Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an award-winning American poet, novelist, and writer of children's books.
He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.
In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, "Calendar of Dust," which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.
His first novel, "Carry Me Like Water" was a saga that brought together the Victorian novel and the Latin American tradition of magic realism and received much critical attention. His coming-of-age young adult novel, "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" was published in 2012. Set in El Paso, Texas in 1987, the novel follows two Mexican-American teenagers, Aristotle "Ari" Mendoza and Dante Quintana, their friendship, and their struggles with racial and ethnic identity, sexuality, and family relationships. Since its publication, the novel has received widespread critical acclaim and numerous accolades. A sequel titled "Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World" was announced in February, 2021.
In "The Book of What Remains," his fifth book of poems, he writes to the core truth of life's ever-shifting memories. Set along the Mexican border, the contrast between the desert's austere beauty and the brutality of border politics mirrors humanity's capacity for both generosity and cruelty.
In 2005, he curated a show of photographs by Julian Cardona.
He lives and works in El Paso, Texas.
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