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Villaseñor, Victor 1940–

Villaseñor, Victor 1940–

(Edmundo Villaseñor, Victor E. Villaseñor, Victor Edmundo Villaseñor)

Personal

Born May 11, 1940, in Carlsbad, CA; son of Juan Salvadore (in business) and Lupe (Gomez) Villaseñor; married Barbara Bloch (a publicist), December 29, 1974; children: David Cuauhtemoc, Joseph. Education: Attended University of San Diego and Santa Clara University. Hobbies and other interests: Horseback riding.

Addresses

Home—1302 Stewart St., Oceanside, CA 92054. E-mail[email protected]

Career

Writer and motivational speaker. Construction worker in California, 1965–70; journalist and writer, 1970–. Founder of Snow Goose Global Thanksgiving (nonprofit organization to promote world peace). Military service: U.S. Army.

Awards, Honors

Named among 100 Influentials, Hispanic Business Association; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age designation, 2005, and Pulitzer Prize finalist, both for Burro Genius.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN

Mother Fox and Mr. Coyote/Mama Zorra y Don Coyote, illustrated by Felipe Ugalde Alcantara, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 2004.

The Frog and His Friends Save Humanity/La rana y sus amigos salvan a la humanidad, illustrated by José Ramírez, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 2005.

Little Crow to the Rescue/Cuervito al rescate, illustrated by Felipe Ugalde Alcantara, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 2005.

The Stranger and the Red Rooster/El forastero y el gallo rojo, illustrated by José Jara, Piñata Books (Houston, TX), 2005.

FOR ADULTS

(Under name Edmund Villaseñor) Macho! (novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1973, published under name Victor Villaseñor, Arte Publico Press (Houston, TX), 1991.

Jury: The People vs. Juan Corona (nonfiction), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.

The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (screenplay; based on the novel With His Pistol in His Hands by Americo Paredes), Embassy Pictures, 1983.

(Author of introduction) Authentic Family-Style Mexican Cooking, Meredith Custom Publishing (Des Moines, IA), 1987, published as Ortega Authentic Family-Style Mexican Cooking, 1997.

Rain of Gold (nonfiction), three volumes, Arte Publico Press (Houston, TX), 1991.

Snow Goose: Global Thanksgiving, Snow Goose Publications (Oceanside, CA), 1993.

Walking Stars: Stories of Magic and Power, Arte Publico Press (Houston, TX), 1994.

Wild Steps of Heaven (nonfiction), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1996.

Thirteen Senses: A Memoir, Rayo (New York, NY), 2001.

Burro Genius: A Memoir, Rayo (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Aztlan.

Author's works have been translated into Spanish.

Sidelights

An award-winning author, journalist, and motivational speaker, Victor Villaseñor has gained renown for compelling memoirs such as Rain of Gold and Burro Ge-nius: A Memoir, which illustrate "the mixture of economic opportunity and discrimination that Latinos encounter in the United States," according to Susan Miler in Newsweek. The author of novels, short fiction, and nonfiction, Villaseñor also inspires younger Latinos with pride in their Hispanic heritage and culture through his bilingual picture books, such as Little Crow to the Rescue/Cuervito al rescate and Mother Fox and Mr. Coyote/Mama Zorra y Don Coyote. A porquoi tale, Little Crow to the Rescue is based on a story from Villaseñor's family that explains why crows fly away when ever a human comes near, while Mother Fox and Mr. Coyote retells a Mexican folk story about a protective mother who saves her three young cubs from a hungry but foolish predator. In her Booklist review of Little Crow to the Rescue Julie Kline described the author's Spanish translation of his text as "thoughtfully done" and "appropriately colloquial," citing among the picture book's strengths its "overall message that … children can teach their parents a thing or two."

Villaseñor was born in the barrio of Carlsbad, California, and grew up on a ranch nearby. Both his parents, immigrants from Mexico, were poorly educated, and in his family's home there were no books. Fortunately, Villaseñor's father built a successful business, and the family was soon living on a large ranch. "When I started school, I spoke more Spanish than English," the author once recalled, discussing his experiences in an educational system ill-equipped to deal with his language problems and unable to diagnose his dyslexia. "I was a D student and every year of school made me feel more stupid and confused," the writer added, noting that "many of these feelings had to do with being Chicano. In my junior year of high school, I told my parents I had to quit school or I would go crazy. Finally, they allowed me to quit. I was eighteen years old. I felt free, I felt wonderful, but I didn't know what to do with my freedom."

Shortly after leaving school, Villaseñor found work in the fields, and enjoyed the independence a paying job gave him. But after the harvest was over, he was again at a loss for direction, until a cousin suggested he attend the University of San Diego, which had just opened. "On this campus I found out that books were not punishment, and if I couldn't remember dates I wasn't necessarily stupid," he recalled. "I flunked English of course (because I only had the reading ability of a fifth grader) and every other course except for philosophy and theology." Despite his grades, "The shock of my life came that year when a teacher told me I was very bright."

The following summer Villaseñor traveled south to Mexico, at the urging of his parents. There, as the author recalled, "I fell in with some hip people. I was introduced to Mexican art, Mexican history, and I read my first book, Homer's Iliad, as well as Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald." In Mexico, he felt proud of his heritage, but after his parents convinced him to return to California, feelings of inferiority returned. "I found myself feeling like a bombshell—ready to explode, prepared to kill anyone who made me feel ashamed. I was reading a copy of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,… when it hit me: I would write. Instead of killing or bashing people's brains out, I would change their minds. I would write good books that reach out and touch people, and I would influence the world. I got a dictionary and a high school English grammar book, and I built a desk and began to read books eight months out of the year. I'd go to bookstores and buy ten books at a time, read them, dissect them, and then reassemble them. Then for four months of the year I'd support myself in construction."

After hundreds of rejections, Villaseñor found a publisher for his book Macho!, which benefited from its timely release at the height of the 1973 migrant farmworkers' organizing campaign. The novel recounts a year in the life of Roberto Garcia, a young Tarascan Indian from the state of Michoacan, Mexico, who migrates illegally to California in 1963 to work in the fields. Villaseñor describes Garcia's intense culture shock in abandoning his isolated, tradition-bound village for the rich but lonely and frightening land of the North. Macho! has been followed by several memoirs as well as a collection of short stories inspired by the childhood experiences of Villaseñor's parents titled Walking Stars: Stories of Magic and Power. Praising the author's prose as "colloquial and engaging," Kliatt contributor Francisca Goldsmith added that the story collection "offers models for young writers who want to shape family stories of their own into written prose."

Published in 1992, Villaseñor's three-volume memoir Rain of Gold combines with several sequels to follow the experiences of the author's parents during their journey from Mexico to California. Rain of Gold focuses on the young couple during the 1920s, as they endure hardships while making their way north, haunted by the stories of relatives who had been crushed by the violence of revolution-torn Mexico in 1910. In its depiction of perseverance, young love, and optimism, Villaseñor's book features "keenly drawn" characters and provides a revealing portrait of turn-of-the-twentieth-century social and political life south of the border, according to Tom Miller in his review for the New York Times Book Review.

A prequel to Rain of Gold, Wild Steps of Heaven takes readers back in time to Villaseñor's father's youth. José Villaseñor lives with his parents and thirteen siblings on a ranch in the highlands of Los Altos de Jalisco, Mexico. Looked upon with disdain by his proud, Spanish-born father, who favors his blue-eyed children over those exhibiting his wife's Indian blood, José eventually bests his father by taming a horse thought to be untamable, but his success angers his father to the point that the boy is banished from the family home. With nowhere else to go, José becomes involved in the Mexican revolution and returns home a hero after exposing a corrupt officer. Retaliation follows, however, and it is directed against José's entire village. The family's escape north serves as the subject of Villaseñors's Rain of Gold.

A sequel to Rain of Gold, Thirteen Senses: A Memoir focuses on the early years of the author's parents' marriage, including Salvador's bootlegging activities and Lupe's efforts to move him to take up a lawful profession. Throughout the narrative, Villaseñor poses the question: What is it that brought his parents together and keeps them together: Is it love, or something else? Mary Carroll, pointing out in Booklist the passages full of "hilarious earthiness" and "vivid encounters with nature," deemed Thirteen Senses an "enchanting" depiction of "how extraordinary ordinary people can be."

Villaseñor moves from his parents' life to his own in Burro Genius, which follows his childhood in a close-knit Hispanic family where Western movies and their depiction of the free life of a cowboy was more alluring than the trauma he endured in school. The death of his beloved older brother ultimately motivates the author to exchange a future of anger and violence to a quest for self-expression and social activism. Praising Villaseñor's narrative as told "with the simplicity of a child and the introspection of a sage," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the author "maintains an astonishingly positive and compassionate attitude" despite the many challenges he endured.

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 209: Chicano Writers, Third Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Villaseñor, Victor, Rain of Gold, Arte Publico (Houston, TX), 1991.

Villaseñor, Victor, Wild Steps of Heaven (nonfiction), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1996.

Villaseñor, Victor, Thirteen Senses: A Memoir, Rayo (New York, NY), 2001.

Villaseñor, Victor, Burro Genius: A Memoir, Rayo (New York, NY), 2004.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1994, Frances Bradburn, review of Walking Stars: Stories of Magic and Power, p. 417; April 1, 1996, Greg Burkman, review of Wild Steps of Heaven, p. 1344; September 15, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of Thirteen Senses, p. 181; August, 2005, Julie Kline, review of The Frog and His Friends Save Humanity, p. 2037; October 1, 2005, Julie Kline, review of Little Crow to the Rescue, p. 66.

Christian Science Monitor, October 13, 1977.

English Journal, January, 1974.

Examiner and Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), November 6, 1973.

Hispanic, August, 1991; January-February, 1995, p. 124.

Journal of American Ethnic History, winter, 1996, Gregory S. Rodriguez, review of Rain of Gold, p. 109.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1995, p. 1760; July 15, 2001, review of Thirteen Senses, p. 1013; November 15, 2004, review of Mother Fox and Mr. Coyote, p. 1094; May 1, 2005, review of The Frog and His Friends Save Humanity, p. 548; November 15, 2005, review of Little Crow to the Rescue, p. 1236.

Kliatt, January, 2004, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Walking Stars, p. 29.

La Gente, April, 1974.

Library Journal, July, 1991, Boyd Childress, review of Rain of Gold, p. 113; July, 1994, p. 80; September 1, 2001, Nedra C. Evers, review of Thirteen Senses, p. 181.

Newsweek, April 20, 1992, pp. 78-79.

New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1977; September 8, 1991, Tom Miller, review of Rain of Gold, p. 20; February 25, 1996, p. 26.

People, September, 1992, "Victor Villaseñor Strikes Gold with the Story of His Mexican Immigrant Family."

Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1991, review of Rain of Gold, p. 48; September 12, 1994, review of Walking Stars, p. 92; December 11, 1995, review of Wind Steps of Heaven, pp. 64-65; September 3, 2001, review of Thirteen Senses, p. 81; June 7, 2004, review of Burro Genius, p. 44.

School Library Journal, November, 1994, Phyllis Graves, review of Walking Stars, p. 129; February, 2006, Maria Otero-Boisvert, review of Little Crow to the Rescue, p. 127; January, 2005, Ann Welton, review of Mother Fox and Mr. Coyote, p. 121; February, 2006, Maria Otero-Boisvert, review of Little Crow to the Rescue, p. 127.

Washington Post Book World, September 9, 1991, Ruben Navarrette, Jr., "Seams from a Marriage," review of Thirteen Senses.

Wilson Library Bulletin, April, 1995, p. 114.

ONLINE

Victor Villaseñor Home Pagehttp://victorvillasenor.com (June 15, 2006).

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