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The Human Condition

By Daffodil Altan
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 21, 1999

Acclaimed writer Gary Soto has spent his entire life depicting the human condition.

Tomorrow, Soto will bring his work to the University of Arizona as he takes part in a series, sponsored by the UA Poetry Center, called "Poetry Now and Next: A Millennial Celebration."

As part of the series, Soto has invited another reader, emerging poet Rigoberto Gonzalez, who found recent acclaim winning the prestigious National Poetry Series.

The two writers will "make a very interesting contrast," said Alison Hawthorne Deming, director of the Poetry Center and professor of creative writing.

From Soto's vibrant children and young adult collections to his hard-hitting depiction of migrant farm workers in California, the writer's work cuts through his audience with the unforgiving lens of the most astute observer.

Soto's ongoing commitment to young people through his children's books and his collaboration on various projects have won him prominence throughout the country.

Deming said Soto is "helping young people to realize that literature is a vehicle for artistic expression that helps give shape and meaning to their lives."

Born and raised in Fresno, Calif., which often functions as a backdrop for many of his poems, Soto spent his youth before college working a number of odd jobs. His writing is "more bounded in reality -Øpowerfully imagistic renderings of experience that find the extraordinary within the ordinary," Deming said.

To those who feel a certain intimidation by contemporary poetry, Soto is "extremely accessible and enjoyable," said Boyer Rickel, director of the Creative Writing Program.

Although the two writers emerge from similar cultural histories, the images find their way to audiences through two very distinct voices.

Born in Bakersfield, Calif., and raised in Michoacan, Mexico, Gonzalez is the son and grandson of migrant farm workers.

"(He is) much more a writer of two worlds -Øthe U.S. and Mexico - and of characters that seem almost surreal," Deming said.

Indeed, Gonzalez's poems convey dazzling stories through the professional mourner, the umbrella salesman and the doll factory worker on the border, while Soto speaks of oranges and conveys the universal sensitivities of first love.

Along with previous works, Soto will be reading from his new collection, "Natural Man," and Gonzalez will read from his National Poetry Series selection, "So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks."

The poets will also be hosting a colloquium at the UA Swede Johnson building tomorrow morning and everyone is invited to chat with the writers before tomorrow night's presentation.

"It should be a very dynamic evening of poetry, especially empowering to Chicano and Chicana students and others interested in the poetics and politics of cultural difference," Deming said.

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