September 10, 1999

New UCR Prof. Receives Hispanic Heritage Award

Riverside -- Gary Soto, a poet who has just been hired as a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside, will fly to Washington D.C. to accept a1999 Hispanic Heritage Award Tuesday, Sept. 14, at the Kennedy Center.

He is among five honorees at the ceremony, which will be televised on NBC Oct.2nd.

The other honorees are opera star Placido Domingo, football player Anthony Muñoz, activist Antonia Hernandez, and dance company founder Tina Ramirez.

"I feel honored to be in that company," said Soto, a native of Fresno who has authored nine books of poetry and three young adult short story collections that speak colorfully about the ironies that abounded in his working class Mexican-American neighborhood. His poetry is included in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry and he is regularly published in literary magazines, including The Nation, Plough-shares, The Iowa Review, Ontario Review and Poetry, which honored him with the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Award.

Soto, 47, spent 10 years teaching creative writing at UC Berkeley before he left in 1992 to pursue his writing full-time. Soto said he was able to write many books, essays and short stories, but now he is happy to be back in the university environment. UCR offers the only undergraduate creative writing major in the UC system and is the most ethnically diverse campus in the system.

Soto is one of four professors in the Creative Writing Department. He will be teaching a variety of creative writing subjects, including poetry, short fiction, essays and plays.

"All students are welcome in my classes, but one of my goals is to develop some young Latino writers," said Soto, who also publishes a Chicano Chapbook Series to give serious young writers an audience.

He said he is interested in finding a replacement for himself, or better yet, two or three or four young poets who will follow in his footsteps. "That is more likely at Riverside," Soto said.

Soto's other awards in 1999 include the Author-Illustrator Human and Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association and the PEN Center USA West Award for his young-adult short story collection, "Petty Crimes."

His "New and Selected Poems" was a 1995 finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award. "Living up the Street," received a Before Columbus Foundation 1985 American Book Award. His poetry has been supported by fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council.

Soto said he is excited about one other current project, a poem commissioned by NASA for an October launch of the Space Shuttle. "I get to go to the launch," he said.

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