Study Guide

Victor Hernández Cruz

Victor Hernández Cruz Biography

Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

Victor Hernández Cruz was born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, a small town about twenty miles from San Juan. The streets were unpaved, but he absorbed the native song and poetry as well as the poetic declamations of his grandfather and uncle. His family migrated to New York in 1954 and settled in the tenements of the lower East Side of Manhattan. He attended Benjamin Franklin High School and began to write verse. At the age of sixteen, he composed his first collection of poetry, Papo Got His Gun! and Other Poems. Cruz and his friends duplicated and distributed five hundred copies to local bookstores.

In 1967, the Evergreen Review helped launch Cruz’s career when the journal featured several of these poems. Thus, while still in high school, he became a published poet. In 1969, he released his second collection of poems, Snaps, and gained national attention. In the 1960’s, his neighborhood had become a center of intellectual and social ferment as part of the Civil Rights movement. Beat poetry, protest poetry, and feminist poetry mixed with political activism and music to form the social milieu. Ishmael Reed, Allen Ginsberg, and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) were major influences, and Cruz was intrigued by the developing Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) poetry movement, which often claims him.

In 1969, Cruz moved to Berkeley, California, to become poet-in-residence at the University of California. In 1973, he...

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Victor Hernández Cruz Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Victor Hernández Cruz (krewz) moved with his family to Lower East Side Manhattan from a small town in Puerto Rico when he was five years old. His parents soon divorced. In an autobiographical essay, “The Bolero of the Red Translation,” in Red Beans, he begins, “Migration is the story of my body, it is the condition of this age.” He describes his move from a tropical world “in a bowl surrounded by green mountains wherein a million mysteries resided” to a world of “awesome gray velocity” where people spoke a “language which sounded like bla-bla-bla.” He identifies himself with Spanish and English, and with Native (Taino Indian) and African (notably Yoruba) cultures. “Poetry falls everywhere,” Cruz writes. “It is the most available art form.” He was writing poems by the time he was fourteen, but he dropped out of high school in 1967, just six months before graduation. By then, he had already produced his first collection, a mimeographed book entitled Papo Got His Gun! and Other Poems, which he distributed to local bookstores and sold for seventy-five cents a copy. It was discovered by an editor of the Evergreen Review, who reprinted several of the poems. The book, which Cruz elsewhere describes as “the poetry of youthful fire,” concerns teenagers coming to grips with the reality of life and death in the barrio of Spanish Harlem.

After leaving high school, Cruz became involved with the East Harlem Gut Theater, a collective effort of Puerto Rican artists and actors, and he helped edit the literary magazine Umbra between 1967 and 1969. By 1968, his poems had appeared in such noted magazines as Ramparts and in Black Fire, an anthology edited by African American poet LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). In 1968, in the midst of the protests against the war in Vietnam, he moved to Berkeley, where he met such influential writers as Octavio Paz, Ishmael Reed, Allen Ginsberg, and Ernesto Cardenal. He was not yet twenty when Random House published Snaps, which...

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Victor Hernández Cruz Biography (Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Victor Hernández Cruz Published by Gale Cengage

Born in the barrio El Guanabano in the town of Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, in 1949 to Severo and Rosa Cruz, Victor Hernández Cruz and his family moved to Spanish Harlem in New York City in 1954. This part of the city teemed with immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, and Cruz was surrounded with new sights, smells, and sounds, some familiar and some strange. Learning English along with a new culture was both a challenge and a reward for the young Cruz, who made the intersections between his new home and his old the material for much of his writing. Although he dropped out of high school during his senior year, Cruz became a voracious reader and writer as a teenager, self-publishing his first book when he was only seventeen years old.

The 1960s were exciting times for emerging writers. Small presses sprung up everywhere and increasingly paid more attention to publishing the works of those from underrepresented and neglected populations. Along with writers such as Piri Thomas, a novelist, Cruz developed a reputation as a leading "Nuyorican" writer (the "Nuyo" stands for New York, and "rican" for Puerto Rican). Much of Cruz's poetry addresses life on the streets and the difficulty of negotiating one's ethnic identity and cultural heritage in an often hostile country. Like those he writes about, Cruz is a survivor. Although he writes in English, Cruz often leavens his poetry and prose with Spanish. Critics sometimes refer to this hybrid language as "Spanglish.’’ Like Cruz, many Puerto Ricans are of Indian (Taino) and African descent as well, and Cruz's writing appears frequently in African-American literature anthologies. He often refers to himself as Afro-Latin.

An essayist, novelist, and editor as well as a poet, Cruz remains one of the most prolific and visible spokesmen for minority literature in the United States. His works include Papa Got His Gun and Other Poems (1966), Snaps (1969), Mainland (1973), Tropicalization (1976), By Lingual Wholes (1982), Rhythm, Content [and] Flavor (1989), Red Beans (1991), and Panoramas (1997), all poetry or poetry and prose collections. Cruz has also published two novels: Down These Mean Streets in 1967, and Savior, Savior Hold My Hand in 1972. His short-story collection Low Writings came out in 1980. Cruz has taught at a number of high schools and universities and frequently gives public readings of his work. He has also successfully participated in poetry "slams," a public event in which poets compete both individually and in teams against one another.