Chicano poet and educator Francisco Xavier Alarcón was born in Wilmington, California, on February 21, 1954. During his childhood, Alarcón straddled the line between cultures, spending time living with his parents outside of Los Angeles and his other relatives in Guadalajara, Mexico. This diverse upbringing would significantly influence Alarcón’s work, leading him to become, as he says, a “binational, bicultural, and a bilingual writer.”
In Mexico, when Alarcón was about fifteen, he began transcribing his grandmother’s songs, which inspired him to start writing his first poems. Determined to be a writer, Alarcón soon moved to Los Angeles, where he earned his high school diploma at Cambria Adult School before enrolling at East Los Angeles College. After a year in East Los Angeles College, he transferred to California State University, Long Beach, where he earned his BA in Spanish and history in 1977. Shortly after, he attended Stanford University, where he studied contemporary Latin-American literature. While at Stanford, Alarcón joined literary circles in the San Francisco Bay area, gave poetry readings, and published his first book, Tattoos (Nomad Press, 1985).
Alarcón has published numerous poetry collections, including Canto hondo/Deep Song (University of Arizona Press, 2015), Borderless Butterflies: Earth Haikus and Other Poems/Mariposas sin fronteras: Haikus terrenales y otros poemas (Poetic Matrix Press, 2014), Ce Uno One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press, 2010), and From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2002). An advocate of bilingual education and using poetry as a tool of empowerment, knowledge, and understanding, Alarcón has published several Spanish language instruction textbooks and written a number of award-winning, bilingual poetry books for children, including Animal Poems of the Iguazú/Animalario del Iguazú (Children’s Book Press, 2008); Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Soñar Juntos (Lee & Low Books, 2005), winner of a 2006 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award; Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno (Children’s Book Press, 2001); and Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems/Los Ángeles Andan en Bicicleta y otros poemas de otoño (Scholastic Library Publishing, 1999).
Alarcón’s poems generally feature short lines and stanzas that explore mestizo culture and identity, American identity, sexuality, Mesoamerican history, and mythology. In his review of Canto hondo/Deep Song, Rigoberto González writes, “Over the span of his career in letters, Francisco X. Alarcón has regaled us with his celebratory, joyful verse borne out of his love and respect for nature, community, culture, and the every day moments in life worth singing about. With Canto hondo/Deep Song, he reminds us that when the heart aches, it too carries an impressive tune—urgent, far-reaching and devastatingly true.”
His honors include the 1993 American Book Award, Carlos Pellicer-Robert Frost Poetry Honor Award, Chicano Literary Prize, Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 1993 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award.
Alarcón was a lecturer of Spanish and the director of the Spanish for Native Speakers program at the University of California, Davis. He died on January 15, 2016.