Victor Hernández Cruz was born on February 6, 1949, in the small mountain town of Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico. He moved to the United States in 1954 with his family and attended high school in New York. He began writing at the age of fifteen, as he explained: “to balance a lot of worlds together…the culture of my parents and the new and modern culture of New York, its architecture, its art, and its fervent intellectual thought.”
In 1966, Hernández Cruz published the chapbook Papo Got His Gun, followed by his first full-length collection of poetry, Snaps, published by Random House in 1969 when he was twenty. About Snaps, Allen Ginsberg wrote: “Poesy news from space anxiety police age inner city, spontaneous urban American language as Williams wished, high school street consciousness transparent, original soul looking out intelligent Bronx windows.”
In the 1970s, Hernández Cruz lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he emerged as a distinctive voice in the Nuyorican school of poets. Much of his work explores the relationship between the English language and his native Spanish, playing with grammatical and syntactical conventions within both languages to create his own bilingual idiom.
Hernández Cruz is the author of fourteen collections of poetry, including Guayacán (Ishmael Reed Publishing, 2022); Beneath the Spanish (Coffee House Press, 2017); In the Shadow of Al-Andalus (Coffee House Press, 2011); The Mountain in the Sea (Coffee House Press, 2006); and Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965–2000 (Coffee House Press, 2001), which was shortlisted for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the International Griffin Poetry Prize. His earlier works include: Panoramas (Coffee House Press, 1997); Red Beans (Coffee House Press, 1991); and Tropicalization (Reed & Cannon Co,1976). He is also the editor of the anthology Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets (Persea, 2000). His poems have been translated into ten languages.
In the citation for the International Griffin Poetry Prize, the judges wrote:
Victor Hernández Cruz has long been the defining poet of that complex bridge between the Latino and mainland cultures of the U.S. Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965–2000 proves the extraordinary range of this great, enduring poet, whose articulately persuasive humor and intelligence bear persistent witness to a meld of peoples.
His other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Hernández Cruz is a co-founder of both the East Harlem Gut Theatre in New York and the Before Columbus Foundation, as well as a former editor of Umbra magazine. He has taught at the University of California at Berkeley and San Diego, San Francisco State College, and the University of Michigan. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2008 to 2013.
Hernández Cruz currently lives in Morocco.