Alumnus Alberto Álvaro Ríos Named as Arizona’s Inaugural Poet Laureate


For Immediate Release                                                                 
August 19, 2013                                                                              


TUCSON (August 19, 2013). The University of Arizona Poetry Center today applauded Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona Commission on the Arts on the appointment of University of Arizona alumnus Alberto Álvaro Ríos as Arizona’s first Poet Laureate.


Arizona’s Poet Laureate post commemorates and honors the wealth of Arizona literary artists who through their work and service represent Arizona’s values, independence, storied history and boundless potential. With this appointment, Arizona becomes the 43rd state in the nation to establish a Poet or Writer Laureate position.


Governor Brewersaid of the appointment, “I am proud to announce the appointment of Arizona’s first Poet Laureate, in celebration of our state’s remarkable literary history and future. Alberto Ríos demonstrates an unmatched dedication and love for the art of poetry. For more than four decades, his poetry and literary works have touched our communities and kept Arizona’s culture and heritage alive. As Poet Laureate for the State of Arizona, Alberto will champion the art of American poetry, inspire an emerging generation of literary artists and educate Arizonans of all ages about the countless writers who have positively influenced our beautiful state.”


Alberto Ríos earned three degrees from the University of Arizona. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature and creative writing in 1974; a Bachelor's degree in psychology in 1975, and a Master's degree in creative writing in 1979. At the University's homecoming celebration in 2010, Ríos was named the College of Humanities Alumnus of the Year.


For the past 30 years, Ríos has taught English and creative writing at Arizona State University. He is a Regents’ Professor and holds the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English. Professor Ríos’ work has been extensively published for nearly 4 decades, including 10 books of poetry, 3 books of stories, and a memoir – Capirotada­ – about growing up in his hometown of Nogales, Arizona.  He has individual works in 300+ journals and 250+ anthologies, and has been honored with numerous awards, including the Walt Whitman Award in Poetry bestowed by The Academy of American Poets, the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, the Arizona Literary Treasure Award and a Governor's Arts Award. Ríos has also led countless community projects in cities and towns across Arizona. 


Ríos said of his appointment as Arizona’s inaugural Poet Laureate, “This is a profound honor. A small-town border kid from Nogales to Poet Laureate—this is a good story, an Arizona story. As the state’s first Poet Laureate, the work of inventing this job is now at hand, and I’m very much looking forward to the adventure. The Poet Laureate designation is an important way for Arizona and its people to express a public regard for the well-written word. I would like to be part of that statement, a line in that poem.”


Alberto Ríos is a familiar face in Tucson and at the UA Poetry Center. He was featured in the Center's 50th Anniversary Reading Series and contributed to a commemorative multilingual art/poetry book, "Water." A recording of Ríos' reading is available on the Poetry Center's on voca, the Poetry Center’s digital archive (


"We are thrilled with Governor Brewer's appointment, and we are excited to celebrate and partner with Professor Ríos and with future laureates at the Poetry Center.  Through our building and our library, and across all our educational and programmatic efforts, we look forward to being a home base in southern Arizona for the public role of the laureateship for years to come,” said Tyler Meier, Executive Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center.


The purpose of the Poet Laureate post is to champion the art of American poetry, inspire an emerging generation of literary artists, and educate Arizonans of all ages about the countless writers who have positively influenced our state.


During Arizona’s Centennial Year, Senator Al Melvin of Tucson sponsored Senate Bill 1348 to establish a state Poet Laureate. Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Robert Booker, said of Senator Melvin’s role, “Senator Melvin’s determination and responsiveness made all the difference in the establishment of this position. The Senator heard from one of his constituents - a poet and literary enthusiast - that Arizona was one of only 8 states without a Poet Laureate position, and sprang into action. He sponsored a bill, connected with the Arts Commission to workshop his proposal with representatives from Arizona’s education and literary communities, and served as a true champion for the bill as it made its way through the legislature.” SB1348 received broad bipartisan support in both State legislative chambers and was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in May 2012.


The Arizona Commission on the Arts, an agency of the State of Arizona, facilitated the nomination and selection process in Fall 2012. Nominations were open to the public and self-nominations were accepted. In total, eight nominations were received. All nominees were reviewed by a committee chaired by three Governor-appointed commissioners from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. As specified in SB1348, the review committee included representatives from literary publishing organizations, educational institutions, arts and culture organizations, businesses that present or support the literary arts, and poets not wishing to be considered for the position, from Northern, Central and Southern Arizona.


The nomination review committee was made up of the following individuals:




Gail Browne,Former Executive Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center; Tucson.


Harold Dorenbecher,Senior Vice President and Managing Executive of The Northern Trust Bank, and Advisory Board Member for the Literary and Prologue Society of the Southwest; Phoenix.


Karyl Goldsmith,Senior Literature and AP English Literature teacher at Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District; Sedona.


Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker,Poet and Project Manager at Scottsdale Public Art; Phoenix.


Christy White,President of the Arizona State Poetry Society; Cave Creek. 


Ofelia Zepeda,Regents’ Professor in the Departments of Linguistics and American Indian Studies at University of Arizona; Tucson.


Three Governor-appointed commissioners from the Arizona Commission on the Arts chaired the committee:


  • Committee Review Chair: Lisa Barnes; Mesa.
  • Committee Vice-Chair: Carol Crockett; Phoenix.
  • Committee Vice-Chair: Patricia Kaufman; Scottsdale.


The review committee said of Ríos, “This candidate has impressive experience with community outreach, is a fantastic performer and speaker who is able to get people to think about poetry in a whole new way. Alberto is thoughtful in his community work and has proven himself to be a strong public figure and advocate for poetry in Arizona.” They also offered, “Ríos was born and educated here in Arizona, and has contributed to Arizona communities for decades. If ever there was a poet who personified Arizona’s values, it is Alberto Ríos.” 


As per SB1348, Ríos will serve a term of two years; will offer public readings throughout the year, in urban and rural communities in various regions of the state; and will pursue a major literary project over the course of the appointment term. Public events to celebrate the appointment of Arizona’s inaugural Poet Laureate will be announced in Fall 2013.

The Arizona Poet Laureate will be provided with an annual honorarium of $2,500 to offset travel and so that he/she is able to actively serve the broadest constituency of Arizonans, who live, learn and work in urban, rural and suburban areas of the state. The honorarium will be disbursed from the Arizona Poet Laureate Fund, which consists of private monies donated by individuals, organizations or businesses – raised by the Arts Commission and its statewide literary partners.


For more information about the grants, services and programs of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, visit For more information on the University of Arizona Poetry Center, please visit

Arizona Board of Regents