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RÍOS, ALBERTO (1952- ) Since the publication in 1982 of Whispering to Fool the Wind, Alberto Ríos has emerged as a leading figure in contemporary Chicano literature. A short story writer and memoirist as well as a poet, Ríos takes a narrative approach in much of his poetry (see narrative poetry). His poetic voice is often that of a storyteller, and frequently the stories he tells draw upon his childhood in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. While his early poetry was most notable for his efforts to capture childhood perspectives, much of Ríos's recent work exhibits qualities of surrealism in the tradition of magical realism. Ríos's extravagant use of language places him alongside such writers as Mary oliver, C. K. Williams, and Joy HARJO.
Ríos was born in Nogales, Arizona. He studied at the University of Arizona and began teaching creative writing in 1982 at Arizona State University. Whispering to Fool the Wind won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets in 1981. His short story collection, The Iguana Killer: Twelve Stories from the Heart, won the 1984 Western States Book Award.
Ríos emerged in the 1980s as a leading figure among a new group of university-trained Hispanic writers who made bicultural experiences central to their work. In his poetry he is drawn toward multiple understandings of events, a hallmark of borderland writers who know there are at least two languages for describing any situation. In much of his work, Ríos explores truths of experience that do not conform to rational explanation. As William Barillas notes, "Ríos is a poet of the body's intelligence, of inherent perception and expression in physical gesture and embrace" (116). In Ríos's poem "Advice to a First Cousin" (1985), a grandmothers folk cure for a scorpion bite—placing a live scorpion on the bite— turns into a lesson for surviving in an unsafe world. The poem's speaker is told to watch out for other scorpions who will be smarter and meaner, "the way you must look out for men / who have not yet bruised you."
The magical realism of the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez has had a profound impact on Ríos. From Márquez, Ríos takes an appreciation of how surrealistic juxtaposition can ultimately be instructive rather than mystifying. In "On January 5, 1984, El Santo the Wrestler Died, Possibly" (1985), Ríos takes an actual event—the funeral of a costumed Mexican professional wrestler—and uses it as a meditation upon the mythic power of icons, venturing far afield from the funeral itself. Such a poem is an example of what Deneen Jenks sees as "ideas of patience, of moving sideways, of crossing quietly over borders" that is characteristic of Ríos's work (121). Ríos painstakingly explores the significance to be drawn from moments that might be otherwise overlooked.
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