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Gary Soto Biography | Poet

Photo of Gary Soto

Gary Soto was born April 12, 1952 in Fresno, California. He is known as a poet, novelist, and Children's Literature author whose notable works include: “Petty Crimes”, New and Selected Poems”, and “Living Up the Street”. Soto has won numerous awards including the Academy of American Poets Prize, American Book Award, NEA Fellowship and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

Soto's parents were Mexican-Americans with very little money. He had to work the fields of San Joaquim Valley. When his father died in 1957 the family struggles worsened. Gary received little encouragement in his schooling and did very poorly. His memories of his school days are only that he enjoyed Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Thornton Wilder, Robert Frost and Jules Verne.

Soto earned a degree in English and then a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing at California State University. When Soto first entered college it was to study geology. He came across a book of poetry in the library, read it, liked it and then began to write. Soto became the first Mexican-American to earn a M.F.A. in 1976 at the University of California. He worked there doing graduate work in poetry. Soto attributes his interest in becoming a writer to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the novelist and to Edward Field, Charles Simic, James Wright and Pablo Neruda.

He became a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Riverside. He also sponsored the Pattonville High School Spanish National Honor Society, but he is no longer teaching.

Soto used his daily life experiences in his poetry. His stories and poems reflect his life as a Chicano and how it was to grow up in a Mexican-American community. He did not write to change how life was or to change the image of those around him. His writing portrayed people in their everyday life. He states he takes things he sees and hears and rearranges them into stories and poems.

One of Soto's novels, The No-Guitar Blues was made into a film. He also produced a second film based on his book, The Pool Party. His technique of using life in his works has given him the reputation of being funny, heartening and incredibly believable. Some have described his work as being like a snapshot of time, pulses of a life and like patches of sunlight.

The Elements of San Joaquin were Soto's first collection of poems and it won him the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum. This was also published in the Pitt Poetry Series and honored by the New York Times Book Review. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection of, The Tale of Sunlight. Soto's, The Pool Party won him the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Film Excellence from the Association for Library Service to Children. He was also awarded, Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature in 1999. Other honors include:

  • Pen Center West Book
  • National Education Award
  • The Nation Prize
  • Bess-Hokin Prize
  • Levinson Award from Poetry
  • John and Betty Award (two times)
  • Recognition of Merit from Claremont Graduate School
  • Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California
  • Tomas Rivera Prize
  • Winchell Elementary School in Fresno named their library after Soto

Soto admires Jose Padilla who works in the California Rural Legal Assistance and Arturo Rodriquez with the United Farm Workers as people who do great things for others. His accomplishments for doing for others include teaching English to Spanish speakers as a volunteer. He enjoys tending his garden, tennis, travel and musical concerts. A recent discovery he found is he likes to bake cookies.

Soto married his wife, Carolyn in 1975. She is the daughter of Japanese American farmers and they have one daughter, Mariko Heidi. Gary Soto now lives with his family in Berkeley California. 

Gary Soto: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes