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Alberto Ríos, award-winning writer and Arizona’s first poet laureate, is the author of thirteen books of poetry, three collections of short stories, a novel, and a memoir. 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. Ríos is the recipient of the Arizona Governor's Arts Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Walt Whitman Award, the Western States Book Award for Fiction, and his poems, stories, and essays have been published in over 300 other national and international literary anthologies. His work is regularly taught and translated, and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music. He is a recent chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and resides in Chandler, Arizona.

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“Ríos’ poems follow a path of wonder and gently move us to emotional truths that grab our breath and link our inner and outer landscapes. His alchemy works a transformation in the inner vision, turning us toward the deeper mystery of life itself.”

American Book Review

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When did you start writing?

In so many ways, I was never not writing. Writing for me did not begin with paper and pencil. When I was in elementary school I was often in trouble for daydreaming, which is where I began my writing. That is, imagination itself was the starting point. It showed me possibility rather than simply product. It showed me where all the ideas were kept.


What role does bilingualism play in your writing? 

Knowing more than one language for anyone empowers greater imaginative possibility, a feeling quite simply that more is always possible. It allows for a fuller stride than what knowing only one language would give me. That a pen is also a pluma makes me understand in the moment

that there are at least two ways to express something, and if there are two, perhaps there are three, and if there are three, perhaps there are twenty. Suddenly, that pen is wild in my hand.



How does your writing process work?

I like to say that my schedule is that I try to write for two months every other week. What that means is that I don’t know how or when I do it, or how to predict it. Instead, I simply trust my writing instinct to surprise me, and rather than check in with it every day, I check in at the end of the month or the end of a year. Did I do a month’s or a year’s worth of writing, even though I didn’t write every day? I invariably do, and with less stress than a strict schedule. What I am saying is that I have no rules, save for the idea, personal to me, of always listening for a finger-snap in the lines that I do write–a clearly new way to say something, a fresh idea, a connection that compels understanding. That finger-snap is something akin to jazz as I write, something that I have to feel or else I know I’m not getting it right. It is the feel of the dance.

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Do you approach writing poetry and prose differently? 

Honestly, I don’t especially treat writing poetry and writing imaginative prose very differently. Writing, for me, always feels like hiking, one step leading to another, then to another. I never know what’s at the top of the mountain. Sometimes this leads to a full story, sometimes to a poem. I don’t sit down and write with something in mind ahead of time. Rather, the writing is always an act of discovery.


As a prolific writer and an experienced professor, how do you balance teaching with writing?

It’s not really any act of physics. Balance sounds so perfect, but it’s not something I ever experience. Instead, I find extraordinary weight from time to time–sometimes it’s the desire to write a poem, sometimes I want to read a book, sometimes I want to watch television. That heaviness is an act of intensity, and though it may look unbalanced, it produces a fuller kind of life. There is no balance, only unmanageable acts of joy.



What do you want young people to know about writing and literary craft?

School gives you the tools to write poems. But when you write a poem for homework, you haven’t yet written a poem. You’ve done an assignment, even if it’s very good. When you write a poem because you want to, when you feel compelled to write even though nobody has asked you to, then you are writing on your own terms and are, in that moment, closer to the poetry you will go on to write.


Where can your work be found?

A quick review of the internet shows that it can readily be found far and wide. Two particularly useful sites are the Academy of American Poets site and the Poetry Foundation site. Other selections and links are found below.

Ríos reads his poem "Arizona Tomorrow" at Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs's inauguration on Jan. 5, 2023. Learn more about the Ríos's inaugural reading here and watch the inauguration ceremony here

A portion of Ríos’s poem “A House Called Tomorrow” is featured in Michelle Obama’s book The Light We Carry (2022).

Ríos reads "Nani" as part of the American Academy of Poets's Dear Poet series for National Poetry Month in 2020. 

Ríos reads "We Are of a Tribe," a poem from his book Not Go Away is My Name, which was published in 2020 by Copper Canyon Press. 

Ríos reads a selection of his poems for the 30th anniversary of the Arizona State University Department of English's MFA in Creative Writing Program in 2015. 

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