2011 Keynote Speaker Benjamin Alire Saenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Keynote Speaker Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a native of New Mexico, and graduate of Las Cruces High School and St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado. After studying theology at the University of Louvain in Louvain, Belgium, he returned to the southwest and was ordained a Catholic priest for the Diocese of El Paso, Texas.

He left the priesthood, and enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing, studied literature at the University of Iowa and was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship in poetry from Stanford University. While at Stanford, and under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. After two years as a Stegner Fellow, he entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program. That same year, Broken Moon Press published his first collection of short stories, Flowers for the Broken.


Carry Me Like WaterCarry Me Like Water

His first novel, Carry Me Like Water, was published by Hyperion in 1995. The novel was a saga that brought together the Victorian novel and the Latin American tradition of magic realism and received much critical attention. That same year, he published his second book of poems, Dark and Perfect Angels. Both Carry Me Like Water and Dark and Perfect Angels were awarded a Southwest Book Award by the Border Area Librarians Association. Carry Me Like Water appeared in both a hardback and paperback edition in Great Britain and was also published in Holland and Germany in translation. In 1997, Harper Collins published his second novel, The House of Forgetting, which was also translated into French and Germany. His other two novels include, In Perfect Light (Rayo HaperCollins, 2005),and Names on a Map (Harper Perennial, 2008).


He Forgot to Say GoodbyeHe Forgot to Say Goodbye

But even as he remained committed to the art of writing novels, he continued developing his first love: poetry. His third book of poems, Elegies in Blue, was published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2002. He followed up his first three books of poems, with Dreaming the End of War (Copper Canyon Press), a suite of poems which explore the themes of male identity, American nationalism, violence and war. His next book of poems, The Book of What Remains (also from Copper Canyon) will be published in March of 2010. He is currently working on a new book of poems, Night Disappearing Into a Patient Sky, inspired by a series of mixed media paintings he is working on.

Book of What RemainsBook of What Remains

Following in the tradition of his two highly praised young adult novels, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood and He Forgot to Say Goodbye, Saenz’ latest young adult novel, Last Night I Sang to the Monster continues exploring the lives of young men in the most difficult of circumstances. He has taught at the University of Texas at El Paso for the past twenty years. He lives, writes, loves, hates and breathes on the U.S. / Mexico border.