My whole life, I’ve seen two realities: the first is a world constructed with literary characters, biological classifications, and equations; the second is a world defined by poverty and drugs. Slowly, my intellectual curiosities dominated my every day, and the destitute conditions around me converged to inconveniences that I became well-equipped to deal with. That is MY STORY, but, while I dove into numbers, words, and challenging high school courses, the reality of the streets engulfed my best friends and peers. 

The summer before I went off to Harvard I wrote the first words of Voyages of an Oceanless Boat. A pain inside my stomach, an irregular beat of my heart, and flashes of the hood and my past friends occurred as I worked long hours under the sun as a sub-sub-contractor doing foreclosure clean-ups and landscaping. A story brewed inside of me. The narrative was of my peers who didn’t get a chance as I did. I wasn’t concerned with the infinitesimally small or infinitely large reasons why I got out, and others did not. I was concerned with telling a story, unlike any other about poor people  about minorities in the United States. This story needed to go beyond the hyper-realism usually associated with representations of the ghetto and its conditions. I put together a rough opening to  Voyages of an Oceanless Boat, a title based on a real childhood memory. 

After three years of adjustment to college, it possessed me a deep feeling of alienation in rooms of smiling people, although a lot of public service soothed my aching soul. I found myself in my final year of college as a Comparative Literature student, a field I chose to bolster my understanding of contemporary literature and sharpen my skills of deciphering the intricacies that authors put in their works. I had to choose a thesis topic, something I avoided for about four months, nervousthat my desire to finish my latent creative project would be rejected. I swallowed my fear of disapproval and advocated for a creative thesis in an exceptionally theoretically rigorous field. The department believed in me. I got to writing.

I closed my eyes in my dorm room and put myself back in my hoods, even though I was distant from them, physically and emotionally at that point. I smelled the hot air, the rubber from screeching tires, and my first frosty days in Langley Park. I considered the tropes of the ghetto and decided I was going to push its representation to the depths of creativity and philosophy. I wanted to let our people see the profundity in the senseless deaths, the richness of bonds created by need, and the existential pain of loss, lack of opportunities, and discrimination. My characters were going to be complex, oscillating from despicable to relatable. Most importantly, they were going to be immortal benders of reality. Voyages of an Oceanless Boat was set to be a text that exposed the cracks in our reality, explored Hood Existentialism, and exonerated and examined the confused and choiceless of the atrocities poverty makes them commit.


Jose Coronado Flores with Priscilla Chan Zuckerberg

Phillips Brooks House Association at Harvard University