Gary Soto (b. 1952) was born in Fresno, California, to working-class Mexican American parents. He grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, and worked as a migrant laborer in California's rich agricultural regions. Uncertain of his abilities, he began his academic career at Fresno City College, moving on to California State University, Fresno, and the University of California, Irvine, where he earned an M.F.A. degree (1976). In 1975, he married Carolyn Oda, a woman of Japanese ancestry.
Although his work earned him recognition as early as 1975 (an Academy of American Poets Prize), his first book of poems, The Elements of San Joaquin, which contains grim pictures of Mexican American life in California's central valley, appeared in 1977. In 1985, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught in both the English and Chicano Studies departments. He stopped teaching in 1993 to become a full-time writer.
His prolific output of poetry, memoirs, essays, and fiction continues unabated and has earned him numerous prizes, including an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for Living up the Street (1985). One critic points out that Soto has transcended the social commentary of his early work and shifted to "a more personal, less politically motivated poetry." Another argues that "Gary Soto has become not an important Chicano poet but an important American poet."