poem index


Gary Soto

1952- , Fresno , CA , United States
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Gary Soto

Gary Soto was born in Fresno, California, on April 12, 1952, to working-class Mexican-American parents. As a teenager and college student, he worked in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, chopping beets and cotton and picking grapes. He was not academically motivated as a child, but he became interested in poetry during his high school years. He attended Fresno City College and California State University–Fresno, and he earned an MFA from the University of California–Irvine in 1976.

His first collection of poems, The Elements of San Joaquin (University of Pittsburgh Press), won the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1976 and was published in 1977. Since then, Soto has published numerous books of poetry, including You Kiss by th’ Book: New Poems from Shakespeare’s Line (Chronicle Books, 2016), A Simple Plan (Chronicle Books, 2007), and New and Selected Poems (Chronicle Books, 1995), which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Soto cites his major literary influences as Edward FieldPablo NerudaW. S. Merwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Christopher Durang, and E. V. Lucas. Of his work, the writer Joyce Carol Oates has said, “Gary Soto’s poems are fast, funny, heartening, and achingly believable, like Polaroid love letters, or snatches of music heard out of a passing car; patches of beauty like patches of sunlight; the very pulse of a life.”

Soto has also written three novels, including Amnesia in a Republican County (University of New Mexico Press, 2003); a memoir, Living Up the Street (Strawberry Hill Press, 1985); and numerous young adult and children’s books. For the Los Angeles Opera, he wrote the libretto to Nerdlandia, an opera.

Soto has received the Andrew Carnegie Medal and fellowships from the California Arts Council, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Northern California.

Selected Bibliography

Meatballs for the People: Proverbs (Red Hen Press, 2017)
You Kiss by th’ Book: New Poems from Shakespeare’s Line (Chronicle Books, 2016)
Sudden Loss of Dignity (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013)
Human Nature (Tupelo Press, 2010)
Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)
A Simple Plan (Chronicle Books, 2007)
A Fire in My Hands (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)
One Kind of Faith (Chronicle Books, 2003)
A Natural Man (Chronicle Books, 1999)
Junior College (Chronicle Books, 1997)
New and Selected Poems (Chronicle Books, 1995)
Home Course in Religion (Chronicle Books, 1991)
A Fire in My Hands (Scholastic, 1990)
Who Will Know Us? (Chronicle Books, 1990)
Black Hair (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985)
Where Sparrows Work Hard (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981)
The Tale of Sunlight (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978)
The Elements of San Joaquin (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Why I Don’t Write Children’s Literature (University Press of New England, 2015)
What Poets are Like (Sasquatch Books, 2013)
Amnesia in a Republican County (University of New Mexico Press, 2003)
Poetry Lover (University of New Mexico Press, 2001)
Nickel and Dime (University of New Mexico Press, 2000)
The Effects of Knut Hamsun on a Fresno Boy (Persea Books, 2000)
Buried Onions (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997)
Jesse (Scholastic, 1994)
A Summer Life (University Press of New England, 1990; Dell, 1991)
Living Up the Street (Strawberry Hill Press, 1985)

by this poet


In memory of David Ruenzel, 1954–2014

I searched for twenty minutes
For my murdered friend’s grave,
A small, white marker,
# 356 it reads. He is not
This number, or any number,
And he is not earth,
But a memory
Of how he and I hiked


Where did the shooting stars go?
They flit across my childhood sky
And by my teens I no longer looked upward—
My face instead peered through the windshield
Of my first car, or into the rearview mirror,
All the small tragedies behind me,
The road and the road’s curve up ahead.



Curled like a genie’s lamp,
A track shoe from the 1970s among seaweed,
The race long over, the blue ribbons faded,
The trophies deep in pink insulation in the rafters.
Perhaps the former distant runner sits in his recliner.

The other shoe? Along this shore,
It could have ridden the