June 4, 2023

The trouble with his name: A profile

Many know professor Javier Ávila from taking one of his classes, but others know him as the winner of the 2015 Pennsylvania Professor of the Year Award.

“I took English II and Creative Writing with him. I saw him every single day during the semester,” said AnNisa Amatul Muqtadir, a second-year Psychology and English major. “I am very happy to now be able to say I am an Avilite!” Which is what his students who have taken one or more of his classes call themselves.

“My accomplishments are the result of the work I do, not my awards,” Ávila said. “I believe my most recent book is always my best, and that’s what’s important.”

Ávila began writing at an early age. As a child, his sixth-grade teacher encouraged him to further pursue it. His topics for his writing focus around his experiences as an educator and his life; experiences such as open heart surgery when he was a child, which elevated the sense of urgency in his life.

Ávila is married and has one six-year-old son named Oscar. His family is important to him and is another act of inspiration to his writings.

“I believe in not wasting time,” Ávila said. “You can’t wait until tomorrow to tell someone you love them because tomorrow is never promised.”

Ávila was born in Puerto Rico, and although Spanish is his first language, he was sent to the prestigious American Military Academy in Puerto Rico, where his teachers spoke English. There he learned to develop a love for American culture and American literature.  In college, he studied English, with a concentration in literature and linguistics.

He became an English professor at the University of Puerto Rico before moving to Pennsylvania and teaching at Northampton Community College.

Ávila said that he enjoys teaching at a community college because of the range of students he meets and teaches.

“What I like about his teaching style is that he not only cares about what he is teaching, but the people he teaches,” Amatul Muqtadir said.

“By being the poorest kid in a wealthy school when I was younger, I believe that has helped me with my range of relation to people from all walks of life,” Ávila said.

Despite being a full-time professor, he still finds time to write and has 13 published books. He is also known for his award-winning poetry and his action novels.

“I actually do not enjoy writing novels as much as I enjoy other genres,” Ávila said. “I feel like it is enslaving. But when I’m working on them, I have the feeling that there is no choice. That’s the writer’s curse.”  His novels have become best-sellers and one was made into a movie titled Miente.

“I have read a few of his pieces but my favorite is “Denied Service,” Amatul Muqtadir said. “It talks about how he was racially profiled in a restaurant. It was a very moving poem.”

Ávila’s most recent project is a one-man show entitled “The Trouble with My Name.” It discusses the experience of not only of being a Latino in the U.S., but of being a father, a son, and a teacher.

“The Trouble with My Name,” which debuts this fall, to kick off a long tour, will be presented at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27 in Lipkin Theatre on the main campus.

“I will definitely be attending his show,” Amatul Mutqtadir said, “I might have to push president Erickson out of his front row seat because I want to be front row. Sorry, president Erickson!”

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