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Ríos, Alberto (Alvaro)

RÍOS, Alberto (Alvaro)


Nationality: American. Born: Nogales, Arizona, 18 September 1952. Education: University of Arizona, B.A. (honors) in English literature and creative writing 1974, B.A. (honors) in psychology 1985, M.F.A. in creative writing 1979; attended law school at University of Arizona 1975–76. Family: Married Maria Guadalupe Barron in 1979. Career: Artist, 1978–83, and since 1983 consultant, Artists-in-Education Program, Arizona Commission on the Arts, Phoenix. Assistant professor, 1982–85, associate professor, 1985–89, professor, 1989–94, and since 1995 regent's professor of English, Arizona State University, Tempe. Counselor and instructor in English and algebra, Med-Start Program, University of Arizona, summers 1977–80; writer-in-residence, Central Arizona State College, Coolidge, 1980–82; member, National Advisory Committee, National Artists-in-Education Program, 1980. Awards: First Place, Academy of American Poets poetry contest, 1977; writer's fellowship, Arizona Commission on the Arts, 1979; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1980; Walt Whitman award, Academy of American Poets, 1981, for Whispering to Fool the Wind; Western States Book award, 1984, for The Iguana Killer; Pushcart prize for fiction, 1986, and poetry, 1988, 1989, 1993; Guggenheim fellow, 1988–89; Governor's Arts award, State of Arizona, 1991. Address: English Department, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Elk Heads on the Wall (chapbook). San Jose, California, Mango Press, 1979.

Sleeping on Fists (chapbook). Story, Wyoming, Dooryard Press, 1981.

Whispering to Fool the Wind. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1982.

Five Indiscretions. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1985.

The Lime Orchard Woman: Poems. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1988.

Teodora Luna's Two Kisses. New York, Norton, 1990.

Short Stories

The Iguana Killer: Twelve Stories of the Heart. New York, Blue Moon Press, 1984.

Pig Cookies and Other Stories. San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1995.

The Curtain of Trees: Stories. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

Other

Capirotada: A Nogales Memoir. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

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Critical Studies: "The Breathless Patience of Alberto Ríos" by Deneen Jenks, in Hayden's Ferry Review (Tempe, Arizona), 11, fall/winter 1992; "Androgyny's Whisper: "Teodoro Luna's Two Kisses' by Alberto Ríos" by John Jacob, in American Book Review, 15(4), October 1993; interview with William Barillas, in Americas Review (Seattle), 24(3–4), fall/winter 1996.

*  *  *

Ever since his first full book of poetry, Whispering to Fool the Wind, won the Walt Whitman award in 1981, Alberto Ríos has been one of our most admired and influential Hispanic authors. Born in Nogales, Arizona, and a product of public schools and later of the creative writing program at the University of Arizona, Ríos in his poetic preoccupations is anything but narrow or exclusive. In spare, often thickly symbolic lines, he may write about the trials and rewards of courtship, what it would be like to be a woman, or how it was growing up in a racially charged region like the American Southwest. Having grown up in a bilingual environment, Ríos approaches his subjects on more than one cultural level. Drawing most consistently on the oral tradition of his Hispanic heritage, Ríos is drawn to storytelling (his short stories, like his poems, are worthy of attention), to finding, declaring, and celebrating the diversity and power of community in the experience of those around him. Thus, his vision is more outward directed, less private than might at first glance be apparent.

This subtlety can be observed in a representative poem such as "Nogales, 1958," from the 1988 collection The Lime Orchard Woman :

The black birds at Bank's Bridge fly
Out from underneath at quitting time,
5:00 in a small town, for everyone.
And the town makes its way home.
 
The paperboys come out, wiry and clear.
Everybody in a car buys a Herald.
On the way home you cannot help but see
Someone you know, who will wave...
 
My mother is cutting limes for the rice
 
And I am watching. Today I have watched
The washing machine go around,
And smelled it. That is best,
Lifting its lid just a little.
 
I have watched the girls coming
Home from school with books held
Against their small chests.
They talk about boys that way
 
Everyday, holding something in their arms.
And that is all.
Evening comes, and nothing else happens
More than dinner, the news,
 
One page in a coloring book about trees.

Arresting in its simplicity, this poem—like Ríos at his best—is most believable in expressing the wide-eyed, watchful observations of a young child. Through its inhabitants the town itself is in motion ("And the town makes its way home"). For the child the world's larger motions are contained in the movement and smell of the washing machine, just as the essence of the late day is embodied in the vision of his mother "cutting limes for the rice" and in the "one page in a coloring book about trees." This simplicity of vision, embodied in a pared-down, sympathetic style, carves out its own secure space in our poetic landscape. It is a space reserved for the few among us whose artful, optimistic message is one of sincere hope in a frightful time.

—Robert McDowell

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