Alberto Ríos is the author of fourteen books and chapbooks of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a memoir. He has garnered acclaim as a writer who uses language in lyrical and unexpected ways, containing elements of magical realism, to reflect on his Chicano heritage.
The son of a Mexican father from Tapachula, Chiapas, and an English mother from Warrington, Lancashire, Ríos was raised on the American side of the city of Nogales, Arizona, on the Mexican border. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking family in a community where he was forced to speak English in school, led Ríos to develop a third language: “Growing up on the cusp of two cultures…undoubtedly influenced and broadened my view of what is possible in the world. For example, Hispanics and a variety of other cultures believe that humans are partners to the world rather than rulers of it. In English, one might say, I dropped the glass, while in Spanish, that same moment might be articulated as, The glass, it fell from me. English assumes human responsibility for the dropped glass, whereas Spanish assumes the glass itself is something of a sentient participant in the action. For me, this allows the world and its ways to be an active and unpredictable part of my work.” Ríos artfully captures this dual awareness in his poetry and prose.
His books of poetry include Not Go Away Is My Name (2020); A Small Story About The Sky (2015); The Dangerous Shirt (2009); The Theater of Night (2006), winner of the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award; The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (2002), a finalist for the National Book Award, all published by Copper Canyon Press; and Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982). His three collections of short stories are The Curtain of Trees (University of New Mexico Press, 1999); Pig Cookies (Chronicle Books, 1995); and The Iguana Killer (University of New Mexico Press, 1998). His memoir, Capirotada (University of New Mexico Press, 1999), about growing up on the Mexico-Arizona border, was designated as the One Book Arizona choice for 2009 and awarded the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award.
Ríos is the recipient of the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, the Arizona Governors Arts Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Walt Whitman Award, and his poems have been included in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry as well as in over 250 national and international literary anthologies. His work is regularly taught and translated, and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music. Ríos hosts the PBS show Art in the 48, which showcases artists and arts organizations in Arizona. He is the Regents Professor at Arizona State University, where he serves as the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English. In 2013, Ríos was named Arizona’s first poet laureate. He is a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.