Gary Soto inspires

Award winning author talks following dreams


Brenna Enos

Gary Soto during the book signing following his presentation Tuesday, Nov. 7.

“What is your major?” Gary Soto asked several students as they filled into the Recital Hall at Los Medanos College. Computer Engineering, Science and English were among some of the answers. For Soto, now a famous American poet, novelist and playwright, Geography was his major in college — not due to his interest in the subject, but because he thought it would be the easiest option.

While Soto has now published over 40 books, he came from very humbled beginnings: graduating high school with a 1.6 GPA and furthering his education at Fresno City College. Soto majored in Geography believing that it would be an easy subject, but was soon surprised to learn that, in fact, it was not. Upon receiving his first assignment in one of his classes, Soto realized that he was struggling to compose an essay.

“I showed up not knowing how to write,” explained Soto when recalling his community college experience.

His lack for writing skills abruptly changed after he was rejected by a girl he had fancied in college and took to poetry in an effort to “mend a broken heart.” From that point on, Soto immersed himself into poetry, novels and plays until writing his own pieces that are well known today.

Among some of his popular works are play “Nerdlandia,” children’s illustrated picture book “Chato’s Kitchen,” and proverb novel “Meatballs for the People: Proverbs to Chew on.” One piece that Soto focused on during his presentation was his poem “Oranges,” an adolescent love story about the first time he had gone on a date. Receiving admiration from younger readers, Soto showed a video a ten-year-old fan had used Lego figures in a recreation of the poem.

Young audiences have not only created videos based on Soto’s writing, but have also been in some of his plays.  One of his recent musicals, “In and Out of Shadows” tells the tale of a young Hispanic girl who was discovered as an undocumented immigrant at the San Francisco International Airport. The song “Just Fourteen” is one of the big tracks of the musical and it displays the heartbreaking emotions she, and many other DREAMers feel about immigration policies.

This musical had a strong connection with Soto, he himself grew up in a poor Hispanic neighborhood in Fresno and had witnessed the struggles that immigrants endured.

Due to Soto’s Hispanic background, much of his writing revolves around Hispanic characters — or in the case of his short story “La Guera,” a white girl named Pricilla who adopts Mexican culture. In this novel, Pricilla’s parents send her away to Wisconsin to “be white again” and to her families surprise, Pricilla not only maintains the Mexican culture that she has inherited, but even influences her Wisconsin family members to adopt the same. Soto explained that Pricilla, like many of his characters, is not flawless, but that’s what makes his stories so intriguing.

“As a Mexican-American writer, I don’t want to make my characters perfect,” said Soto, adding that he in fact “aims to make them imperfect.”

Able to detail very personalized characters and context in his stories, Soto explained to the audience that he gathers much of his inspiration from the real world. Writing about many subjects from DREAMers to innocent first dates; Soto encouraged the audience, filled with aspiring writers and literature lovers, to do as he did: work hard and draw inspiration from real world experiences.

“If you’re not out and about experiencing life, you stay stale,” said Soto.