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José Montoya: 1932—: Artist, Educator, Writer - Poems Published In Anthology

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Montoya's first literary success came in 1969 when nine of his poems were published in the anthology El Espejo. He went on to publish poems in chapbooks, pamphlets, and small-press collections. His first book, El sol y los de abajo and Other R.C.A.F. Poems, appeared in 1972. Montoya's use of the hybrid calo language, which combines English and Spanish slang, attracted considerable attention. Many admired the expressive power of the language, but Montoya recalled that his writing teachers disapproved, urging him to write in either Spanish or English. Among his most famous poems is "El Louie," about a man with whom Montoya grew up. The poem described Louie's military service in Korea but his later involvement with drugs, which led to his death. Many critics consider "El Louie" to be a classic depiction of a pachuco.

In 1992 Montoya published In Formation: 20 Years of Joda. The book includes poetry from 1969 to 1989, as well as several sketches by the artist. Nation contributor Ray Gonzalez called it "perhaps the definitive collection of calo writing to be found anywhere." Gonzalez noted that Montoya's voice remains as politically charged as it had been in the early years of the Movement. "Montoya writes a now-rare 'in your face, vato!' kind of poetry Chicano poets abandoned ages ago," Gonzales observed. "In today's market-conscious literary world, this kind of street writing has nothing to do with multiculturalism. It is too pure and powerful. No New York editor would go for it, much less understand it." Gonzalez went on to say that "His poetry, twenty-five years after the marches, boycotts and brown berets, still cries out against the social injustice that binds his people.… In Information, Montoya accomplishes what no other Chicano poet wants to do anymore: He has the courage to question his own people and ask if they have lost sight of their goals."

In addition to visual and literary art, Montoya creates music. He formed a band, José Montoya y Casindio. The group released a recording, A Pachuco Portfolio, in 1998.

In 2002 Montoya was named poet laureate of the city of Sacramento. For his featured project as poet laureate, Montoya chose to organize a Festival de Flor y Canto, or "Festival of Flower and Song." This event, which celebrated poetry as a means of sharing cultures, has pre-Columbian roots in Aztec ritual and emphasized the role of poetry in expressing reverence for life and social justice.


Selected writings

El Sole y Los de Abajo, Edicciones Pocho-Che, 1972.

In Formation: 20 Years of Joda, Chusman House Publications, 1992.

The Bully, Red Wing Press, 2001.


Sources

Books


Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Periodicals


Nation, January 31, 1994, p. 131.

Public Historian, Fall 2001, p. 91.


On-line


"Artist, Poet, Musician Jose Montoya To Speak At UNLV," University of Nevada-Las Vegas, www.unlv.edu/News_Bureau/News_Releases/1999/Mar99/206.html (April 1, 2003).

"CAC Folk Arts Grant, Jose Montoya," Taco Shop Poets, www.webnetarts.com/folkweb/artist. htm (April 1, 2003).

"Guide to the Jose Montoya Collection 1969-2001, Biographical Sketch," California Ethnic and Multi-cultural Archives, www.cemaweb.library.ucsb.edu/ (April 1, 2003).

"Jose Montoya lauded by Sacramento," California State University, www.csus.edu/news/032502jose. htm (March 28, 2003.)

"Sacramento Poet Laureate," Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, www.sacculture.com/poets mac.htm (April 1, 2003).

—Elizabeth Shostak

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