He had very bad grades throughout school, but became interested in poetry in high school and began writing poetry while he attended Fresno City College. Soto moved on to California State University, Fresno for his undergraduate degree, and then to the University of California, Irvine, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1976.
His work earned him recognition in the semi_late 70's, when he won 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, was published in 1987. In 1985, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught in both the English department and Chicano Studies department. He stopped teaching in 1994 to write full-time, but returned to teaching in 2003 with a post at University of California, Riverside. His prolific output of poetry, memoirs, short stories, children's novels, plays, essays, and fiction continues and has earned him numerous prizes, including an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for "Living up the Street" (1985).
Young Adult/Children's Books:
7th grade(1994) Anthologies:
His honors include the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum, The Nation/"Discovery" Prize, and the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Award from Poetry. He has also received fellowships from the California Arts Council, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, he is writing for Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing, which will be published in spring of 2008.
NEW AND SELECTED POEMS was a 1995 finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award. He has received the Bess Hokin Prize and the Levinson Award, the Discovery-The Nation Prize, the U.S. Award of the International Poetry Forum, The California Library Association's John and Patricia Beatty Award [twice], a Recogniton of Merit from the Claremont Graduate School for Baseball in April, the Silver Medal from The Commonwealth Club of California, and the Tomás Rivera Prize, in addition to fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (twice), and the California Arts Council. In 1999 he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes.