David Campos (2010) has been awarded the 2014 Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, a nationally-recognized biennial award presented by the Institute for Latino Studies at University of Notre Dame honoring one promising Latino-American poet by publishing their first collection.
Campos won the award for his collection Furious Dusk, which explores a son’s effort to understand and fulfill his father’s and his Mexican culture’s expectations of masculinity versus his American culture’s expectations of masculinity.
The award is especially significant for Campos because Montoya, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Fresno State alumnus (1992), was one of the first poets whose work he admired. Campos had never thought of pursuing poetry or creative writing as a profession until he read Montoya’s poetry.
After reading Montoya’s work, Campos began researching Fresno’s rich poetic history, and discovered Philip Levine, Larry Levis and Gary Soto. He participated in open mikes and poetry slams, and had another “turnaround moment” when he took a class at Fresno State from professor Alex Espinoza.
In Espinoza’s class, Campos began to notice the impact of Chicano-Latino literature in the Central Valley and across the nation.
With encouragement from his mentors Tim Skeen and Alex Espinoza, Campos decided to earn his master of fine arts degree. He applied to six graduate schools across the country and received several scholarship offers.
“Coming with my background, I didn’t have a lot of money growing up here in Fresno,” Campos said. “So all that money was a big shock to me, like ‘Hey, free education!’ So I took the best offer, I went down to UC Riverside where I met even further Fresno connections.”
“That legacy of Fresno and Fresno State and Philip Levine and Andres Montoya was just being carried on and continued at UC Riverside,” Campos said.
Campos was first a finalist for the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize during the first year of his M.F.A. program. When he didn’t win, Campos destroyed his manuscript and took about seven months to rebuild it. Two years later, he was awarded the prize.
“I was really excited about winning that prize,” Campos said.
“Especially considering that the prize I won was named after the poet whose first poetry collection I had ever read. So it was just kind of like full-circle.
So, that was really cool, that was really nice.”
“I am the first Californian to win it, first person from the West Coast to win it, and I’m also the first person in Fresno to win it,” Campos said. “So … In a sense, I’m bringing the award back home.”
Maceo Montoya, Andres Montoya’s younger brother, emailed Campos to congratulate him on winning the prize named after his late brother. Maceo is an artist and professor at UC Davis, and Campos was really taken by his paintings, many of which he says tie to themes he writes about in Furious Dusk. Campos asked Maceo if he could use one of his paintings for the cover art of his book, and Maceo agreed. Campos said it is “an honor to have Andres Montoya’s little brother’s artwork on the cover.”
Campos lives in Fresno with his wife and “absolutely loves” his job teaching English at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias.
You can follow David on Twitter @camposwriter.