Victor Martinez, Novelist and Poet, Dies at 56

From, San Francisco Chronicle, “Victor Martinez, novelist and poet, dies at 56” by Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer, 4 Mar 2011.

Poetry is the only thing that can save the world.

So said Victor Martinez, a nationally acclaimed novelist and poet who died Feb. 18 in his Mission District apartment.

He was 56. Mr. Martinez died after a malignant tumor in his throat spread cancer to his lungs.

Victor Martinez's farmworker roots informed his writing. [Gary Friedman - MCT]The self-described workingman’s writer drew from his Fresno childhood in a farmworker family for his celebrated novel, “Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida,” which was awarded the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Centered on the life of a 14-year-old Central Valley boy from the projects dealing with gangs, an alcoholic father and racist classmates, “Parrot” was originally banned in some schools for its violent scenes, but it’s now a staple on many school reading lists.


It was his first, and only, major publication.

“It was very important for Victor to be known as an American writer,” said his wife, Tina Alvarez. “He was not writing for any specific group. He was writing for everyone.”

Growing up, Mr. Martinez worked in the fruit and vegetable fields with his parents and spent time in his room pecking at a typewriter. His first poem was tossed by a grade school teacher who told him even the trash can didn’t want it. But he didn’t give up.

He enrolled at California State University Fresno through an affirmative action program and was later awarded the prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University to study creative writing for two years. But when the teaching requirements of the fellowship impinged on his writing time, he left the program. He wrote in the early mornings and supported himself in various jobs as a welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher and office clerk.

With dreams of creating a West Coast version of the Algonquin Round Table writers group in New York, Mr. Martinez found kindred artists in the Mission District. He helped create Humanizarte, a collective of Chicano poets, and he joined the Chicano/Latino Writers’ Center of San Francisco, where he honed his craft. He began writing book, theater and film reviews for La Revista Literaria de El Tecolote. He submitted his writings to various anthologies and literary journals. In 1985 he married Alvarez, his former student at Stanford.

“The language of his poetry was so strong, and so different from the overtly political Chicano culture at Stanford at the time,” Alvarez said. “His poetry was more about life and thoughts. It made you think.”

Read more at:, San Francisco Chronicle, “Victor Martinez, novelist and poet, dies at 56” by Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer, 4 Mar 2011.


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