Aquí Era El Paraíso / Here Was Paradise: Selección de Poemas de Humberto Ak'abal / Selected Poems of Humberto Ak'abal

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A collection of poetry by one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas about the vanished world of his childhood — that of the Maya K’iche’.

Aquí era el paraíso / Here Was Paradise is a selection of poems written by the great Maya poet Humberto Ak’abal. They evoke his childhood in and around the Maya K’iche’ village of Momostenango, Guatemala, and also describe his own role as a poet of the place.

Ak’abal writes about children, and grandfathers, and mothers, and animals, and ghosts, and thwarted love, and fields, and rains, and poetry, and poverty, and death.

The poetry was written for adults but can also be read and loved by young people, especially in this collection, beautifully illustrated by award-winning Guatemalan-American illustrator Amelia Lau Carling.

Ak’abal is famous worldwide as one of the great contemporary poets in the Spanish language, and one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas. Ak’abal first composed his poems in K’iche’ in his mind before writing them down in Spanish.


Humberto Ak'abal was born in the Maya K'iche' village Momostenango in Guatemala in 1952. He worked as a blanket weaver (one of the activities for which Momostenango is renowned, ) a shepherd, a sweeper, then a garment maker in a maquila in Guatemala City. When he was thirty-eight, he published his first book of poetry. Ak'abal is famous worldwide as one of the great contemporary poets in the Spanish language, and one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas, having written over twenty-five books.

He died in January 2019, leaving his widow, Mayulí Bieri, and son Nakil Ak'abal Bieri.

Hugh Hazelton is a Montreal writer and translator. He has written four books of poetry and translated over twenty works of fiction and poetry from Spanish, French and Portuguese into English. His translation of Vétiver, a book of poems by Joël Des Rosiers, won the Governor General's Award. He is a professor emeritus of Spanish at Concordia University in Montreal and past co-director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. He was awarded the Linda Gaboriau Prize for his work on behalf of literary translation in Canada. 

Amelia Lau Carling was born and brought up in Guatemala. Her parents' store sold the thread used by many Maya weavers in their extraordinary work. She was, therefore, in constant contact with Maya culture and creators from an early age. She is the author-illustrator of the celebrated books Alfombras de Aserrín(Sawdust Carpets) and La tienda de Mamá y Papá (Mama and Papa Have a Store) -- winner of the Américas Award and the Pura Belpré Award for Illustration-- and the illustrator of numerous other books. Though she now lives in the United States, she returns to Guatemala frequently.

 CCBC Choices, 2022

Commended Junior Library Guild Selection, 2021

School Library Journal Best Poetry, 2021

"An excellent addition to poetry collections for youth, sure to also find fans among adult readers." -- School Library Journal, starred review

"Beautiful imagery ushers readers into a complex conversation." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Vital and refreshing." -- Toronto Star

"[A] closely observant and at times mischievous ode to the small moments and details in quotidian life." -- Booklist

"[T]o be savored and ruminated upon." -- CM Review of Materials

"Lovers of poetry will delight in perusing the pages of this book." -- Winnipeg Free Press

"The poems have a collective evocative beauty." -- A Fuse #8 Production Blog

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