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July 15, 2008

Alfred Arteaga, 1950-2008

Alfred Arteaga, poet and University of California Berkeley Professor of Chicano and Ethnic Studies, died of a heart attack on July 4 at the age of fifty-eight.

A groundbreaker in postcolonial and ethnic minority literature studies, a key early Chicano movement poet, he will be remembered, among much else, for the creative fusion of his art and his academic studies, and among his students and colleagues for a special sweetness, receptiveness, and accessibility.

Arteaga was born in Los Angeles in 1950 and began writing poetry at the age of eight, loving music and words in their twinings. He earned a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 1974, a M.A. and then a Ph.D. in Literature from UC Santa Cruz in 1984 and 1987, respectively, and arrived at UC Berkeley in 1990 after three years teaching in Houston.

His five books of poetry are Frozen Accident (2006), Zero Act (2006), Red (2000), Love in the Time of Aftershocks (1998), and Cantos (1991). He won a PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Award in 1997 for his eclectic book of essays House with the Blue Bed, an unusual collection of poems, literary and artistic criticism, and personal reflections, and he published, right at the heart of his concerns, a pioneering book of literary theory, Chicano Poetics: Heterotexts and Hybridities, as well as the collection of essays he edited, An Other Tongue: Nation and Ethnicity in the Linguistic Borderlands.

"He was a very beautiful, a very large-hearted generous human being," says Laura Pérez, a UC faculty-mate."He was loved and respected by his students as a caring mentor and by his colleagues as a collegial man with an easy laugh." She also praises Frozen Accident as his "masterpiece…very bold, daring and successful." She describes it as a book that stages a dialogue between Western and pre-Columbian philosophies about meaning, truth, and the afterlife. A long poem on California as the last stop for Western culture, published by Tia Chucha Press, it echoes Dante in its primary section, "Nezahualcoyotl in Michtlan," a trip to hell. Gilles Deleuze wrote of Cantos, "Something strikes me profoundly: you are among those rare poets who can draw into or cut from their language a new language. A new language in which roots and sources would be heard."

In a beautiful evening of Berkeley poetry, Alfred Arteaga last read for Poetry Flash at Black Oak Books on November 26, 2006. A sixth book of his poetry will be published posthumously. Campus memorial services at UC Berkeley are being planned for early fall.

— posted by Joyce Jenkins

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