Gary Soto Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How is the theme of male friendship explored in Gary Soto’s works?

How is death a consistent theme in Soto’s works?

Describe the image of the Mexican American laborer as portrayed by Soto.

Discuss Soto’s use of natural imagery.

How is irony central to Soto’s works?

Discuss Soto’s theme of the individual in conflict with an indifferent universe.

How do Soto’s novels build upon the themes examined in his poetry?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gary Soto (SOH-toh) wrote autobiographical essays that deal with his growing up in a Chicano community and address issues such as race, class, and religion. They are collected in Living up the Street: Narrative Recollections (1985), Small Faces (1986), Lesser Evils: Ten Quartets (1988), A Summer Life (1990), and The Effect of Knut Hamsun on a Fresno Boy (2000). His adult fiction includes Nickel and Dime (2000), Poetry Lover (2001), and Amnesia in a Republican County (2003). Soto has become a prolific and influential writer of stories and novels for children and young adults.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gary Soto has received public and critical praise for his poetry and prose memoirs, which explore the pleasures and difficulties of life for working-class Chicanos. Many readers respond to the direct emotional appeal of his writing and his ability to write clearly and imaginatively about his ethnic background. He received an award from The Nation magazine for his poem “The Discovery” in 1975 and the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum in 1976 for his first book, The Elements of San Joaquin. His second collection of poems, The Tale of Sunlight, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His nonfiction writing has also garnered awards, including the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 1985 for Living up the Street. Individual poems have won the Bess Hokin Prize (1977) and the Levinson Award (1984) from Poetry magazine. New and Selected Poems was a National Book Award finalist, and Petty Crimes (1998) won the PEN Center West Book Award in 1999. Soto’s poetry earned such honors as the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (1999) and the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association (1999). His producing of the film Pool Party won him the 1993 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Film Excellence, and his literacy advocacy earned him the title of Person of the Week from the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1997.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Armour-Hileman, Vicki. Review of Where Sparrows Work Hard. Denver Quarterly 17 (Summer, 1982): 154-155. Armour-Hileman notes what many critics call attention to: the similarity between Soto and his teacher Philip Levine in subject matter, “a surrealistic bent,” and short, enjambed lines. She finds fault with the “inaccuracy of the images” in many of Soto’s poems and “their elliptical movement.” She does admire the poems in which Soto “becomes not an ethnic poet, but a poet who writes about human suffering.” His writing in the last third of this collection she considers a “great success.”

Cooley, Peter. “Two Young Poets.” Parnassus 7 (Fall/Winter, 1979): 299-311. In this extremely laudatory examination of Soto’s two earliest collections, Cooley calls Soto “the most important voice among the young Chicano poets.” He praises Soto’s ability to re-create his lost world of San Joaquin with “an imaginative expansiveness.” This is a crucial essay for understanding the initial praise given to Soto and how his work seemed to speak for a generation of Chicanos.

De La Fuente, Patricia. “Entropy in the Poetry of Gary Soto: The Dialectics of Violence.” Discurso Literario 5, no. 1 (Autumn, 1987): 111-120. De La Fuente examines the use of entropy and how it reinforces the structure of Soto’s...

(The entire section is 500 words.)