Arizona's First Poet Laureate Alberto Rios on His New Title

Courtesy of Alberto Rios
Alberto Rios

On August 19, Governor Jan Brewer named writer Alberto Rios the state's first Poet Laureate.

According to the press release from the governor's office, the official purpose of the position is "to commemorate Arizona literary artists whose work and service best represent Arizona's values, independence and unique Western history and culture." The unofficial purpose is to give Arizonans something about their home state to be really, truly proud of.

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A Regents' Professor at Arizona State University and a graduate of the University of Arizona, Rios was born in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. He writes about growing up there in his memoir, Capirotada. He's also the author of several collections of poetry, including "Dangerous Shirt" (2009) and "The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body" (2002), which was nominated for the National Book Award.

Rios has received a slew of prizes for his writing, including six Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction, the Arizona Governor's Arts Award and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is also - and this doesn't always come with the territory - one of the nicer people you will meet. The day after he was named Poet Laureate, he was kind enough to answer some of our questions via email.

Courtesy of Alberto Rios
Rios in elementary school in 1959
What do you think your child self would say to the news that you have been named Arizona's first Poet Laureate?
"This is better than a bike!" All things when I was younger were measured by comparison to my bike, and most came up short. My bike took me everywhere, and gave me personal freedom, and let me cycle through anything. Curiously, I suppose that's what poetry ended up letting me do just as much. I miss the feel of the handlebars, though. 

Did you ever consider becoming anything other than a poet, and if so, what?
I considered becoming many things, but I was just always a poet.  It wasn't something I had to become, I think, strange as that might sound.  I got degrees in English and psychology. I went to law school for not quite a year. When I was thinking things through at that point, I realized I could do it--I could do all sorts of things--but I wasn't sure I wanted to do it. That was a moment of reckoning. What I have always understood about my decision then is that I did not quit law school; I had quit writing, and it was time to go back. That's when I got my MFA in creative writing and never looked back. Well, until my son just became an attorney. Psychology and law, however, were all about writing as something to understand. Being the author -- the doer -- of that writing was simply the next step for me, and exciting.

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Being the author -- the doer -- of that writing was simply the next step for me, and exciting.   Kibarlı

Julia Fournier
Julia Fournier

Wait a second, I'm afraid to even ask this: Did Jan Brewer get something right for once?

ExpertShot topcommenter

I used to date a woman who was a graduate student studying Alberto's poetry.  What she did for her doctorate was drive her four wheel drive car along the power line roads and visit every small hamlet with a church building in Mexico from Guymas to Nogales to document the reliquaries (bones of the Saints) in each small town along that route.  It was the best time I had with anyone - LOT's of Bacanora Mescal!!!  When you get away from the big cities, Mexico is a VERY cool place.  That was back in the early 1980s, don't know if we could have done that now.

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