Alberto Ríos 1952-
(Full name Alberto Alvaro Ríos) American poet, short story writer, and memoirist.
Ríos is recognized as an important and influential American poet, whose verse often explores the dynamics of life on the borderlands between Mexico and the United States. Drawing on the oral storytelling tradition of his Chicano heritage, his poetry has been praised for its unique perspective on the American Southwest experience.
Ríos was born in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, on September 18, 1952, to a Mexican father and a British mother. As a young boy, he first learned Spanish; but like most Chicanos, he was forced to speak English when he attended school. By the end of elementary school he gave up speaking Spanish altogether. The juxtaposition between these two worlds—the English and Spanish—is a recurring theme in his verse. In junior high school Ríos began to write poetry. In 1974 he received his bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a year later he received another bachelor's, in psychology. He then enrolled in law school but quit in order to enroll in the Master's of Fine Arts program, which he completed in 1979. That same year, he published his first collection of poetry, Elk Heads on the Wall. He has received numerous awards, published hundreds of pieces in magazines and journals, and served on the editorial boards of many literary journals. Currently he is a Professor of English at Arizona State University and gives lectures and readings around the country.
Major Poetic Works
Critics assert that Ríos's verse is largely drawn from his childhood memories and an oral storytelling tradition passed on from his family. His verse often relates stories from and about his grandmother, grandfather, parents, cousins, aunts, and childhood friends. Several of his poems are told from a child's point of view. For example, in “Madre Sofía,” he writes from a child's perspective about a mysterious trip to a gypsy fortune-teller with his mother. In “Nani” he recounts the silent language that he shared with his beloved grandmother. Ríos also explores in his work the concept of borders. In “Day of the Refugios” he describes the double meaning of the Fourth of July in Nogales: it is a day of celebration of America's independence as well as the saint's day of people named Refugio—including his grandmother and his mother-in-law. In Ríos's world, the Fourth of July thus represents the juxtaposition of his Chicano and American heritages. As a result of these border divisions, Ríos has created a hybrid writing, which is characterized by the use of magical realism. In these verses, he begins with a realistic situation that develops into a surreal one. Several of his poems are concerned with the themes of desire, religion, and violence.
Critics praise Ríos for his thoughtful articulation and exploration of the dynamics of life in the border area between Mexico and the United States. Moreover, reviewers commend his use of vivid detail and magical realism in his poetry and short stories. His use of magical realism has prompted comparisons to Juan Rulfo, Alejo Carpentier, and Gabriel García Márquez. Ríos's work has been published in numerous periodicals and his poems are often anthologized. Viewed as a notable American poet and vital voice from the American Southwest, he was awarded a poetry fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980 and was awarded the Walt Whitman award in 1981 for Whispering to Fool the Wind, which was published the following year. He also received Pushcart Prizes for poetry in 1988 and 1989, and was a nominee for the National Book award in 2002 for his latest collection, The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (2002). He was also the 2002 recipient of the Western Literature Association's Distinguished Achievement Award.