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benjamin
alire
sáenz

"I write all my books, to save my life"

There's a restlessness in Benjamin Alire Sáenz that drives his work. From Sal in The Inexplicable Logic of my Life to Ramiro in He Forgot to Say Goodbye, Sáenz's characters are lost and looking to find salvation or hope, much like Saenz himself. Benjamin Alire Sáenz is one of the United States' most celebrated writers, and he calls El Paso home, where his understanding of identity, belonging, and masculinity intersect.

Born in Old Picacho, a town outside Mesilla, New Mexico in 1954, Saenz grew up on a small cotton farm. The fourth of seven children, he took odd jobs painting homes and cleaning toilets to help his parents after they lost the farm when he was still a child. After graduating from Las Cruces High School in 1972, Sáenz attended the St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, where he started to experiment with poetry before traveling abroad studying theology at the University of Louvain in Belgium. He would return to the Border and become a parish priest in El Paso. Unhappy and listless, he left the priesthood to pursue writing after four years. Under the tutelage of visiting professor, Chicano poet, and scholar Dr. Arturo Islas, Saenz earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. After a year-long stretch in the doctorate program at the University of Iowa, Saenz won the highly competitive Wallace E. Stegnor fellowship at Stanford University. There, he wrote his first book of poetry, Calendar of Dust, a lyrical exploration of the history of the Southwest, which earned Saenz an American Book Award in 1992. 

Saenz returned to the Border and began teaching in the Creative Writing department at UTEP, the only bilingual MFA program in the world. Still restless, he married for 15 years while battling unresolved traumas he endured as a child that would lead to bouts with addiction and the realization that he was gay. Divorced, Saenz would come out at the age of 54.

Benjamin Alire Saenz has become one of the country's most prolific and well-respected writers. Seeing the importance of bilingual literacy, Saenz has written bilingual children's books published by El Paso's own Cinco Puntos Press. He's written five books of poetry and several adult and young adult novels. Most notably, Saenz wrote Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, a collection of short stories based out of the famed bar in Juarez, which garnered him one of the country's most prestigious writing honors, the Pen/Faulkner Award in Fiction. Saenz became the first Latino and Texan to earn this distinguished award. Yet despite the accolades brought by Everything Begins, Saenz is best known for his young adult novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the tender love story of two Mexican American teenage boys set in El Paso in the 1980s. The book won the Lambda Literary Award in 2013, and a film adaptation is in the works, which Manuel Lin Miranda will produce and trans filmmaker Aitch Alberto will write and direct. 

Throughout his writing career, Saenz has used his voice to bring attention to the violence and femicides occurring in Juarez, Mexico. He publicly decried Arizona's archaic SB1070  and remains a vocal critic of policy and rhetoric that vilifies the lives of Latin American immigrants. Alongside writer David Chacon, Saenz co-hosted the radio show Words on a Wire, a show about writers by writers in 2012. Saenz would stay on the podcast through 2013 with Dr. Chacon and writer Tim Z. Hernandez is currently co-hosting the series. In 2019 Saenz started his podcast Don't Be So Off the Wall, Straighten Up & Fly Right where he continues to talk about the craft of writing and current events with his guests. 

With the highly anticipated sequel Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World set for release in October of 2021, Benjamin Alire Saenz continues to explore the Border and the identities it shapes through the eyes of his most beloved protagonists.

Works 

Poetry

  • Calendar of Dust. Broken Moon Press. 1991. 

  • Dark and Perfect Angels. Cinco Puntos Press. 1995. 

  • Elegies in Blue. Cinco Puntos Press. 2002. 

  • Dreaming the End of War. Copper Canyon Press. 

  • The Book of What Remains. Copper Canyon Press. 2010. 

 

Short stories

  • Flowers for the Broken. Broken Moon Press. 1992. 

  • Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. Cinco Puntos Press. 2012.

 

Novels

  • Carry Me Like Water, Hyperion, 1995

  • The House of Forgetting. HarperCollins. 1997.

  • In Perfect Light. HarperCollins. 2008. 

    • En el tiempo de la Luz, Rayo/HarperCollins 2006

  • Names on a Map. Harper Perennial. 2008. 

 

Young-adult novels

  • Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. Cinco Puntos Press. 2004. 

  • He Forgot to Say Goodbye. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. 2008-06-17. 

  • Last Night I Sang to the Monster, Cinco Puntos Press 2009

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012

  • The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, Clarion Books, 2017

 

Children's books

  • A Gift from Papa Diego. Bt Bound. 1999.

  • Grandma Fina and Her Wonderful Umbrellas. Illustrator Geronimo Garcia. Cinco Puntos Press. 2001. 

  • A Perfect Season for Dreaming, Cinco Puntos Press 2008.

  • The Dog Who Loved Tortillas, Cinco Puntos Press 2009

 

Anthologies

  • Dagoberto Gilb, ed. (2008). "The Unchronicled Death of Your Holy Father; Fences". Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas-Mexican Literature. UNM Press. 

  • X. J. Kennedy; Dana Gioia, eds. (2005). An introduction to poetry. Pearson Longman. 

  • "To the Desert," "Resurrections," Twentieth Century American Poetry (2004), edited by Dana Gioia, McGraw Hill.