UA Alumnus Named Arizona's First Poet Laureate
Celebrated poet and UA alumnus Alberto Álvaro Ríos has been named Arizona's inaugural Poet Laureate.
Gov. Jan Brewer and the Arizona Commission on the Arts have appointed University of Arizona alumnus Alberto Álvaro Ríos Arizona's first poet laureate.
"This is a profound honor. A small-town border kid from Nogales to Poet Laureate – this is a good story, an Arizona story," Ríos said of his two-year appointment.
"This is a humbling nod to the work I've been doing all my life," he said. "Personally, it feels like applause to the imagination. Professionally, I think this speaks well to the recognition that words matter – especially in Arizona – and that words can serve to help and inspire us all."
As Arizona's Poet Laureate, Ríos will offer public readings throughout the year, in urban and rural communities in various regions of the state, and will pursue a major literary project over the course of the appointment term. He also will be provided with an annual honorarium of $2,500 to offset travel and so that he is able to actively serve the broadest constituency of Arizonans.
Brewer signed legislaiton last year leading to the creation of the poet laureate position. With this appointment, Arizona becomes the 43rd state in the nation to establish a poet or writer laureate position. Public events to celebrate the appointment of Arizona's inaugural poet laureate will be announced in fall 2013.
"I am proud to announce the appointment of Arizona's first poet laureate, in celebration of our state's remarkable literary history and future," Brewer said in a statement about the appointment, announced Aug. 19.
"Alberto Ríos demonstrates an unmatched dedication and love for the art of poetry. For more than four decades, his poetry and literary works have touched our communities and kept Arizona's culture and heritage alive," Brewer said. "As poet laureate for the state of Arizona, Alberto will champion the art of American poetry, inspire an emerging generation of literary artists and educate Arizonans of all ages about the countless writers who have positively influenced our beautiful state.”
Ríos has not yet established major priorities for his two-year term, preferring to first begin meeting with statewide constituents, but he said he will emphasize ways that poetry has everyday meaning and relevance.
"Access to poetry is much simpler than it sounds, I think. It means something ancient – simply taking time to notice, to remember, to look, to smell, to hear," Ríos said. "It speaks to the moment in all of us when we say to someone else, 'Hey, did you see that?'"
Ríos earned three degrees from the UA: a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature and creative writing in 1974, a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1975 and a master's degree in creative writing in 1979.
The UA Poetry Center applauded the appointment.
"We are thrilled with Gov. Brewer's appointment, and we are excited to celebrate and partner with professor Ríos and with future laureates at the Poetry Center," said Tyler Meier, the UA Poetry Center's executive director.
"Through our building and our library, and across all our educational and programmatic efforts, we look forward to being a home base in southern Arizona for the public role of the laureateship for years to come," Meier said.
For the past 30 years, Ríos has taught English and creative writing at Arizona State University where he is a Regents' Professor and holds the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English.
His work has been extensively published for nearly four decades, including 10 books of poetry, three books of stories and a memoir, "Capirotada," about growing up in his hometown of Nogales, Ariz.
He has individual works in more than 300 journals and more than 250 anthologies, and has been honored with numerous awards, including the Walt Whitman Award in Poetry bestowed by The Academy of American Poets, the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, the Arizona Literary Treasure Award and a Governor's Arts Award. Ríos also has led countless community projects in cities and towns across Arizona.
"As the state’s first poet laureate, the work of inventing this job is now at hand, and I'm very much looking forward to the adventure," Ríos said.
"The poet laureate designation is an important way for Arizona and its people to express a public regard for the well-written word. I would like to be part of that statement, a line in that poem," he also said.
Six individuals served on the nomination review committee, evaluating nominations from the public. The review committee was chaired by three governor-appointed commissioners from the Arizona Commission on the Arts: Lisa Barnes of Mesa, Carol Crockett of Phoenix and Patricia Kaufman of Scottsdale.
The review committee said of Ríos: "This candidate has impressive experience with community outreach, is a fantastic performer and speaker who is able to get people to think about poetry in a whole new way. Alberto is thoughtful in his community work and has proven himself to be a strong public figure and advocate for poetry in Arizona."
They committee also noted that "Ríos was born and educated here in Arizona, and has contributed to Arizona communities for decades. If ever there was a poet who personified Arizona's values, it is Alberto Ríos."
Alberto Álvaro Ríos is a familiar face in Tucson and at the UA Poetry Center. He was featured in the Poetry Center's 50th Anniversary Reading Series and contributed to a commemorative multilingual art/poetry book, "Water." The UA Poetry Center maintains a reading in voca, its digital audio and video library, by Alberto Ríos. Listen to "Multilingual Poetry of the Southwest: Alberto Ríos" online.
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