Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Gary Soto was born on April 12, 1952, in Fresno, California. His parents were Mexican American, and Soto was born into not only a Chicano culture but also a culture of poverty. His father died in 1957, when Gary was only five years old; this created economic hardship for a family that was already having difficulties.
Soto went to school in the Fresno area, and he worked in the fields as an agricultural laborer and as a low-paid factory worker, the inevitable lot of so many in his situation. He entered Fresno City College in 1970; when he started college, he was a geography major, but he switched to English when he entered California State University, Fresno. At that institution, he studied under Philip Levine, a noted American poet. Levine taught him how to read a poem, and he helped Soto to form a style and develop his craft as a poet. Soto graduated magna cum laude from Fresno State in 1974, and he spent the next two years as a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. He received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Irvine in 1976. He also published a number of poems in important journals and began making his reputation as a poet.
A poet needs to make a living, however, and Soto began to teach in the English and Chicano Studies departments at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1975, he married Carolyn Oda, whose father...
(The entire section is 745 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Soto has chosen as his subject the culture of poverty. He portrays that world without sentimentality; it is a hard and, at times, an inhuman one. Soto has described this world in detailed and memorable images and complex poetic structures. Of special importance to Soto are childhood and adolescence. In his view, childhood shapes people for good or ill. People who develop their imaginations may find a way out of a life of monotonous manual labor and find “the work that uses the mind,” which may make for a fuller life.
(The entire section is 91 words.)
Gary Soto was born to American parents of Mexican heritage and grew up in the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in and around Fresno, California. Soto’s father died when Soto was five years old; he and his siblings were reared by his mother and grandparents. After being graduated from high school in 1970, Soto attended the University of California at Irvine, where he later earned an M.F.A.
Soto’s life provides much of the material for his writing. He uses his cultural heritage and neighborhood traditions as the setting for stories and poems about growing up poor and Chicano. In The Elements of San Joaquin, his first book, he focuses on Fresno of the 1950’s. He chronicles the lives of migrant workers, of oppressed people caught in cycles of poverty and violence. In the later poetry collection, Who Will Know Us, Soto draws again on his life. In “That Girl,” for example, he is the young “Catholic boy” at the public library, while in “Another Time,” he is an adult reconsidering the death of his father.
Soto turns to prose with Living up the Street: Narrative Recollections, a volume of twenty-one autobiographical stories. His talent in this work is in the minute: Soto is concerned with the small event, with the everyday. In this book he explores racism through vignettes from his own life. Rather than tackle...
(The entire section is 338 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Gary Soto was born into a Chicano family in 1952 in Fresno, where, according to his essay “Being Mean,” his father and grandfather worked in blue-collar jobs at Sun-Maid Raisin, and his mother peeled potatoes at Reddi-Spud. Because of the family’s poverty, exacerbated by the father’s early death in a work-related accident, Soto was forced to earn money as an agricultural laborer in the San Joaquin Valley and at a tire-retread factory in Fresno. Soto’s work, especially his early poems, focuses primarily on this personal history. Although he never mentions it in his poems, Soto does have an impressive academic background: He was graduated magna cum laude from California State University at Fresno (1974), received a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine (1976), and has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, in the departments of English and Chicano studies. He has also been a distinguished professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. Soto married Carolyn Oda, a Japanese American, in 1975, and they have one daughter, Mariko.
(The entire section is 178 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Gary Soto (SOH-toh), who has been called one of the finest natural talents among Mexican American writers, was born on April 12, 1952, to Manuel and Angie (Trevino) Soto. Although his parents were born in the United States, Soto’s grandfather, Frank Soto, immigrated there to escape economic and political instability in Mexico. He met his future wife, Paola, in Fresno. Soto’s parents and grandparents were members of the working class. Every day, the Soto family would join other Mexican American families from their barrio in Fresno and travel to the lush San Joaquin Valley to pick grapes and oranges. At a young age, Gary experienced the grimness of working in mind-deadening, physically exhausting labor, picking cotton in the fields, collecting aluminum cans, all to help his family survive. The lushness of the valley juxtaposed with the backbreaking labor his family had to endure because of their poverty would figure prominently in Soto’s poetry and fiction.
When Soto was five years old, tragedy struck his family; Manuel Soto died as a result of a factory accident at the age of twenty-seven. The father’s death left Soto’s mother to raise him, his older brother, Rick, and his younger sister Debra. Manuel’s death created financial and emotional hardships for the family. They never discussed his death, never dealt with their individual or communal grief. The silence created an emotional chasm for Gary. The effects of Soto’s father’s death have...
(The entire section is 1120 words.)
Gary Soto was born April 12, 1952, in Fresno, California, son of Manuel and Angie (Trevino) Soto. Like many Mexican Americans in Fresno, Soto's parents and grandparents had once worked as farmworkers in the surrounding countryside. Although both of his parents were American born, their Mexican heritage remained a vital influence in their home. When Soto's father was killed in a factory accident when Gary was five, his mother was forced to struggle to provide for the family. For young Gary, survival took precedence over any dreams of writing. Soto tells interviewer, Jean W. Ross, "I don't think I had any literary aspirations when I was a kid. In fact we were pretty much an illiterate family . . . So my wanting to write poetry was a sort of fluke."
When Soto enrolled at Fresno City College in 1970, he began to focus on literature. Fiis dreams of a literary career began "when I discovered in the library a collection of poems edited by Donald Allen, called The New American Poetry.... I proceeded to write my own poetry, first alone, with no one's help, and then moving on to take classes . . . and meeting other writers." Influenced first by writers who broke out of established traditions, Soto devoured the poetry of Gregory Corso, Kenneth Koch, and Theodore Roethke. He also was influenced by Latin writers of prose, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Later, when he entered formal writing programs, he was strongly influenced by Philip Levine with whom Soto...
(The entire section is 1112 words.)