December 2012

Bayview Home to Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguia

Keith Burbank

Often associated with the Mission District, San Francisco poet laureate and Bayview resident, Alejandro Murguia, describes himself as an internationalist. Born in the United States, Murguia lived with his family in Mexico until he was almost seven years old, before moving back across the border as “a total stranger.” His first language was Spanish. As an adult he spent a significant amount of time in Latin America, including in wartime Nicaragua. 

Last summer, in Kerouac Alley, Mayor Ed Lee announced that the San Francisco Public Library and Friends of the San Francisco Public Library had selected Murguia as the City’s sixth poet laureate. Jack Hirschman, a former San Francisco poet laureate, nominated Murguia for the title. Hirschman has known Murguia for roughly 35 years, and said that he has “been a really important voice for the Latino and Chicano people.” 

Murguia is a professor at San Francisco State University, where he teaches creative writing in the Latina/Latino Studies departments. Despite any connections people may claim to Murguia, “I actually belong to the whole City,” he said. “I think that is important.” Murguia is no stranger to Potrero Hill; it’s the first place he stayed when he came to San Francisco, in a second-floor flat near a 22-Filmore bus stop. “I was visiting a friend,” he said. 

Murguia identifies as a Chicano, or Mexican-American. His mother is from New Mexico; his father is from Jalisco, Mexico. I have a “unique perspective,” he said. “At the same time, I’m an internationalist,” representing every neighborhood in San Francisco.

According to Latina/Latino Studies Department chair, Teresa Carrillo, Ph.D, Murguia’s involvement in the Chicano rights movement, and his experience in Latin America, are assets to the department, which has a Latino student population that’s more diverse than the overall Latino population of the United States, which is 60 percent Mexican. “We were very lucky to hire him for a tenure-track position before two of his books came out,” Carrillo said. After Murguia was hired, both his books won American Book Awards. “He generates a lot of enthusiasm”...“around poetry and short stories...,” Carrillo added. 

But Murguia does more than teach. “He’s not only teaching, but he is out in the world doing good,” said Gabriela Segovia-McGahan, who has taught in the Latina/Latino Studies Department for a dozen years. Segovia-McGahan said that Murguia inspired her to begin writing. “He is good at imparting writing skills and knowledge even to people that aren’t in his classes,” Segovia-McGahan said. According to Stacey Lewis, who is involved in publicity and marketing at City Lights Books, Murguia has been involved in San Francisco’s political and poetry scene since the 1970s. Lewis worked with Murguia on his book This War Called Love, which City Lights published in 2002. 

Murguia said his poetry is personal, but also a collective expression. Often it touches on what’s going on around town, incorporating the City’s history. “These are my techniques,” Murguia said. “So the poem is not just about me.” Segovia-McGahan said many of Murguia’s stories are cultural, describing what it’s like to be Latino. Part of him “bleeds through” many of his stories, Segovia-McGahan said. “I am sure there is a lot of mythology around him.” One of Segovia-McGahan’s favorite Murguia stories reminds her of the struggles and challenges people face in their lives. “He’s been our poet laureate for many years,” Carrillo said. 

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