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Catalina Gómez: We’re here, today, April 10, 2014, recording for the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape for the Library of Congress with Rigoberto González, Chicano poet and literary critic. Rigoberto, it’s a pleasure for us to have you here at the Library today.

Rigoberto González: Thank you very much.

CG: We usually begin asking our poets and authors to talk a little about your background and how was it that you ended up as a poet.

RG: Okay, well, I was born into a family of migrant farm workers. I was born in Bakersfield, California at the age of two. My family returned to Michoacán, which was our homeland. And we remained there until I was ten years old. My family returned to California to continue their work in the fields as migrant farm workers. During that time I think I’ve began to discover the difficult world around me, the labor, the long hours. There’s nothing like that kind of inspiration to show me that I might be better if I looked for another way into life…into livelihood because I didn’t want to do what my parents did. I didn’t want to do what my grandparents did. And I don’t think they wanted me to do that either. So one of the ways…and the only…actually, the only way that either of us thought of moving forward was through education. So it was something that they didn’t quite understand. My family was illiterate, my parents did not know how to read or write. Uh, but they knew that there was some power in language and literature uh, and in books. So I think that’s what began my…my I imagining myself in a world of language because as a translator for my family, I knew that as a bilingual person I had more access to opportunities, more access to resources, and once I entered school, I loved it. Education was something that I took to. It was quite a pleasant experience for me. I don’t think that there was ever a time that I didn’t want to be in school, which was a very different attitude than some of my cousins or my brother. And then from then on I became a voracious reader, and this journey from becoming a reader to becoming a writer was a very short one. There’s no writer that is not a reader, and for me reading books was an escape, but also an education, also entertainment; and I wanted to be a part of that world. So once I entered college, I began to see a new opportunity, which was taking writing classes, which was discovering that writers were still alive. In high school, I thought that they were all dead. I thought all books were written by dead people. Which speaks to maybe a … lack of resources in high school when you’re only taught books by dead people, nobody alive. Hopefully that has changed since then. Anyway, then I began imagining myself as being one of these living writers who wrote books, and the great thing was that I had amazing access to writers during my college education, and from then on it wasn’t very difficult to imagine myself as a published writer, to imagine myself as a professional… somebody who was gonna move to this space and that space because I had such great role models, because I had such great examples before me.

CG: May I ask who were the writers that um, inspired you the most?

RG: Definitely Chicano writers. I mean I discovered them when I first entered the campus of UC Riverside as an undergraduate. There was the Tomás Rivera Library, and I wondered who was this Tomás Rivera? Who was this important figure that he merited the library be named after him? And I discovered that he had written a book called Y no se lo tragó la tierra (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him) about migrant farm workers in the Midwest. And that began my own exploration of my own family’s journey, so I wrote about migrant farm workers in southern California. That was one of my first books, Crossing Vines, which I will read from today.

CG: Well that sounds wonderful. Thank you so much. So, if you’re ready, you can just go ahead and begin the reading.

RG: Sure, absolutely. So I’ll be reading from Crossing Vines, and this is the opening pages of that book from the chapter Tell Me Stories, and this is Doña Ramona at 3:05 a.m.

  • Poet reads “Tell Me Stories”—excerpt from Crossing Vines: A Novel (2003)
  • Poet reads “The Slaughterhouse”—excerpt from So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until it Breaks (1999)
  • Poet reads “The Flight South of the Monarch Butterfly”—excerpt from So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until it Breaks (1999)
  • Poet reads “Horn”—excerpt  from So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until it Breaks (1999)
  • Poet reads “The Strangers Who Find Me in the Woods”—excerpt from Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006)
  • Poet reads “Danza Macabre”—excerpt from Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006)
  • Poet reads  “Vespertine”—excerpt from Black Blossoms (2011)
  • Poet reads “Let the Dead Teach the Living”excerpt from Unpeopled Eden (2013)
  • Poet reads “Allegory”excerpt from Autobiography of My Hungers (2013)
  • Poet reads “Potato”excerpt from Autobiography of My Hungers (2013)
  • Poet reads “Witch”—excerpt from Autobiography of My Hungers (2013)

CG: I read from Unpeopled Eden, “The House.” You think you can read that one?

RG: Yes! Absolutely.

CG: Okay.

RG: House.

CG: I really liked it.

RG: Casa. Laughs.

CG: Okay. “La casa” right? En español.

RG: Laughs. Yes.

  • Poet Reads “Casa” from Unpeopled Eden (2013)

CG: Thank you so much Rigoberto. This was unforgettable. Amazing.

RG: Thank you very much.

CG: Thank you.

Top

Poetry in English at the Library of Congress Washington, DC —April 10, 2014

Approximately 45 minutes.

Recording Title: Writer Rigoberto González Reading from his Works

Introduction

1) Selections from Crossing Vines (2003)
     - “Tell Me Stories”– (min. 4:46)

2) Selections from So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks (1999)
     - “The Slaughterhouse”– (min. 11:08)
     - “The Flight South of the Monarch Butterfly”– (min. 13:09)
     - “Horn”– (min. 15:00)

3) Selections from Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006)
     - “The Strangers Who Find Me in the Woods”– (min. 16:41)
     - “Danza Macabre”– (min. 18:52)

4) Selections from Black Blossoms (2011)
     - “Vespertine” – (min. 22:32)

5) Selections from Unpeopled Eden (2013)
     - “Let the Dead Teach the Living” – (min. 27:33)
     - “Unpeopled Eden”– (min. 29:52)

6) Selections from Autobiography of My Hungers (2013)
     - “Allegory”– (min. 36:45)
     - “Potato”– (min. 38:18)
     - “Witch”– (min. 39:49)

7) Selection from Unpeopled Eden (2013)
     - “Casa”– (min. 41:55)

Conclusion – (min. 44:31)

End – (min. 44:38)

Crossing Vines: A Novel

So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks

  • LC Catalog record: http://lccn.loc.gov/98058019
  • Rigoberto González, So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999)

Other Fugitives and Other Strangers

Black Blossoms

Unpeopled Eden

Autobiography of My Hungers

Related Resources

Rigoberto González

Rigoberto González

Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California in 1970. He is the author of four books of poetry, So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (1999), Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006), Black Blossoms (2011), and Unpeopled Eden (2013). He has also written seven fiction and non-fiction books and two bilingual children’s books, and has edited Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing (2010) and Xicano Duende: A Selected Anthology (2011). González’s honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, ForeWord Magazine’s Fiction Book of the Year Award, and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He has served as a contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and was a founding member of the advisory circle of Con Tinta Latino Literary Association. For ten years he wrote a book review column with El Paso Times of Texas, and he has also written for the National Book Critics Circle’s blog Critical Mass and the Poetry Foundation’s blog Harriet. He currently lives in New York City and is an associate professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.

Learn more about Rigoberto González at The Poetry Foundation