Best Wordsmith - 2009
Alberto Alvaro Rios is a writer with a keen eye and an open heart who knows how to get out of the way of his own material. And the man's got some material. Born in Nogales in 1952, the son of a Mexican father and an English mother, he chronicles the real and imaginary borders that divide us as well as the unlikely things that bring us together. Regarding his childhood, Rios once said, "Spanish was all around me, but my mother was there, too — with a British accent. I had a zoo of sounds." His memoir about growing up on the border, Capirotada (it's the name of a popular Mexican bread pudding), won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award, and was designated the One Book Arizona choice for 2009. He's also written 10 books and chapbooks of poetry, the most recent of which is this year's The Dangerous Shirt, and three collections of short stories.
If you've been to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, you've probably seen his poem "The Museum Heart" engraved on the wall in the building's lobby. In 2005, when Vicente Fox, then the president of Mexico, visited Arizona, Governor Janet Napolitano asked Rios to write a poem commemorating the occasion. He did, in English and in Spanish. The poem concludes: "Let us turn the map until we see clearly / The border is what joins us / Not what separates us." For over 27 years, students at Arizona State University have had the benefit of his instruction; these days, he's a Regents' Professor there, with an endowed chair in English. He's also tried his hand at playwriting, and he hosts Books & Co., the locally produced PBS show featuring interviews with contemporary authors. Rios has lived all over the state, and now resides in Chandler. Fittingly, the Arizona Historical League has bestowed its lifetime achievement award on him, designating him an Arizona HistoryMaker. Gracias, Alberto. Thank you.