Gary Soto was born in Fresno, California on April 12, 1952. Although his grandparents were born in Mexico, his parents were California natives. Gary's parents spoke primarily English but he learned to speak Spanish from his relatives. Gary Soto's father, Manuel Soto, was severely injured in an industrial accident and died two days later when Gary was only five. His father's death forced the family into poverty. Gary's mother, Angie Soto, was forced to work long, hard hours to support her children. Gary's older brother, Rick, and younger sister, Debra, often had to stay home alone because they couldn't afford day care. Trying not to get their mom in trouble, the kids never told anyone.
When Gary entered grade school his mom remarried. Soon after his half brother, Jimmy, was born. As a teen Gary fought with his stepfather. During his junior year at Roosevelt High School, the conflict became too much for Gary and he ran away.
He ended up near Los Angles in Glendale, California, where he eventually found a job at a tire factory. This job was so horrible Gary went back home to Fresno to finish high school.
"We were pretty much an illiterate family," said Gary. "We didn't have books and no one encouraged us to read." Despite this, Gary enrolled in Fresno College to escape fighting in the Vietnam War. While in the college library a book of modern poems by American authors caught his eye. He found his own feelings of strangeness and confusion in the poems. It was then he realized, "I want to do this thing." Soto began writing and studying literature. Then he transferred to California State University, at Fresno. Here, one of his professors, Philip Levine, a well-known poet himself, encouraged the young writer. He graduated with honors...