Gonzalez, Ray 1952–
Gonzalez, Ray 1952–
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, University of Minnesota, 310E Lind Hall, 207 Church St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Poet, editor and educator. Woodinville, WA, public schools, poet-in-residence, 1987; Guadeloupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, TX, director, beginning 1989; University of Illinois-Chicago, assistant professor of English and Latin American studies, 1996–98; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, assistant professor, 1996–2000, associate professor, 2000–02, professor of English, 2002–. Taught writing to juvenile offenders at the Emerson House Detention Center, Denver, CO.
MEMBER: Texas Institute of Letters.
AWARDS, HONORS: Four Corners Book Award for Poetry, for Twilight and Chants, 1988; Colorado Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, 1988; publishing fellowship, Colorado Council on the Arts, 1988, 1989; creative fellowship in literature, Colorado Council on the Arts, 1989; individual artists fellowship, Department of Arts & Cultural Affairs of San Antonio, 1990; American Book Award for Editing, Before Columbus Foundation, 1993; PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award for Excellence in Literature, 1997; fellowship in poetry, Illinois Arts Council, 1998; grant-in-aid research award, 1999; President's Multicultural Research Award, 1999–2001; McKnight Land Grant Professorship, 1999–2001; Loft Literary Center career initiative fellowship, 2000; Minnesota Book Award in Poetry, 2001, for Turtle Pictures; Western Heritage Foundation Award in Short Fiction, 2002; Humanities Institute fellowship, 2002–03; McKnight Research Award, 2002–05; Loft McKnight fellowship in poetry, 2002–03; Best Southwest Books of the Year, Arizona Humanities Commission, 2002, for Underground Heart; Best Book of Nonfiction, Texas Institute of Letters, for The Underground Heart; Minnesota Book Award in Poetry, 2003, for The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande; Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature, Border Regional Library Association, 2003.
From the Restless Roots, Arte Publico Press (Houston, TX), 1986.
Twilights and Chants: Poems, J. Andrews (Golden, CO), 1987.
Railroad Face, Chile Verde Press (San Antonio, TX), 1995.
The Heat of Arrivals, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1996.
Cabato Sentora, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1998.
Turtle Pictures, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2000.
The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande: Poems, BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 2002.
Human Crying Daisies: Prose Poems, Red Hen Press (Los Angeles, CA), 2003.
The Religion of Hands: Prose Poems and Short Fictions, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2005.
Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems, BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 2005.
EDITOR OF ANTHOLOGIES
City Kite on a Wire: 38 Denver Poets, Mesilla Press, 1986.
Crossing the River: Poets of the Western U.S., Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1987.
Tracks in the Snow, Mesilla Press, 1988.
Without Discovery: A Native Response to Columbus, Broken Moon Press (Seattle, WA), 1992.
After Aztian: Latino Poets in the Nineties, David R. Godine Publishers (Boston, MA), 1992.
Mirrors beneath the Earth: Chicago Short Fiction, Curbstone Press (St. Paul, MN), 1992.
Currents from the Dancing River: Contemporary Latino Literature, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY)1994.
Contemporary Poetry from Texas, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1995.
Under the Pomegranate Tree: Contemporary Latino Erotica, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Muy Macho: Latino Men Confront Their Manhood, Anchor/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Inheritance of Light, University of North Texas Press (Denton, TX), 1996.
Touching the Fire: Fifteen Poets of Today's Latino Renaissance, Anchor/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets, Tupelo Press (Dorset, VT), 2003.
Memory Fever: A Journey beyond El Paso del Norte (essays), Broken Moon Press (Seattle, WA), 1993.
The Ghost of John Wayne, and Other Stories (fiction), University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2001.
Circling the Tortilla Dragon: Short-Short Fiction, Creative Arts Book Co. (San Francisco, CA), 2002.
The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape: Essays, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2002.
Editor-in-chief, La Voz, 1981–82; poetry editor, Bloomsbury Review, 1981–.
SIDELIGHTS: The work of award-winning poet and editor Ray Gonzalez is inextricably linked to his Mexican ancestry and his American southwestern upbringing. Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Gonzalez has employed Chicano imagery in his poetry, oftentimes alluding to America's indigenous past, and particularly to the southwestern desert cultures. Gonzalez has published several collections of his poetry and has served as editor of several anthologies of writings, most of which emphasize the contributions of Chicano authors to the literary scene. These anthologies, including 1998's Touching the Fire: Fifteen Poets of Today's Latino Renaissance, provide a medium for many up-and-coming Latino writers to get their work to the public. Another of his anthologies, Without Discovery: A Native Response to Columbus, includes essays by a host of indigenous writers who refute the notion that Christopher Columbus was the discoverer of the New World.
Although he has not received widespread critical notice, Gonzalez has definitely made a mark for himself in the publishing community. After studying creative writing, Gonzalez moved north to Denver, Colorado, where he spent the better part of a decade immersing himself in the literary and arts communities. Initially he taught writing classes for juvenile delinquents at the Emerson House Detention Center, before becoming the editor-in-chief of La Voz, the Latino newspaper of Colorado. Working for La Voz was a unique experience for Gonzalez because it is one of the oldest and longest-running publications of its kind in America. In 1982, after a two-year stint at the newspaper, Gonzalez moved on to become the poetry editor for Bloomsbury Review, a literary journal also based in Colorado. Working with many local and national writers, Gonzalez developed a better understanding of the publishing industry, both on a technical and promotional basis. In fact, he became so comfortable with it that he created his own press, which he called Mesilla Press. Gonzalez began to publish the works of many poets, particularly from the Denver area, a fact that solidified his place in the city's literary community, as well as earning him the prestigious Colorado Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1988. The Colorado Council on the Arts also recognized Gonzalez's contributions, awarding him several publishing and writing grants.
Gonzalez has acknowledged that, at a young age, he was influenced by the poets Pablo Neruda and Robert Bly. His poems contain lines that provide a window into his yearning to be free of social constraints. "I live like a follower, / a noise in the trees no one can claim," Gonzalez writes in the title poem of From the Restless Roots, which was published in 1986. Still, Gonzalez's southwestern imagery is the overriding element in his poetry. Snakes, scorpions, and lizards often appear, as do Indians and Mexicans. Poverty and other harsh realities of Mexican life also play a part in some of his work. In the poem "Blind House," published in From the Restless Roots is one example: "Footprints of a departing family. / They tremble in love / as they cross the border," Gonzalez writes. Gonzalez's fourth collection of poetry, the 1996 volume titled The Heat of Arrivals, is an ongoing examination of his Latino identity. He conjures up images of dead relatives, and ancient figures from America's past. He also looks into his own past, such as in "The Snake Poems," a sequence that pivots on his recollection of an incident during his childhood in which he came face to face with a rattlesnake.
The book's final section, a sequence titled "Praise the Tortilla, Praise Menudo, Praise Chorizo," moves away from Gonzalez's typical desert scenery, entering instead an urban setting. In this section, the author also experiments with language. A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented on the book's final sequence, noting: "This vibrant poem suggests the arrival of a new, unpredictable stage in Gonzalez's career." Gonzalez's 1998 collection of poetry, Cabato Sentora, presents a border world, filled with religious imagery, but apocalyptic in nature. "The blood Christ on the wall is folding his hands," Gonzalez writes in one of the poems. The collection also contains poems with titles such as "The Angels of Juarez, Mexico" and "The Poor Angel." "I can't speak without removing the blue throat from my body, / can't introduce you to Llaga without asking you to remove / your voice so I can examine it," he writes in another poem. A contributor for Publishers Weekly called the work an "impassioned collection."
Touching the Fire is indicative of the type of anthology that Gonzalez has organized. The work highlights the work of fifteen Latino writers, each of whom contributes ten poems to the collection. Though only Latinos are featured, both male and female writers are equally represented, providing a fuller perspective of the Latino existence and experience. Some of the collection's most noted pieces include Juan Felipe Herrera's "When He Believed Himself to Be a Young Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water" and Gloria Vando's "Father's Day," a poem that explores the relationship between a boy and his father. In addition to Judith Ortiz Cofer's "The Lesson of the Teeth," which she wrote in honor of her Aunt Clotilde's magnificent beauty, the book also includes writers such as Victor Hernandez Cruz and Silvia Curbelo. While some of the included poems are more traditional, there are others that are more experimental, particularly Herrera's "When He Believed Himself to Be a Young Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water," an example of surrealism. Calling Touching the Fire "distinctive," critic Donna Seaman maintained in Booklist that the volume contains a "wealth of poems" written by "new voices." Jack Shreve of the Library Journal wrote that the poems collectively replicate "the rhythms of American daily life."
Gonzalez has continued to write a wide array of poetry and very short fiction. Turtle Pictures is a collection of poems by the author that a Publishers Weekly contributor called "an abstract terra incognita … that proves a fruitful hunting ground for the poet." Lawrence Olszewski, wrote in the Library Journal that in these poems the author "attempts to capture the heart and hopes of the Mexican American soul."
Gonzalez's first collection of short fiction is titled The Ghost of John Wayne, and Other Stories. The twenty-five stories include brief sketches of two pages or more and focus on the poor Hispanic culture of the American Southwest, exploring such themes as religion, poverty, and superstition. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that in this collection of short stories the author "does not squander a syllable." Diana Anhalt, writing on the Texas Observer Web site, commented that "you will return to your favorites again and again." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, reflected that the author "conjures a magical and entrancing world."
The author's collection of essays, The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape: Essays, includes fifteen essays about the American Southwest, including stories of the author's own travels and adventures in the area. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the collection: "Powerful, poetic, troubling." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "illuminates the latest paradoxical human dramas enacted on the patient desert."
The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande: Poems is the author's seventh collection of poems, and once again the author embraces the American Southwest, from pre-Columbian days on through to the Spanish explorers and modern times. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the poems "sound both compelling and uneasy." In a review in Booklist, Seaman called the collection "resounding" and noted the author's "stunning elegiac visions."
Human Crying Daisies: Prose Poems contains eighty-eight poems. "At their best, Gonzalez's texts … convey dimensions of experience and knowledge not accessible via more restrictive forms of either prose or verse," wrote W. Scott Howard on the Double Room Web site. The reviewer went on to write that "most of the poems do shine—some quite brilliantly."
The author returned to experimental short fiction and prose poems with Circling the Tortilla Dragon: Short-Short Fiction. Writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, James Sallis noted that the offerings "never fail to mystify." The reviewer went on to note that the author's "mix of the banal and the extraordinary is in every sense marvelous."
Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems "showcases Gonzalez's unique voice and way of seeing the world," wrote Booklist contributor Janet St. John of the 2005 collection. Ambar Hernández, writing in Hispanic, noted that the author "creates powerful images of living the border life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 122: Chicano Writers, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Gonzalez, Ray, From the Restless Roots, Arte Publico Press (Houston, TX), 1986.
Gonzalez, Ray, Cabato Sentora, BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 1998.
Booklist, February 15, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Touching the Fire: Fifteen Poets of Today's Latino Renaissance, p. 971; October 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of The Ghost of John Wayne, and Other Stories, p. 381; May 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande: Poems, p. 1569; September 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape: Essays, p. 47; October 1, 2005, Janet St. John, review of Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems, p. 18.
Hispanic, September, 2005, Ambar Hernández, review of Consideration of the Guitar, p. 74.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of The Underground Heart, pp. 1093-1094.
Library Journal, June 15, 1996, Mark L. Grover, review of Muy Macho: Latino Men Confront Their Manhood, p. 82; January, 1998, Jack Shreve, review of Touching the Fire, p. 104; February 15, 2000, Lawrence Olszewski, review of Turtle Pictures, p. 161; November 1, 2001, Harold Augenbraum, review of The Ghost of John Wayne, and Other Stories, p. 134.
Poets & Writers Magazine, November-December, 2001, Maria Garcia Tabor, "Toward a Larger, Listening World: An Interview with Ray Gonzalez," p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1996, review of The Heat of Arrivals, p. 83; December 21, 1998, review of Cabato Sentora, p. 64; February 7, 2000, review of Turtle Pictures, p. 71; September 24, 2001, review of The Ghost of John Wayne, and Other Stories, p. 68; May 27, 2002, review of The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande, p. 53; September 9, 2002, review of The Underground Heart, p. 58.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2003, James Sallis, review of Circling the Tortilla Dragon: Short-Short Fiction, p. 130.
Double Room, http://webdelsol.com/Double_Room/ (September 28, 2005), W. Scott Howard, review of Human Crying Daisies: Prose Poems.
Texas Observer, http://www.texasobserver.org/ (September 6, 2003), Diana Anhalt, review of The Ghost of John Wayne, and Other Stories.
University of Minnesota English Department Web site, http://english.cla.umn.edu/ (November 28, 2005), faculty profile of author.