Cruz, Victor Hernandez 1949-

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CRUZ, Victor Hernandez 1949-


Born February 6, 1949, in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico; immigrated to the United States, 1954; son of Severo and Rosa (Hernandez) Cruz; divorced; children: Vitin Ajani, Rosa Luz. Education: Attended Benjamin Franklin High School, New York, NY.


Office—P.O. Box 40148, San Francisco, CA 94140; P.O. Box 1047, Aguas Buenas, PR 00703.


Poet. East Harlem Gut Theatre, New York, NY, cofounder, 1968; University of California, Berkeley, guest lecturer, 1970; San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, instructor, beginning 1971-73; University of California, San Diego, visiting professor, 1993; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, visiting professor, 1994. Also worked for Mission Neighborhood Center, San Francisco, CA, 1981; associated with the San Francisco Art Commission; co-founded with Ishmael Reed, Before Columbus Foundation.


Creative Artists Public Service award, 1974, for Tropicalization; National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 1980; New York Poetry Foundation award, 1989; Guggenheim award (Latin America and the Caribbean), 1991.


Papo Got His Gun! and Other Poems, Calle Once Publications (New York, NY), 1966.

Doing Poetry, Other Ways, 1968.

Snaps (poems), Random House (New York, NY), 1969.

(Editor, with Herbert Kohl) Stuff: A Collection of Poems, Visions, and Imaginative Happenings from Young Writers in Schools—Open and Closed, Collins & World (New York, NY), 1970.

Mainland (poems), Random House (New York, NY), 1973.

Tropicalization (poems and prose), Reed, Canon (New York, NY), 1976.

The Low Writings, Lee/Lucas Press, 1980.

By Lingual Wholes, Momo's Press (San Francisco, CA), 1982.

Rhythm, Content and Flavor: New and Selected Poems, Arte Publico Press (Houston, TX), 1989.

Red Beans, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.

(Editor, with Leroy V. Quintana and Virgil Suarez) Paper Dance: Fifty-four Latino Poets, Persea Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Paper Dance: Fifty-five Latino Poets, Persea Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Panaramas, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

Maraca: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2000, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2001.

Cruz's work has been included in anthologies, including An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, Morrow, 1968, and Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writings, Random House, 1975. Contributor to Evergreen Review, New York Review of Books, Ramparts, Down Here, and Revista del Instituto de Estudios Puertorriquenos. Editor, Umbra magazine, 1967-69.


Victor Hernandez Cruz is one of the best-known Puerto Rican poets in the United States. He is an integral part of the Nuyorican movement in American literature, which is characterized by Puerto Rican writers who have lived most of their lives in the United States and who write in "Spanglish," a linguistic combination of English, Spanish, and Black English. Cruz wrote, "My work is on the border of a new language, because I create out of a consciousness steeped in two of the important world languages, Spanish and English. A piece written totally in English could have a Spanish spirit. Another strong concern in my work is the difference between a tropical village, such as Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, where I was born, and an immensity such as New York City, where I was raised. I compare smells and sounds, I explore the differences, I write from the center of a culture which is not on its native soil, a culture in flight, living half the time on memories, becoming something totally new and unique, while at the same time it helps to shape and inform the new environment. I write about the city with an agonizing memory of a lush tropical silence. This contrast between landscape and language creates an intensity in my work."

Cruz self-published his first book of poetry, Papo Got His Gun! And Other Poems, when he was only fourteen, during a period of his life when, after his parents' divorce, his mother struggled to support the family. Papo Got His Gun! and Cruz's next poetry collection, Snaps, received great critical acclaim. The poems in Snaps, published by a traditional publisher five years after Papo Got His Gun!, combine "the rhythm of jazz poetry and the political optimism of a young man beginning to test his power and place in the U.S.," wrote Maria Melendez in the Encyclopedia of American Literature. The title of the book refers to the finger-snapping of dance and musical rhythms along with images of life in El Barrio, an area of New York City populated mainly by Spanish-speaking Americans. "The underlying sense of beat and polyrhythms, informed by jazz or Latin music, gives structure to Cruz's minimal poems, his 'city snaps' and 'clips,'" observed Francis R. Aparicio in MELUS, who went on to explain, "Throughout Snaps one finds the constant movement of subways in New York City, the uptown/downtown and inside/outside references and numerous indications to walking and driving in the city."

Cruz focuses on interstate and international travel in Mainland and infuses tropical culture into New York in Tropicalization. The poems in Mainland commence in and around New York City and then branch out to the Midwest, California, the Southwest. Cruz ends the collection with an international move into Puerto Rico and then returns to New York City. Critics observed that this ending symbolizes Cruz's own move from Puerto Rico, his birthplace, to New York City, where he was raised. Melendez concluded that the New York ending "signifies a recentering of the self in the reality of New York urban life." Tropicalization brings the rhythm of the Caribbean to New York. Remarked Melendez in a review of the book, "Many of these poems are more lyric than his previous works, and the collection also includes some of his first published poems."

By Lingual Wholes is a collection of humorous poems in which Cruz expresses his social and political concerns. In a New York Times Book Review of By Lingual Wholes, Richard Elman maintained, "Cruz writes poems about his native Puerto Rico and elsewhere which often speak to us with a forked tongue, sometimes in a highly literate Spanglish.… He's a funny, hard-edged poet, declining always into mother wit and pathos: 'So you see, all life is a holy hole. Bet hard on that.'" Melendez also noted that this collection signifies "a growing sophistication in Cruz's language use and wordplay." "While pondering about this short text, I asked myself: Why did the poet translate the verses into English; why didn't he leave them in the original? The title of the book By Lingual Wholes, may partly explain this decision. Its bilingual texture exhibits a complex dynamic between English and Spanish that extends beyond the oppositional linguistic dialectic prevalent in the earliest bilingual poetry of United States Latinos," explained Aparicio.

Released on the eve of the five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus's landing in the New World, Red Beans received great praise from reviewers. The title of the collection is a play on the words "red beings," referring to indigenous Puerto Ricans descended from a mix of Spanish and African ancestry. Reviewers characterized the volume as a highly imaginative exploration of Puerto Rican history as well as the Puerto Rican's history in America. In a review for the San Francisco Review of Books, Jose Amaya assessed, "Cruz experiments with the vast linguistic and cultural possibilities of 'indo-afro-hispano' poetry and comes up with a strong vision of American unity." "Red Beans celebrates a migratory poetics that is self-reflective, lyrical, lush, and often dead-pan humorous as Spanish and English dance a lambada through its pages," observed Ann C. Bromley in American Book Review. Commenting on the development of Cruz's style, Amaya noted that "Cruz is at his best in Red Beans when he portrays … the distinct sounds and voices of Caribbean life which crash into his poetic consciousness like a wild ocean surf." Melendez observed that the voice in this collection is that of a more mature and reflective Cruz and that the "sense of spontaneity, the barrio language and irony that characterizes Cruz's earlier works is tempered." Calling Cruz a "vigorous bilingual Latino troubadour," Frank Allen in Library Journal dubbed the book a "a dance on the edges."

A Publishers Weekly reviewer believed that Panoramas "achieves a musical vitality that surpasses any of his other volumes." The reviewer went on to explain, "Like a salsa band leader coaxing and challenging dancers to more and more complex steps, Cruz dares readers with dizzying polyrhythms, polymetric stanzas, back-stepping word structures and a sense of improvisation." Writing in World Literature Today, W. Nick Hill considered this collection the most varied of Cruz's, in which Cruz writes from "a secure position from which Panorama becomes a natural mode of discourse, and it opens … to reveal pictures of his early life, and more of his intellectual commitment to the centrality of language as rhythmic community: 'Poetry is most definitely emotion, and it is most definitely in motion.'"

Maraca: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2000 contains poems selected from nearly four decades of work. Writing in the American Book Review John Olson highly praised the first piece in the book, "An Essay on William Carlos Williams" in which, according to Olson, "Cruz states his poetics with invigorating brevity." Olson concluded, "The poem reads like a manifesto championing … the primacy and essential energy of speech." Olson also regarded the title Maraca as appropriate because the instrument is usually made from a gourd and was, therefore, "a metaphysical symbol with dual meaning: as a hollow implement, the gourd may be used as a container for food, or as a vessel for dead things. It is both a womb and tomb: life force and repository for the dead" and therefore the maraca "lends itself quite appropriately as a symbol for poetry."

Cruz's writing, like his Puerto Rican culture, continues to grow and change. In an essay published in Americas Review, Cruz explained, "Unlike other groups who have had to erase their own cultural memories, Hispanics are moving forward, maintaining their own tradition and language. We will be the first group that does not melt; our ingredients are raw and the Anglo fire is not hot enough to dissolve them."



Contemporary Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Encyclopedia of American Literature, Continuum Publishing (New York, NY), 1999, pp. 239-240.

Poetry Criticism, Volume 37, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.


American Book Review, February-March, 1992, Ann C. Bromley, "The Poetics of Migration," pp. 26-27; November-December, 2002, John Olson, review of Maraca: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2000, pp. 5-8.

Americas Review, fall-winter, 1986, Victor Hernandez Cruz, "Mountains in the North: Hispanic Writing in the U.S.A.," pp. 110-114.

Bilingual Review, Volume 1, 1974, pp. 312-319.

Cross-Cultural Poetics, October, 2002, review of Maraca, pp. 123.

Library Journal, October 1, 1997.

MELUS, spring, 1989-90, Frances R. Aparicio, "Salsa, Maracas, and Baile: Latin Popular Music in the Poetry of Victor Hernandez Cruz," pp. 43-58.

New York Times Book Review, September 18, 1983.

Poetry, May, 1970.

Publishers Weekly, September, 1991, review of Red Beans, p. 99; September 22, 1997, review of Panoramas, p. 77; September 3, 2001, review of Maraca, p. 83.

World Literature Today, summer, 1998, W. Nick Hill, review of Panormas, pp. 619-620.


Academy of American Poets, (February 11, 2003), "Victor Hernandez Cruz."*