Since his first poetry collection 25 years ago, Gary Soto of Fresno has told his stories over and over in a kaleidoscopic and startling new voice encompassing nearly every genre: adult poems, children's stories, essays, coming-of-age novels, radio documentary and even the companion text to an American Girl doll. Plenty of unfriendly dogs barked at the poor boy who grew up with a mean, drunken stepdad on a block in the shadow of the Sun Maid Raisin factory, went to a community college, married the Sweet Girl, discovered writing and became, in no particular order, a famous Chicano poet, a famous California poet, a young-adult book phenomenon, and an American writer who wins awards and packs 'em in for terrific live performances.
That's why you should be at his reading this week, after buying at least two of his books. Get the essay collection The Effects of Knut Hamsun on a Fresno Boy—short autobiographical vignettes, essays and prose poems—and New and Selected Poems. In the first, read "The Girl on the Can of Peas" and in the second, read "Learning My Lesson," in which Soto relates the same episode using both prose and poetry. Be amazed and reminded of what can be made and remade from life. Stick around after the reading to have this writer at the height of his powers sign your books. It will be a long line, but you'll have the stories to keep you in good company while you wait.
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Gary Soto at the Bowers Museum, Fluor Gallery, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 567-3600; www.bowers.org. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $8; members and students, $6.