Leroy V. Quintana Essay - Critical Essays

Quintana, Leroy V.


Leroy V. Quintana 1944-

American poet and editor.

Quintana has fashioned a body of poetry drawing on his experience with the Chicano culture of the North American Southwest, and on his experiences as a Chicano outsider in American society, subject to ethnic disdain and socioeconomic discrimination. His poetry also reflects his time served as a soldier in Vietnam, and his work as a mental health counselor. Quintana's poems are essentially vignettes continuing the oral tradition of Chicano culture, depicting scenes from personal, family, and community experience. The simplicity of their structure shows his concern for literary accessibility and concrete representation over formal complexity, linguistic brilliance, or abstract theory.

Biographical Information

Born in New Mexico, of Mexican descent, Quintana never knew his father, who abandoned his mother before Quintana's birth. He was raised both by his maternal grandparents and his mother and step-father. After frequent moves around the region, his family settled in Albuquerque when Quintana was in the fifth grade. After graduation from high school he worked with his stepfather as a roofer. In 1964, he entered the University of New Mexico as an anthropology major, but his course of study was interrupted when he was drafted in 1967. After returning from Vietnam, he began to work on short poems recalling his war experiences, and on pieces reflecting the culture of his childhood. He returned to the University of New Mexico in 1969 as an English major, became the editor of the university literary magazine, and was published in Puerto del Sol. In 1970, he married Yolanda Holguin, a registered nurse, and had three children, whom he has celebrated in his poetry. He earned his bachelor's degree in English in 1971, and began working as an alcoholism counselor at St. Joseph's Hospital in Albuquerque. In 1972, he won an assistantship at New Mexico State University and, with the encouragement of Native American author N. Scott Momaday and the poet Keith Wilson, began writing in earnest, eventually becoming the editor of Puerto del Sol. He began teaching English at El Paso Community College in 1975, and had his first book of poetry, Hijo del Pueblo: New Mexico Poems, published in 1976. In 1980, Quintana and his family moved back to Albuquerque, and he began working for the Albuquerque Tribune as a sports and features writer. In 1981, his second book of poetry Sangre was published. In 1982 it won the American Book Award for Poetry from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the El Paso Border Regional Library Association Award. In that same year, Quintana enrolled at Western New Mexico University, studied psychiatry, and in 1984 was awarded an M.A. in counseling. He then moved to San Diego, California, and worked as a counselor at the National Family Clinic until 1987. In 1988, he began teaching at Mesa College in San Diego, where he is a professor of English. In 1993 Quintana again won the American Book Award for Poetry from the Before Columbus Foundation, for his The History of Home.

Major Works

Quintana's first books of poetry, Hijo del Pueblo and Sangre, written in blended English and Spanish, established his poetic persona—a narrator of tales reflecting the communal world of his Chicano childhood, and the Chicano tradition of storytelling. Interrogations (1992), his third book, began as a notebook he kept as a soldier in Vietnam, in which he recorded his impressions of the events and people of the war. His subsequent volumes retain his style of anecdotal accessibility, combining his fascination with and memories of his childhood culture with his growing awareness of the way people suffer and cope, gathered from his personal experience as a soldier, a father, a teacher, and a mental health counselor.

Critical Reception

The qualities which make some critics, like Douglas Benson, value Quintana's work—his narrative accessibility, structural simplicity, and awareness of social and economic injustice—cause others, like Philip Foss, Jr., to complain that Quintana's poems are more authentically prose, and their content better suited to stories (Contact/II, Winter/Spring 1984-1985). Critical response to Quintana's depiction of characters also varies. Whereas James Hatch objects that “Quintana is content not to trouble the surface people present to others,” Jon Forrest Glade commends him for having “given the characters in Interrogations genuine depth.”

Principal Works

Hijo del Pueblo: New Mexico Poems [Son of the People: New Mexico Poems] 1976

Sangre [Blood] 1981

Interrogations 1992

Now and Then, Often, Today 1992

The History of Home 1993

My Hair Turning Gray Among Strangers 1996

The Great Whirl of Exile 1999

Paper Dance: Fifty-five Latino Poets [editor, with Virgil Suarez] (anthology) 1995


Karl Kopp (review date 1977)

SOURCE: A review of Hijo del Pueblo, American Book Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, December, 1977, pp. 19-20.

[In the following review, Kopp praises the manner in which Quintana collects and expresses communal experiences in his poetry.]

Leroy Quintana's Hijo del Pueblo is a strong book, handsomely printed, intelligently arranged and illustrated. The poems evolve from a child's partial view of the doings and stories of “the old ones” of his village, through the poet's experience as a young adult, and on to a complete awareness of one's world, or “pueblo.”

But the simple (deceptively simple) viewpoint of the child—though growing in a sense of humor, irony, and sadness—never leaves these poems. Two drawings by Trini Lopez anchor this—the first of a boy, his body still rounded from babyhood, looking objectively with full black eyes at the world beyond his door; and then, the last illustration in the book, an older boy stands at the extreme right of the page—hurt-looking and grieved—against a vast background of black.

The key to the force of these mostly short, laconic poems is this long line, I think, from the poem “Don Santos”: “secrets I as a young boy was to learn from the silence of old men.” Understatement, humility, gentle irony, a sense of mystery, love. These qualities are the bases of Leroy Quintana's power and strength. He speaks with more than his own voice. He speaks for his “pueblo,” for the fading days of a long and human tradition. “New Mexico Poems,” the sub-title, is right. Leroy gives to this place and to these people a...

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Douglas K. Benson (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: “Intuitions of a World in Transition: The New Mexican Poetry of Leroy V. Quintana,” in Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingue, Vol. 12, Nos. 1 & 2, January, 1985, pp. 62-80.

[In the following essay, Benson discusses the role of tradition and intuition as sources of knowledge in Quintana's poetry.]

The poetry of Leroy V. Quintana evokes a dense, contradictory world, full of mystery and barely perceived truths—truths not even fully understood by the speakers who translate them for us. In his first two books, Hijo del pueblo (1976) and the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award winner Sangre (1981), Quintana has condensed into brief...

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Leroy V. Quintana with Douglas K. Benson (interview date 1985)

SOURCE: “A Conversation with Leroy V. Quintana,” in Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingue, Vol. 12, No. 3, September, 1985, pp. 218-229.

[In the following interview, Benson talks with Quintana about how his home village and his experiences during the Vietnam War shaped his poetry.]

Leroy V. Quintana was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on June 10, 1944. He never knew his father; during his early years he lived with his grandparents in Ratón, in the northern part of the state. Their tales of family members, village people, witches, buried tesoro, and la Llorona directly inform the poems in his first two books: Hijo del Pueblo (1976) and Sangre (1981)....

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Douglas K. Benson (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: “Inner and Outer Realities of Chicano Life: The New Mexican Perspective of Leroy V. Quintana,” in Perspective on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 12, No. 12, 1986, pp. 20-28.

[In the following essay, Benson explores the significance of multicultural and family influences on Quintana's poetry.]

The poetry of Leroy V. Quintana opens up for us a world and a vision which until now has remained inaccessible to the majority of American readers. Many of Quintana's fellow Chicanos from outside New Mexico consider it remote as well, for the particular kind of mystical fatalism that gives its stamp to his people is essentially unknown and widely misunderstood (Gerdes...

(The entire section is 3695 words.)

Jon Forrest Glade (review date 1994)

SOURCE: “War and Injustice,” in American Book Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, April/May, 1994, p. 21.

[In the following excerpted review, Glade surveys Quintana's Vietnam war poems.]

As I write this review during the early hours of Memorial Day, Channel 23 telecasts a marathon of war movies almost entirely about World War II. The sound is turned off, but, as I get up from the typewriter for a fresh cup of coffee or to check my notes against one of the poems from Leroy V. Quintana's Interrogations, I glimpse black-and-white images of war. The actors change from movie to movie, but each film—be it about an infantry platoon, a bomber crew, or a small squad on a...

(The entire section is 1009 words.)

Demetria Martinez (review date 1996)

SOURCE: “The Other Side of the Tracks,” in The Progressive, Vol. 60, No. 9, September, 1996, p. 43.

[In the following review, Martinez praises Quintana's poetry for its accessibility, and for the sense of the importance of community she finds in it.]

Poetry is not for those who write it; it is for those who need it. This conviction—uttered by a postman who embellishes his love letters with Pablo Neruda's poems in the movie The Postman—goes to the heart of a crisis of meaning haunting United States poetry.

Too many poets, ensconced in academic towers of Babel, write for learned elites. With slow book sales and poor attendance at...

(The entire section is 685 words.)

James Hatch (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: “The Surreal and the Real,” in American Book Review, Vol. 18, No. 5, July/August, 1997, pp. 23-24.

[In the following essay, Hatch regrets that Quintana's poetry seldom delves beneath the surface of his characters' attitudes and responses.]

If a reader comes to these two books of poetry hoping to be informed about the contemporary Chicano experience, he or she will be left asking, “Which particular one?” Juan Felipe Herrera's Love after the Riots is in essence and in detail an urban poem, self-conscious and nervy, while Leroy V. Quintana's simple poems in My Hair Turning Gray among Strangers (introduction by Robert Creeley) concentrate...

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Tayari Jones (review date 1999)

SOURCE: “Memories, Boiled and Strained,” in The Progressive, Vol. 63, No. 11, November, 1999, pp. 43-44.

[In the following review, Jones praises Quintana's poetry for its social consciousness.]

Leroy V. Quintana is one of the most under-read, “successful” writers pubishing today. His volume of poetry Sangre (1981) won both the El Paso Border Regional Library Association Award and the American Book Award for poetry. Yet Quintana's writing suffers from invisibility today, as does the work of many Latino writers. In spite of this, he continues to produce riveting poems.

His latest book, The Great Whirl of Exile, is no exception. He...

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Further Reading


González, Ray. “A Chicano Verano.” The Nation 256, No. 22 (June 7, 1993): 72-73.

Favorably reviews A History of Home,including it on a reading list of important new Chicano writing.

Additional coverage of Quintana's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 131; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 65; DISCovering Authors: Multicultural Authors Module; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 82; Hispanic Literature Criticism, Vol. 2; and Hispanic Writers, Vols. 1 and 2.

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