Leroy V. Quintana Introduction - Essay

Introduction

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.”