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A Beatnik Tradition at BYU

The Beatniqueo combines Hispanic and Portuguese music and poetry in a beloved public humanities event.

The lights dim and a soft, jazzy rhythm fills the room, courtesy of a guitar, piano, bass, and drum quartet on the stage. The audience settles in for an evening of music and poetry—sometimes separate, sometimes intertwined.

Samuel López playing the guitar at Beatniqueo.
Samuel López playing the guitar at Beatniqueo.
Photo by Brian Price

Though the scene wouldn’t be out of place in a moody club in Manhattan’s East Village, it in fact takes place on a Tuesday evening in the Harold B. Lee Library auditorium. It’s the Beatniqueo, a yearly event featuring performances of music and poetry from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries. The event draws performers and attendees from across the College of Humanities and beyond—everyone from professors to members of the community to grade-school children share their talents.

A History of the Beatniqueo

The Beatniqueo began officially in 1991, organized by then MA student Gregory Stallings (now associate professor of Spanish literature and culture) and his professor Russell Cluff.

Stallings remarks that they wanted to create an event that was both musical and literary, where Spanish graduate students could show off their talents. “That was the vision from the very beginning—to not only give these people a platform to read their poems in public but also to experiment with combinations of music and live poetry,” Stallings says. They drew inspiration from the Beat Generation, a group of 1950s authors and poets who combined improvised music with poetry (hence the name “Beatniqueo”).

After Stallings left BYU to get his PhD, the Beatniqueo wasn’t held for a few years. But following his return as a faculty member, the Beatniqueo found new life. In 2009 Stallings worked with his wife, Adjunct Faculty Gloria Stallings, and Professor Mara Garcia, founder of the Provo chapter of El Instituto de Estudios Vallejianos, to revive and organize the event. Stallings also recruited the other musical talents from within the Department of Spanish & Portuguese to flesh out the musical talents of the Beatniqueo.

Since the Beatniqueo’s revival, the department has begun holding similar events throughout the year: The Navidad Azul (blue Christmas) event, in which students and faculty perform Spanish Christmas music and poetry, as well as a similarly festive Cinco de Mayo musical event.

The Vision for the Beatniqueo

Gregory Stallings presenting at Beatniqueo.
Gregory Stallings presenting at Beatniqueo.
Photo by Brian Price

Whereas the first iterations of the Beatniqueo primarily featured the poetry of students in the Spanish MA program, the new program has expanded to include a wide variety of performers with diverse musical and poetic talents.

“The program’s not just for the students but also for the community,” Stallings says. “Our vision is centered on what people have referred to in recent years as public humanities, which is humanities inspired by a diverse community, for a diverse community, in collaboration with a diverse community.”

In recent years, public humanities initiatives at BYU have been viewed as increasingly important to the mission of the College of Humanities. The Beatniqueo hopes to spread Hispanic and Lusophone (or Portuguese-speaking) culture in a way that will be approachable and enriching beyond academic spheres, and the genres of music and poetry offer the perfect opportunity to do just that. “We try to transmit the beauty of this culture—literary, poetic culture married to the musical culture,” Stallings says.

Additionally, the Beatniqueo and other events hosted by El Instituto de Estudios Vallejianos place an emphasis on involving the up-and-coming generation in musical and poetic activities. They traditionally include some younger performers in their programming, Stallings explains. “It’s super key, super central to try to include younger talent.”

The 2023 Beatniqueo

Erik Larson and Renny Wardle playing the guitar and drums respectively.
Erik Larson and Renny Wardle playing the guitar and drums respectively.
Photo by Brian Price

Stallings himself hosted the event this year, over 30 years since he co-organized the original event. There was something for everyone at this year’s Beatniqueo—from classical guitar and piano music to poetry in Spanish and English to Latin rock.

Opening with a samba tune sung by Assistant Professor Jordan Jones and Associate Professor Anna-Lisa Halling, the 2023 Beatniqueo moved from strength to strength. Acts were punctuated by brief transitional interludes by the in-house band, composed of faculty in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese with Professor Brian Price on guitar, Associate Professor Erik Larson on bass, Professor Jeff Turley on piano, and Renny Wardle on drums.

Many skilled performers offered their talents, but these were some of the highlights:

  • J. Scott Miller, the dean of the College of Humanities, performing two classical pieces on the piano 
  • Lance Larsen, former Utah Poet Laureate and professor of English, reading several original poems 
  • Samuel Lopez Alcala, associate professor of Spanish, performing two pieces on the classical guitar 
  • Gabriel Carranza, 11-year-old piano prodigy, performing two classical pieces 
  • Mara Garcia, professor of Spanish, reading a poem by César Vallejo and accompanied by Stallings on the flute 

The event ended on an upbeat note: Price and his band performed a rousing rendition of Carlos Santana’s “Oye Como Vaafter discussing the legendary Mexico-born rocker’s ascent to stardom. The rendition featured impressive solos from all four members of the band, as well as Stallings on the flute.

Stallings explains that rocking out is a traditional way to close out the Beatniqueo, dating to the first time the event was held. While the event certainly aspires to lofty artistic goals of spreading public humanities and culture, its organizers clearly keep in mind another equally important element: fun. Who ever said BYU doesn’t know how to party?

Keep an eye out for next year’s Beatniqueo; the event is usually held in March or April.

Beatniqueo Group Photo.png
Pictured, from left to right, Jeffrey Turley, Jordan Jones, Gloria Stallings, Brian Price, Scott Miller, Tomás Hidalgo Nava, Samuel López, Mara García, Gabriel Carranza, Gregory Stallings, Lucía Villarreal, Erik Larson, Renny Wardle, Linda Villarreal.
Photo by Mara García