let that be taken away,” he said. 

“And how we can try to maybe, transcend that and move forward and build something better or beyond what we were even imagining right now.”

“It’s those things that we know sort of casually, but we don’t talk about exactly or we don’t acknowledge them in a way and I thought when I started looking at it 

Cody said that working with organizations such as CantoMundo, the Laureate Lab and the Hmong American Writer’s Circle helped bring him to write “Borderland Apocrypha.” 

“All three of those groups at different times in my life have been sources of support that have helped propel me to this book,” he said. 

Mariah Bosch is a third-year graduate student who is currently enrolled in the MFA program and has worked alongside Cody as a classmate in workshops and as a fellow in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio in the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State. 

“I really feel like he’s a chaotic genius,” she said. “He’s always just struck me as someone who is always thinking on something, always crunching on something…he just challenges a lot of what you think about poetry.” 

Brynn Saito is an assistant professor of English who teaches poetry in the MFA program and has taught and worked alongside Cody during his time in the program. 

“That first night in the classroom, in spring 2019, I just remember him being a really great student. He had a really great presence and was very community-minded and sort of a mentor to his peers,” Saito said. 

“As a student, [he was] just a pleasure to work within the classroom. Very actively participating, but also making space for others and comes with a wealth of knowledge and background as well.” 

As for Cody’s future, it’s clear to see that given his NBA finalist finish his poetry career is on the verge of skyrocketing. He has gone from Central Valley native to nationally recognized poet, and anticipation continues to grow for what he has in store for years to come.

“We aren’t able to accept and atone for that past and trying to honor that history now to me feels actually beyond urgent,” Cody said. “We had to stop and honor what we’re in right now and how those things do, in fact, intersect in our relevance in this moment.”

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