Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Victor Hernández Cruz (krews) wrote about poetry in an early pamphlet, Doing Poetry (1970). In Stuff: A Collection of Poems, Visions, and Imaginative Happenings from Young Writers in Schools—Opened and Closed (1970), coedited with Herbert Kohl, he offers a gathering of young writers’ poems that outline his fundamental commitment to poetry and poetic expression, as well as his dedication to teaching. With Leroy Quintana and Virgil Suarez, Cruz edited Paper Dance: Fifty-five Latino Poets (1995). This was the first anthology of Latino poets from diverse origins: Cuba, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
In addition to short fiction, Cruz has written the unpublished novels “Rhythm Section/Part One” and “Time Zones,” both of which explore the migration and musical themes of his poetry. Excerpts from the former appear in Maria Theresa Babin’s Borinquen: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Literature (1974). In four of his major poetry collections, Cruz has included prose works that offer insights into his life and aesthetics. He has also published articles in various journals, including The New York Review of Books, Ramparts, Evergreen Review, and The Village Voice.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
In New York, Victor Hernández Cruz edited Umbra magazine from 1967 to 1969 and was cofounder of the East Harlem Gut Theater. In 1970, he was invited to be a guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, and then served in the Ethnic Studies Department of San Francisco State College (now University) from 1971 to 1972. He worked with the San Francisco Art Commission (1976) and the Mission Neighborhood Center (1981). With novelist Ishmael Reed, he formed the Before Columbus Foundation.
Cruz served as a visiting professor at the University of California, San Diego (1993), and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1994). In 1974, he was given the Creative Arts Public Service Award, and in April, 1981, Life magazine featured Cruz in its celebration of twelve North American poets. He also earned a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing award (1989) and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1991). Cultural critic Bill Moyers interviewed Cruz for an eight-part Public Broadcasting Service series, The Language of Life, which aired June 23 to July 28, 1995. This program was subsequently released as a book and as an audiocassette. Maraca was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002. Cruz became a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2008.
Cruz’s legendary ability to give dynamic poetry readings has twice made him World Heavyweight Poetry Champion in Taos, New Mexico. He has also participated in discussions and readings sponsored by La Fundación Federico García Lorca and at the Universidad de Alcalá.
Bibliography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Aparicio, Frances R. “’Salsa,’ ’Maracas,’ and ’Baile’: Latin Popular Music in the Poetry of Victor Hernández Cruz.” MELUS 16 (Spring, 1989/1990): 43-58. Explores and delineates the sound, beat, and rhythm of popular Latin American music in Cruz’s poetry; also shows how this music tropicalizes American culture and gives a sense of cohesion and identity to immigrants. Aparicio notes that, when read aloud, the work sounds like jazz poetry.
Cruz, Victor Hernández. “Victor Hernández Cruz.” Interview by Bill Moyers. In The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, edited by Moyers. New York: Doubleday, 1995. In an interview with the poet, Moyers examines the blend of cultures that have influenced Cruz’s poetry; also outlines the poet’s rural roots and his absorption of bolero and salsa musical rhythms.
Kanellos, Nicolás. Victor Hernández Cruz and la Salsa de Dios. Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979. Focuses on the essentially Puerto Rican side of Cruz’s poetry with special emphasis on the African-Caribbean strains of salsa, whose origins Cruz locates in Africa and the pre-Columbian West Indies.
Torrens, James. “U.S. Latino Writers: The Searchers.” America 167 (July 18-25, 1992). Takes a sociological and psychological approach, noting that Cruz writes of numbing poverty and of the immigrant’s struggle for dignity. Also explores the immigrant writer’s need to belong to a group.
Waisman, Sergio Gabriel. “The Body as Migration.” Bilingual Review 19 (May 1, 1944): 188-192. Explores Cruz’s understanding of the three influences in Puerto Rican culture: indigenous (Taino), Spanish (including that of Arabs, gypsies/Roma, and Jews), and African (especially that of the Yorubas). Also examines his use of wordplay, metaphor, and synaesthesia. The primary focus here is on Red Beans.