Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz was born in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, in 1954 and grew up on a small farm. His parents lost the farm when he was in the fourth grade, and he worked odd jobs to supplement the family’s income.

After graduating from high school in 1972, he received a BA from the St. Thomas Seminary in Denver in 1977, then went on to study theology at the University of Louvain in Belgium. He then moved to El Paso, Texas, to serve as a priest, but he was drawn to writing, and in 1985 he left the priesthood.

He received an MA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from the University of Stanford. In 1991, he published his first collection of poetry, Calendar of Dust (Broken Moon Press, 1991), which won an American Book Award.

He is the author of four additional poetry collections, including The Book of What Remains (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), Dreaming the End of the War (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), and Dark and Perfect Angels (Cinco Puntos Press, 1993), which won a Southwest Book Award from the Border Librarians Association.  He has also written numerous children’s books, some bilingual, and works of literary fiction, including Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club (Cinco Puntos Press, 2012), which was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Sáenz’s poetry is characterized by his relationship to the El Paso area’s landscape and culture and informed by his personal struggles with trauma and addiction. Luis Alberto Urrea says, “The work of Benjamin Alire Sáenz is rooted firmly on the border, in that space between the sacred and profane. He speaks for us all, and he speaks hard truths.” Sáenz is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award and two Lambda Literary Awards, and in 2010 Poets & Writers Magazine included him among “Fifty of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World.” He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at El Paso.