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Gary Soto: 1952—: Children's Author, Novelist, Poet

Weak Student In High School

The impact was also economic, forcing Soto along with the rest of his family into whatever jobs they could get. Sometimes this meant migrant farm labor and its hazardous exposure to toxic chemicals. Soto was an indifferent student in high school, with a D grade average and a preference for spending his time as a novio—a lover boy—on the school playground. His family had little interaction with the world of education. "We had our own culture which was more like the culture of poverty," Soto said in an interview with the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

"I was a marginal kid," he told NEA Today. "I could have gone from the playground to prison or to college." One reason he enrolled in Fresno City College was that he was worried about being drafted and sent to fight in the Vietnam War; another was that he had begun to enjoy reading after coming across To Sir, with Love, a British story of an inspiring inner-city teacher who earns the devotion of troubled students. Soto moved on from community college to California State University at Fresno, intending at first to study geography but switching to creative writing after he read a poem about alienation called "Unwanted," by Edward Field.

At a Glance . . .

Born on April 12, 1952, in Fresno, CA; son of Manuel Soto and Angie Oftedal Soto; married Carolyn Sadako Oda, May 24, 1975; children: Mariko Heidi. Education: Fresno City College, two year degree; California State University at Fresno, BA, English, 1974; University of California at Irvine, MFA, 1976.

Career: Author, 1977–; University of California at Berkeley, lecturer in Chicano studies, 1977-81, assistant professor of English and Chicano studies, 1981-85, associate professor of English and Chicano studies, 1985-95.

Selected awards: American Academy of Poets prize, 1975; U.S. International Poetry Forum award, for The Elements of San Joaquin, 1977; Guggenheim fellowship, 1980; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1981; Levinson award, Poetry magazine, 1984; Literature Award, Hispanic Heritage Foundation, 1999; Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award, National Educational Association; PEN Center West Book Award, 1999.

Addresses: Home—43 The Crescent, Berkeley, CA 94708; Website—www.garysoto.com.

Soto also encountered the works of California's stream-of-consciousness "Beat" poets such as Allen Ginsberg in college, but his most important influence was his teacher Philip Levine, a native of Detroit known for his poetry about working-class Americans. After receiving his bachelor's degree with high honors, Soto went on for a master of fine arts degree at the University of California's Irvine campus. He married Carolyn Oda, a Japanese American, in 1975 (the couple has one daughter), and finished his degree a year later. Soto taught at San Diego State University and in 1977 was hired as an assistant professor at the University of California's flagship campus in Berkeley, where he remained until 1993.

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