Gary Soto is known for a body of work that deals with the realities of growing up in Mexican-American communities; in poems, novels, short stories, plays and over a two dozen books for young people, Soto has recreated the world of the barrio, the urban, Spanish-speaking neighborhood where he was raised, bringing the sights, sounds and smells vividly to life within the pages of his books.
Soto’s poetry and prose focus on everyday experiences while evoking the harsh forces that often shape life for Chicanos, including racism, poverty, and crime.
He successfully conveys the pain of guilt exceptional use of imagery, contrast, and repetition.
The manner in which he uses these tools transports the reader into his innermost thoughts as he anxiously perspired before the rack of warm, fresh baked pies.
“In short,” he has said, “I was already thinking like a poet, already filling myself with literature.” Soto went on to college at Fresno City College and California State University-Fresno, where he earned a BA in English in 1974.
While at Fresno, Soto studied with the poet Philip Levine whose sharp portrayals of working-class subject matter influenced Soto’s own poetry.The book was awarded the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum and published in the Pitt Poetry Series.Soto's skill with the figurative language of poetry has been noted by reviewers throughout his career.A squirrel nailed itself high on the trunk, where it forked into two large bark scabbed limbs” as he prepares to dine on the fruits of his unlawful labor.Soto not only evokes the image of a languid summer day, but also employs a biblical metaphor of the cross on which Jesus was crucified."Soto's remembrances are as sharply defined and appealing as bright new coins," wrote Alicia Fields in the "His language is spare and simple yet vivid." But it is his joyful outlook, strong enough to transcend the poverty of the barrio that makes his work so popular.Contrasting the holy, righteous behavior encouraged by his neighbors, church, and society with the hungry, animalistic greed of a six year old boy riddled with boredom, Soto explores the concepts of right and wrong through a child’s eyes.After slipping the pie under his Frisbee and departing the store with great haste, he sits to consume his stolen treasure in a nearby lawn.“The sun wavered between the branches of a yellowish sycamore.His first book, offers a grim portrait of Mexican-American life.His poems depict the violence of urban life, the exhausting labor of rural life, and the futility of trying to recapture the innocence of childhood.