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Gary Soto
Soto at the 2001 National Book Festival
Soto at the 2001 National Book Festival
Born Gary Anthony Soto
(1952-04-12) April 12, 1952 (age 70)
Fresno, California
Occupation Author, poet
Education MFA
Alma mater UC Irvine, CSU Fresno
Period 1977-present
Genre poetry, novels, memoirs, children's literature
Notable works Petty Crimes
New and Selected Poems
Living Up the Street
Notable awards Academy of American Poets Prize
American Book Award
NEA Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowship

Gary Anthony Soto (born April 12, 1952) is an American poet, novelist, and memoirist.

Life and career

Soto was born to Mexican-American parents Manuel (1910–1957) and Angie Soto (1924-). In his youth, he worked in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. Soto's father died in 1957, when he was five years old. As his family had to struggle to find work, he had little time or encouragement in his studies. Soto notes that in spite of his early academic record, while at high school he found an interest in poetry through writers such as Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Jules Verne, Robert Frost and Thornton Wilder.

Soto attended Fresno City College and California State University, Fresno, where he earned his B.A. degree in English in 1974, studying with poet Philip Levine. He did graduate work in poetry writing at the University of California, Irvine, where he was the first Mexican-American to earn a M.F.A. in 1976. He states that he wanted to become a writer in college after discovering the novelist Gabriel García Márquez and the contemporary poets Edward Field, W. S. Merwin, Charles Simic, James Wright and Pablo Neruda, whom he calls "the master of them all."

Soto taught at University of California, Berkeley and at University of California, Riverside, where he was a Distinguished Professor.

Soto was a 'Young People's Ambassador' for the United Farm Workers of America, introducing young people to the organization's work and goals. Soto became the sponsor for the Pattonville High School Spanish National Honor Society in 2009.

Soto lives in northern California, dividing his time between Berkeley and Fresno, but is no longer teaching.


Soto's poetry focuses on daily experiences, often reflecting on his life as a Mexican American. Regarding his relationship with the Mexican-American community, Soto commented "as a writer, my duty is not to make people perfect, particularly Mexican Americans. I’m not a cheerleader. I’m one who provides portraits of people in the rush of life."

Soto writes novels, plays and memoirs, and has edited several literary anthologies. His story "The No-Guitar Blues" was made into a film, and he produced another film based on his book "The Pool Party." He is a prolific writer of children's books.

About his work Joyce Carol Oates noted "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."

Awards and honors

Soto's first collection of poems, The Elements of San Joaquin, won the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1976 prior to its publication in the Pitt Poetry Series in 1977. The New York Times Book Review also honored the book by reprinting six of the poems. In 1985, his memoir Living Up the Street received the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award.

In 1993, Soto received the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Film Excellence from the Association for Library Service to Children for his production work on the film The Pool Party. In 1999, Soto received the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes.

Other honors include the "Discovery"/The Nation Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Award from Poetry. He has received The California Library Association's John and Patricia Beatty Award (twice), a Recognition of Merit from the Claremont Graduate School for Baseball in April, the Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California, and the Tomás Rivera Prize.

The library at Winchell Elementary School in Fresno was named after Soto.

In 2011, the Old Administration Building at Fresno City College became the permanent home of the Gary Soto Literary Museum.

In 2014, Soto received the Phoenix Award for his 1994 children's book Jesse. The award committee stated: "Jesse is both a coming-of-age story of one Mexican-American boy with a poetic sensibility and the story of a community and a country at a difficult time—facing poverty and prejudice and war, problems we are still facing today. Jesse offers an unembellished slice of life in Vietnam-era Fresno, California."

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